Sometimes, we do things because they are what we have always done; what we’re used to.  Things that seem easy to do because we know what to expect.  And, sometimes these things aren’t the most sustainable choices.  Often, striving towards a more sustainable lifestyle can seem difficult or even overwhelming at times.  Then, we discover that we just weren’t informed about something that could ultimately be a better choice that benefits environmental, economic, and social factors and it really wasn’t much harder to do…just a little different.

Recently, I flew to California for a long weekend.  While some could argue that air travel leaves a large carbon footprint, I like to think of it as mass transit in the sky.  If you think about it, being in an airplane is very similar to being in a bus or a train car.  Also, it would be a much less sustainable trip if I drove from the East Coast to the West Coast in my car by myself, as evidenced in an article by Slate magazine.  According to author Daniel Gross, air travel may just finally be more energy efficient than driving, due to technological advances in fuel efficiency, new materials, parts, and software.  Even the practice of filling planes to capacity makes a difference.

I plugged in my data via the Fly or Drive Calculator to see if my trip really could be more carbon footprint-friendly by flying.  It turns out it is.  But, not by much.  The CO2 impact is 3,758 lbs. for flying as compared to 3,973 lbs. for driving.  However, the time and cost savings is significant and makes flying a much more sustainable travel option for me.

It's Too Hard - flydrive long

Typically, when I fly, I get a ride from someone I know to the airport, since Newark Liberty International Airport is about 20 minutes away from my home.  When I was telling my friend about my plan for getting to the airport, she mentioned that she normally takes the train to the airport when she flies.  “Hmmm.” I thought.  “The train, huh?  How do I even go about taking the train to the airport?  It seems too hard to do that.”

Knowing that my red-eye return flight would be a bit of an issue with having someone pick me up, I decided that it was worth looking into the train as my transportation method for getting to and from the airport.  Why not save my driver the 40-minute round trip, right?  After a few minutes (seriously, just minutes) on our local public transportation website, I found out that I had to take the train line from my town to Newark and switch trains for just one more stop, which would bring me to the airport train station.  When I arrived at the airport train station, I would just have to hop on the monorail to the first terminal and I’d be right where I would be if was dropped off by car.  All of this travel was included in the price of one ticket, for $9.50.  Far less than a taxi or car service would cost me, and time back into my driver’s day.  And, if I could use mass transit on the ground, as well as in the air, then I might be widening the flying versus driving carbon footprint gap even further.


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So, I gave it a whirl.  And, it was SO EASY!  It took about the same amount of time to travel by train/monorail as it would have by car.  And, the bonus is that I was moving often because of switching from train to train to the monorail (a HUGE plus, with hours of sitting in one position on an airplane looming ahead of me). I can’t believe I didn’t figure this out before.

Most people recognize that taking mass transit is a more sustainable way to travel daily.  Many use it to minimize environmental impact and avoid the headache of rush hour in a car, but don’t often think about it for leisure or infrequent business trips.  Often, that’s because it seems hard to do.  It seems like too many steps, too much time to navigate, and yet one more thing to think about.  I found out that it really is doable and easy.  Just as with hitching a ride, there is some forethought involved with timing, but overall the benefits outweigh the negatives as it saves the environment from damage from individual passenger car travel, it saves time (no need to guess when the plane will land or wait around after it does), keeps your body moving, and costs less.  Seems pretty all-around sustainable to me!

Featured Image:  Photos remixed from originals by Serge Melki and Paul Everett by