Considering The Impact Of Travel

A pulse of swell brings surf to the north shore of Hawaii.
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A couple enjoys the late afternoon in a hammock on the beach in Oahu, Haleiwa.
A paddle boarder, comes in from a surf - Gators, Haleiwa.
A pulse of swell brings surf to the north shore of Hawaii.
Kiteboarders in Kailua, Oahu.
Sunset at Aligators, near Haleiwa, Oahu.
Sunset on the north shore of Hawaii, Oahu, Haleiwa.
Sunset Point Beach Park, Pupukea, Hawaii.

Here’s to more conscious and sustainable travel in whatever form that takes for you.

As a middle-aged adult who has been gaining awareness of the issues feeding into climate change, first through living in Australia near the Great Barrier Reef as it struggled to cope with tourist numbers 20 years ago and later through seeing the city that I had chosen to call home, gradually experience more extreme heat each summer, it’s odd that I have ended up doing so much travel of late.

A few years ago I would have been just as likely to mention how I had cycled more in the course of the year then I had driven my car and I was somewhat proud of the fact that I rarely travelled and choose local food and produce in an attempt to reduce the miles that my food had travelled to get to me.

So it’s a little bit of a surprise to myself (and no doubt others) that I have ended up living in recent years, what can best be described as a pretty peripatetic existence. Sorry about the tongue twister there. 😉

Maybe it’s a path I was bound to eventually travel, after starting a small web business in the wake of the dotcom boom and reading lifestyle design books by Tim Ferriss. Perhaps it had more to do with the change in personal circumstances that led me to decide to move half way around the world and revisit with my travelling roots.

In any case, I do find myself considering the environmental impact of my travel and as much as anything the reasons for it. Jet travel is one of the least friendly modes of travel (after ocean cruising – ever thought about how much energy it takes to push a huge hunk of steel through water?) that one can choose and despite it’s increasing affordability is something we’re all going to have to do less of in order to live sustainably.

I wonder to myself, whether I outweigh the value of other positive choices I make by being a frequent flyer, like buying food from a local community supported farmer, eating organic and often vegetarian, or not owning a car and cycling whenever I can.

If I’m honest with myself the answer is undoubtedly yes and I’m probably going to have to reign in those air miles to match my lifestyle with my sustainabilty goals. While I like to think that it is possible to make good environmental decisions when I travel, i.e. selecting public transport over car rentals (especially if traveling alone), renting a bike, eating from healthy local restaurants and staying at Airbnb’s instead of corporatised accommodation providers. It’s probably more to do with my human capacity for justifying ones actions to explain my own irrational behaviour, then that my decisions really stand up to any sort of eco-scrutiny.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “who’s this ironic hipster, talking about traveling less on a website called Jetset Times” and really I’m not completely sure where I’m going with this, other than that I wanted to kind of get these thoughts out of my head and on to paper (or its digital equivalent) as they’ve been bouncing around in the scatter box of my brain for a little while.

I guess on the upside, as I’ve travelled more lately, I’ve become aware of the fact that we’re all impacted by climate change whether you live in North America, Europe, Asia, Oceania or the Pacific and it’s going to take a big collaborative effort to make any sort of dent in the CC problem. Yes, we all want to travel and scratch our personal wander-itch (did I just make up a new word there) and feel inspired or perhaps even a little entitled to do so. And maybe what I want to say is that I think it’s important that we do this in a way that is as thoughtful as possible.

If we are going to travel, especially on long haul flights, maybe we can spend more time at the destinations we choose, or try living somewhere new for a few years which is close to a part of the world that you want to explore (thus reducing the need for regular long haul flights). Consider offseting the emissions of flights, staying with friends and family and reducing consumption while travelling, including what one buys and how much you travel with. Traveling lighter is more fun anyway, as I discovered recently, when doing a long trip with a 10kg bag one way, and then transporting 3 times that much on the trip back. I need the gear for summer adventures alright. 😉

Okay, that’s enough for me on the subject, but hey, thanks for reading. Here’s to more conscious and sustainable travel in whatever form that takes for you.

Michael McMahon


Michael is a tech nomad, raised in Asia, seasoned in Australia and now based in North America. He is Inspired by outdoor adventures and meeting new people.

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