The Benefits of Traveling Overland

Sandy reviews why we have chosen to travel overland as much as possible during our Trekking the Planet journey.

One of the basic principles of Trekking the Planet is a preference for travel that is “closer to the ground”. This means that we are using our own two feet, taking a train or riding the bus versus flying in an airplane. There are many advantages in doing this, the least of which is that we feel that we experience more of the “real world” when walking or looking out the window of a train or bus versus looking out the window of an airplane flying at 30,000 feet. There is a greater opportunity to learn more as we come into closer contact with the local people in their environment. Paradoxically, there is also the potential for faster travel times, due to shorter security lines, and because trains and buses normally depart from and arrive into city centers.

Another benefit of ground travel is the reduced “carbon footprint” over airplanes. This can be stated in terms of the CO2 emissions of our transportation method selected. We were reminded of the significant difference on a recent trip to Europe. On the back of our Italian train ticket stub, we saw a comparison of the CO2 emissions of the train and car over the airplane:

A quick search on the Internet provides other useful comparisons. In a article Planes, Trains, Automobiles (and Buses): Which is the Greenest Way to Travel Long Distance in the US?, the author compares CO2 emissions of several US trips, including New York City to San Francisco, as follows:

  • Bus: 520 lbs of CO2
  • Train: 1,220 lbs of CO2
  • Plane or driving solo in a 23 MPG car: about 2,500 lbs of CO2

The author also points out that shorter airplane flights generate much higher emissions per mile than longer ones. When comparing trains to shorter flights, the website states that, on average, trains generate one-third of the CO2 emissions of airplanes. This can be further illustrated by the Carbon Calculator. Here we entered 1,000 miles as a guide:

On the ocean front, we were not surprised to learn that cruise ships are generally not as efficient as ground transportation (or even airplanes) in their CO2 emissions. Several articles state that ships can emit up to three times the CO2 as airplanes. A simple calculator can display the differences in these two modes of transportation. Some of the articles we found are several years old. While we are on ships we hope to understand what is being improved to make this mode of travel more environmentally friendly. Finally, a great article on overland travel and its benefits can be found here.

Practically, we can’t always avoid flying and that is no different on our Trekking the Planet journey. However, we are deliberately, for the reasons mentioned above, choosing to travel by land and sea where possible. There will be times, for safety and when we are forced to retrace our steps, that we will fly on our trip, but we will be limiting these instances in an effort to experience travel at the pace of the world around us and do our part to help the environment.

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