Traveling the World Without Feeling Guilty About It

September 10, 2018

Traveling around the world to race I’ve had time to contemplate a few things about travel, but I’m by no means an expert. First, I’ve learned that I’m extremely lucky to be able to travel, period. Second, you can never take the opportunity to go from one side of the globe to the other for granted. The luxury of travel is relatively new and to be able to pick a destination race in South Africa, fly there in under 30 hours, run a race with 20,000 other people, and fly home before work on Monday is pretty absurd. But, it’s not something everyone can do, and it’s often also at the cost of both the environment and our savings account.

With so many people traveling for work or pleasure, it is easy to lose sight of what impact that has on our lives. For those traveling for work it’s often easy to justify. For those of us traveling for pleasure, whether that is for racing, adventure, or other athletic endeavors, we often struggle with being able to validate our impact. Traveling to far off landscapes can be a double-edged sword of both helping and hurting the environment. So, here are a few tips that can help make that next trip more sustainable so it doesn’t break the bank, and also feel good about.

You may be thinking, what do money and the environment have to do with one another when traveling. I’m usually worried about two things – how much money is this costing me and what am I doing to the environment. By being conscious of both, I can do small things for the environment that also help save a few bucks at the same time.

Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to help offset that environmental degradation of our travels. The key is to start saving (both money and your carbon footprint) before you ever leave home. First, if you have the means, ride your bike as much as possible. Bikes are so versatile now that they have electric motors, cargo racks, kids seats and all the other bells and whistles they will work for just about everything. At this point I try to ride everywhere I can because I know I’m going to be flying somewhere soon. Offsetting that carbon footprint is about as much as I can do when I have to fly to France. Second, taking two minutes to make a 50 cent cup of coffee at home will save you time and money. Question all your purchases. A trip of a lifetime means giving up a few daily luxuries, and I’m ok with that.

As you plan your travel, think about how to do it more efficiently. If you’re driving, find a couple people to carpool with. They can share the gas costs and do some of the driving. If you’re flying, go light. Think about what you’re packing and try to trim it back to exactly what you’ll need for your trip. If you can trim your luggage back to just a carry-on, you’ll save hassle and the domestic baggage fees. When you’re flying, weight really matters. United is saving 170,000 gallons of fuel this year because they reduced the weight of their inflight magazine by one ounce. Who knew leaving the curling iron and hair dryer at home could have a positive impact. Well, maybe not on your hair. And don’t forget to pack your reusable bottle for inflight beverages and airport refills. I never go anywhere without a one, and it triples as my water bottle, coffee mug, and foam roller.

 

Max enjoys a mocha on the road. Photo: Paul Nelson

When you get to your destination, think about taking public transportation to save money. Most airports have trains and buses, and generally you can reserve seats on online before you leave for your trip. If you’re really trying to stick to a budget, get away from the cities and into the country. When traveling for a race like a big city marathon, keep in mind that anything near the race location is going to be more expensive. Try to get away from the race crowds and find your own space.

 

If you’re traveling for a trail race or just a running adventure, you can reduce costs and your carbon footprint by getting to your destination and staying put. I don’t mean just sit in your hotel or AirBnB, but rather use your feet or a bike to get around and rely less on motorized travel. From Colorado to Mallorca, or Chamonix to the Highlands of Scotland, you can settle down in a little village and have enough trails to explore for a month or more right from your door. This is my favorite way to travel, and it’s more relaxing than always being on the move.

Part of travel is also the cuisine and eating at local restaurants. By all means, you should do this however, you can save a lot by selectively eating out as well as making your own meals. Pick one meal a day to eat out and use the supermarket for the others. If you’re in France, an absolute must is a lunch of salami, cheese, bread and wine, high in an alpine meadow. Cheap, easy, and oh so spectacular.

I want athletes to feel like they can still travel without destroying the environment we love to recreate in, so it’s imperative that we also do what we can to reduce our impact while at home, on the road, or in the sky. Travel is also what allows us to know the wilderness, and have a greater voice in protecting it.

The truth is, there are hundreds of small changes you can make that will make traveling more sustainable. Spending less means you’re consuming less, thus less waste. These little changes alone don’t make much of a difference on your bank account or the environment, but the cumulative effect can have a huge impact.