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Proper Green: Weighing Holiday Travel Options

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Travel stress is a reality during the holiday season. Proper Green offers advice on balancing budget and sustainability, with an eye on other circumstances that effect travel decisions.
Dear Proper Green,

This year's Thanksgiving dinner will be held at my brother's home roughly 300 miles north of New York City (where my wife, daughter, and Basset Hound-son live). We try to be green as much as possible when it comes to daily commuting. I'm an avid biker and the wife is a straphanger. But, we're having a hard time figuring out this year's holiday trek.

We've taken a bus in the past to visit my brother, but recently my wife's developed serious arthritis in her knee and sitting on cramped bus for 4+ hours with no stops is no longer an option. We've looked into trains, but amazingly, for the holiday period, it is almost double the cost of renting a car and about the same cost as FLYING!

How do I balance budget, comfort, and a green lifestyle, short of declining the invitation?

-Green Trekker

Dear Green Trekker,

Thanks for your question!

You hit the nail on the head here — it's all about "balance". Living a green lifestyle isn't about reprioritizing everything in your life and making your carbon footprint priority number one – while that's commendable, it's almost impossible to stick to all the time (especially when you wind up putting your carbon footprint ahead of your fam!).

Living a green lifestyle is about incorporating green into your life when manageable, and changing wasteful habits when possible. It sounds like you put already put your best green foot forward for your daily commute, which is great. It can definitely be trickier to balance the options when it comes to long distance and special occasion travel, but health should never become a guilt factor! It sounds like health and budget concerns leave you with two viable options — fly or drive — so now it's just a matter of determining which is greener.

In most cases, driving actually tends to leave a smaller carbon footprint than flying, but then there's the time it takes to make the trip, and the overall cost. I've used the handy, dandy Fly or Drive Calculator offered on which allows you to input some key data points of your trip (locations, vehicle type, etc.) and pops out the estimated time, cost, and CO2 impact. Another great calculator can be found at While it doesn't give you pricing, it does give you the option of seeing the CO2 produced for not only air and car trips, but also bus and rail.

Calculators like the ones on Be Frugal and NativeEnergy are just a couple of tools to help you make your ultimate decision. Your personal circumstances may mean the least eco-friendly option is really the only feasible option. If it comes down to a toughie like that one, what's a greenie to do? Be green where you can:

  • If you're going to rent a car, find a rental company that offers hybrid vehicles — a hybrid car will save on gas, which is great for the environment and helps lower your overall travel costs.
  • If you're flying, take public transportation to and from the airport.
  • No matter which way you go, pack light — carrying less weight means you use less fuel.
  • Support a wind farm! Consider buying carbon offsets for any travel your family does, whether by plane, train, or automobile. Carbon offsets are reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that help compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Usually, purchasing a carbon offset means your financial support goes toward renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects (like wind farms).

About Proper Green

Proper Green is all about good manners in a green world. Ideas about what constitutes proper behavior within the green movement are still evolving; we aim to help smooth the way, so you can lead a greener life and so we can all be respectful of all shades of green. Good manners, like our planet, need care, attention, and dedication. Proper Green is here to help and inspire!

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Proper Green
Proper Green

Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and... more