Green is good. And if you glean nothing else from the constant media coverage we hear about topics like carbon footprinting, living sustainably and shopping ethically, we at least know that.

In these tight times, being green – especially when it comes to travel – isn’t easy and it can even start to feel like a tug of war between our wallet and our conscience.

We want to choose green, but we’ve also got to keep our bank balances from dipping into the red. Such is the guilt, the tension, and the frustration of the would-be ethical traveller. But travelling with a conscience need not be such a trying experience when you can make the journey smoother with a little bit of compromise.

The cost of green: price and patience

It takes a certain type of person to be an extreme green traveller. Such a person has patience (and therefore time), or lots of cash, or both! Some of these lucky souls are so committed to cutting their carbon footprint that they won’t travel by plane.

I know of a couple who won’t board a plane if there’s a more environmentally friendly option – such as forking out for train tickets instead of travelling by train, even though the train price is treble the cost of the airfare from London to the south of France. Another person holidays exclusively in the UK to avoid flying.

Someone else went around the world on a cargo ship. He worked onboard, so the trip itself didn’t cost him much, but he paid the price in seasickness, cramped conditions and – with the months it took going from port to port – in patience too.

Extreme, right? You betcha. But these examples show the lengths that some will go to in order to stick to their principles. However, the cost of this extreme green could make some of us a little queasy.

The balancing act

Most of us don’t have deep pockets or infinite patience, and so these drastic travel arrangements just aren’t doable. Time and budget, those two killjoys, mean most of us would’ve hopped a plane to France or handed over cash for a round-the-world plane ticket.

It’s tough to plump for the greener option when it’s also the pricier one.

Let’s face it: it’s tough to plump for the greener option when it’s also the pricier one. And if you’re holidaying on limited time and limited means, air travel generally comes cheaper than other modes of transport. Yes, while some may quite literally rail against the horrors of air travel, the simple fact is that as long as there is an economic demand for it, passenger air travel will be an option.

For us middling greenies, travelling conscientiously can mean balancing our budgets against our guilty conscience. I don’t have the time to hop on a cargo ship and maybe the train tickets to your destination are too pricey, but does that mean you can’t be a lean, green, carbon-cutting machine?

Decisions, decisions

Of course not. That cargo ship example might be a nautical enthusiast’s dream solution to solving their own personal carbon footprint, but maybe not mine or yours. We already know about the everyday things we can do to lessen the impact of our travelling on the environment, and most of us already do them. At home and abroad, we walk, take public transport, eat seasonally available produce, shop locally, recycle.

These things are nothing new, but each person has to choose which green choices they can make. The green spectrum is wide and varied, and being green can be interpreted in a kaleidoscope of ways as unique and individual as travellers themselves. That’s how it should be.

Cynics may say that this is an all-or-nothing issue and that this individualistic approach won’t work. Maybe they’re right. The flip-side to that argument is this: if people feel that their efforts aren’t deemed to be enough, they might just give up altogether. This, of course, is something none of us can afford. But compromise is an option to suit all budgets and if everyone is allowed a bit of individual choice, they’ll be more likely to choose a shade of green that suits them, and they’ll be able feel they’ve made a personal impact on a global issue.

Your thoughts on "Green travel without going bankrupt?"

  • Great points, though I believe it is definitely becoming easier to travel green now that it is more mainstream than even 5 years ago. An interesting thing to watch in the U.S. is the addition of the new high speed rail, allegedly opening its first route in 2015. It is environmentally friendly and travels up to speeds of 200 mph making it not only green but time saving as well for the anti plane group. I have no idea what the cost will be, but I am sure we will find out soon enough. Just nice to have options finally in the U.S.

    on October 16, 2010 at 11:24 pm Reply
  • We've found train travel in Europe to be a bit more pricey than flights, but the ease of use -- not having to arrive three hours before for security! -- more than makes up for it ... most of the time. It will be interesting to see if the high-speed US service can match the quality of service found on the Eurostar, for example.

    on October 17, 2010 at 2:53 am Reply
    • Thank you for the reply back! I look forward to comparing the two as well. How do you feel the impact has been with the newly implemented rail passes that allow travel basically without borders from country to country in Europe? Has that been helpful for you?

      on November 12, 2010 at 12:35 pm Reply

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