How to Green Your Holiday Travel

I've come to think of getting to Christmas as another part of the season's indulgence. But there are ways to get home and hold onto green principles.

Each of the past three years, I've made the environmentally irresponsible choice to drive to Michigan for Christmas. I'm a relative newbie to Christmas: Growing up, my family celebrated more Jewish Christmases, with Chinese food and a movie, than we did traditional Christmases with the Catholic side of the family. The Christmas I celebrate now, with my boyfriend's family, is full of wonderful indulgences: cookies and wine and piles of wrapping paper and a Christmas lamb roast. While I wouldn't give any of that up, I've come to think of getting there as another part of the season's indulgence. The drive from New York to Ann Arbor takes 10 hours and burns multiple tanks of gas, which, as a city dweller, I don't do very often.

I've heard rumors of hardy souls who turn down a ticket home for the holidays in order to keep their carbon footprint low. But no one I know can resist the lure of family (or, alternately, the pressure of parentally induced guilt), whether they're headed for a fireside Christmas at home or a nondenominational bake in the sun in Mexico. Without practicing extreme self-denial, though, there are ways to indulge in a holiday getaway—no matter what mode of transportation you're using—and still hold onto the green principles you abide by the other 11 months of the year.

Planes. A handful of airlines have made the switch from jet fuels to biofuels, the best green option for air travel, but biofueled commercial flights are still a rarity. If your holiday plans include European travel, KLM has some flights on its Amsterdam-Paris route that burn a biofuel blend, and Lufthansa uses biosynthetic kerosene on its Frankfurt-Hamburg service. For most trips, though, the greenest flight is the most direct one. Because it takes more energy to get a plane into the air than to keep it there, every takeoff and landing increases the carbon footprint of a plane trip.

Trains. Train travelers eat up less energy than almost anyone else on their way home. The biggest caveat here: trains with sleeper cars use more energy per passenger than those with seats, since more people can squish into a train car sitting up than lying down. If you’re taking a late-night or overnight train and want to be extra virtuous, choose a train where everyone’s snoozing on the shoulders of their seatmates.

Automobiles. Per mile traveled, cars are one of the least green ways to get where you’re going. But there are ways to make a road trip greener. When renting a car, don’t opt for an SUV just because that’s the car the rental agent offers. Ask for the most fuel-efficient vehicle the rental agency has available. Whether driving a rental or not, chill out and slow down: speeding up to red lights and going way over the speed limit wastes gas. And get cozy with your loved ones. Carpool with relatives headed to the same destination.

Photo courtesy of Currier and Ives

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