From the Prairie to the Mountains

The issue of travel, especially in the United States where cars, highways, and air travel all reign supreme is what first made me curious about the topic of environmentally friendly tourism. Is there a way for a girl from Iowa to sustainably visit the diverse landscapes that our country has to offer?

Unfortunately, the best course of action to take when attempting to minimize the amount of CO2 emissions a trip creates is simply to travel a shorter distance. Taking trips that are closer to home or taking a vacation at home are two of the most surefire ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Now, as I’ve said before, I’m a prairie girl who loves the mountains. That doesn’t mean I don’t love where I’m from; there is much exploring to be done in the Midwest and I am a big fan of the landscape of my part of the country. But the United States is just so big and interesting, and I love seeing different parts of it.

What’s a traveler to do?

Well, if the adventure you’re seeking isn’t within the near reaches of your hometown, read on.

Let’s say that you live in Iowa and your dream trip is to the Rocky Mountains. What mode of travel will be the most practical for you and cause the least harm to the environment? (Note, when I talk about environmental harm here, I’m primarily referring to greenhouse gas emissions.)

Especially for short flights (500 miles or less), air travel is not advised as a method of transportation because it produces the most CO2 emissions per mile. The trip from my part of Iowa to Denver, Colorado is around 800 miles, so even for that distance, air travel is out. Air travel is convenient, but it also means that you lose out on a lot of good scenery along the way. So I’ll pass for the time being. However, if your trip requires you to fly, some options for reducing your carbon footprint are fuel efficient jets such as the Boeing 777 or Airbus 365 and booking nonstop, full flights whenever possible. You might have a little less space for your carry on if your flight is full, but avoiding a layover flight is definitely worth it.

The two most environmentally friendly modes of travel are train and bus. Forms of public transportation create less CO2 emissions per person because they transport groups of people at a time. Taking the bus might seem strange in a car obsessed world, but it takes the pressure off having to drive long distances alone. And trains? I think taking a trip by train would just be cool in general. I hope that I’m able to someday. Unfortunately train and bus stations are a little hard to come by in Iowa when compared to other states, so I would have to travel 162 miles by car in order to get to the nearest train station.

So how about bus stations? Well, the nearest bus station is in the next town over, but Jefferson Lines only services select states, and Colorado is not one of them. I could make it to Montana though. Which is cool. Because, of course, mountains are there, too. But if I want a bus station that can get me to Colorado, I’ll have to drive 85 miles. Then I can hop on a bus and get to Denver.

Bus and train stations sound like a great way to get to different parts of the country, but the problem is that they are still limited services in terms of where you can go and how far someone like me, who lives in a rural area, has to travel to get to such a station. There is also the issue of transportation once you reach your destination. In my case, a bus would get me as close as Denver to the mountains. Once there, I could take a shuttle from the Denver airport up to Estes Park or I would probably have to rent a car (which I’m not old enough to do).

This brings me to my next point, rental cars and general car travel. If you are a member of the population who is old enough to rent a car without racking up a ton of additional costs, here are some things to consider.

  • Rent the smallest car possible or opt for a hybrid (you’ll create fewer emissions and save money on gas).
  • Pack as lightly as possible. More weight means more fuel must be consumed.
  • Ensure that the vehicle is in good working order and use the cruise control as much as possible to obtain high fuel efficiency (keeping you save and saving money).

At least until I’m older, my most efficient and environmentally friendly option for travel from Iowa to Colorado would probably be asking my dad if I can borrow his hybrid to make the trip. However, a bus trip to a different location where I can still get to my beloved mountains is definitely worth taking into consideration.

Once you arrive at your destination (whether by some form of public transportation or by car), it is best to travel with your own power whenever possible. Walking, hiking, bicycling, sailing, and kayaking are all wonderful past times, but it is important to remember that they are all legitimate forms of transportation as well.

The last thing a traveler can do is buy carbon credits to offset the emissions created by traveling: donate to an organization that promotes healthy forestry, or even plant their own trees as a personal form of carbon credit (click on this link to learn more about carbon credits).


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