I was initially a little unsure when Evelin from the Overlandsite contacted me about writing an article on How to be a Responsible Overlander. My main concern: Should GOOD Travel be advocating for individuals to drive long distances in private vehicles?
So, I started digging, and what I discovered was interesting. While public transport (especially trains) are always preferable in terms of emissions, driving a private vehicle can in some cases still be a better alternative than flying.
A key factor of course is the number of people in your vehicle. According to EcoPassenger, a journey from London to Madrid can be done with lower emissions per passenger by plane, even accounting for the effect of high altitude non-CO2 emissions, if the car is carrying just one person and the plane is full, BUT if you add just one more person into the vehicle, the car wins out (source: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-49349566).
The type of vehicle is also important. Evelin from the Overlandsite explains:
Overlanding can be a great alternative to flying, mainly because the carbon footprint of the vehicle used can be easily reduced by using hybrid vehicles as well as regular vehicles with modern engines with low emissions. These can be very hard to achieve when flying. On the other hand, overlanding vehicles must be developed further to truly make them environmentally friendly. Alternatives in the future could be fully electric vehicles that may use renewable, solar energy. Unfortunately, this seems to be a reality only in the distant future.
Evelin and her partner are from Budapest, Hungary and ever since they met, they've been doing road trips as a way to explore their continent and beyond. Evelin argues that the key to responsible overlanding is also in how you treat the environment on your travels:
My main tip would be to not to use anything that's single-use. That would mean avoiding using single-use plastic, but also batteries. My other advice would be to think long term. Purchase good camping gear only. This is important so that items can be used long term, rather than buying a low-quality product that needs replacing after a few trips.
Evelin believes that being a responsible overlander not only involves thinking about your environmental impact, but also your social and economic impact. While we know that having a positive social and economic impact requires deliberate, researched decision-making, we also agree with Evelin's argument that the nature of overlanding has the potential to facilitate a more positive social and economic impact on the places you visit:
There are social and economic benefits of overlanding, as it is really easy to meet locals and most importantly, locals that are away from the main tourist hubs. That way the local economies can be supported by buying local produce as well as directly helping out with getting involved with local programmes.
This also aligns with recent articles about the flight shaming movement, including the Flight Free 2020 campaign out of the UK. With aviation being the fastest growing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions at a time when we desperately need to reduce them, a growing community of travellers are seeking alternatives to flying when they travel and advocating for the benefits of slow travel. Anna Hughes who runs the Flight Free 2020 campaign states:
Although “shame” is a very negative term, the goals are positive – for people who take part in the movement as well as for the environment. Importantly, it is less about “shaming” other people who fly than changing your own travel patterns. The aim of many promoting less flying is by no means to discourage people from exploring the world. Not flying doesn’t mean not travelling. There are so many places that we can access by other means. The movement is instead about revelling in the slow, deliberate journeys that are possible without aviation.*
So, as a GOOD traveller should you consider overlanding for your next trip?
Possibly! Your top GOOD option from an emissions perspective would be a stay-cation (see our blog for 5 reasons why your next holiday should be a stay-cation) or using public transport if you're travelling, but if you're a family considering taking a flight together, overlanding could be a GOOD alternative. It could also give you the opportunity to get off the beaten track, spread the economic benefits of your travels beyond the tourist trail, and encourage you to slow down and take the time to get to know the people you meet along your journey.
Tell me more!
To learn more about alternatives to flying or to make the pledge to be flight-free in 2020, visit Flight Free UK.
To learn more about actions you can take to reduce your impact on the environment when overlanding, check out the list below or visit Overlandsite.com