Do you want to leave the traffic jams, parking, and high gas prices at home when you head out for your vacation this summer? Make it a car-free trip. (Bonus: you’ll feel great about conserving gasoline as we watch oil spew into the Gulf.)
Here are a few tips for a successful get-away sans the automobile:
- Travel to a car-free destination or a pedestrian and bike-friendly locale.
Did you know that there are a number of car-free islands off the coast of the United States? One is 50 miles from Manhattan, another is 60 miles from L.A., and there are also some near North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Michigan. You can find out more about them here.
Even if you can’t escape from the internal combustion engine entirely, you can get around just fine in many American cities without a car. My husband and I have explored Manhattan, Portland, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, Vancouver and a few other cities without a car, and we had a great time. Looking for a good car-free destination? Check out Bicycling Magazine’s Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities or America’s Most Walkable Neighborhoods on WalkScore.com.
- Bring, rent, or share a bike
In Bicycle Diaries, the musician David Byrne, writes about exploring the world’s cities by bike when he toured with his band The Talking Heads:
I felt more connected to the life on the streets than I would have inside a car or on some sort of public transportation: I could stop whenever I wanted to; it was often (very often) faster than a car or taxi for getting from point A to point B; and I didn’t have to follow any set route. The same exhilaration, as the air and street life whizzed by, happened again in each town. It was, for me, addictive.
No matter how you get to your destination, consider bringing along your own two-wheeled transit. Check out bikeaccess.net for information on traveling with your bike. Or, if you don’t want to or can’t bring your own, most bike shops rent bikes by the hour or day. And some cities have bicycle sharing systems that provide free or affordable access to bicycles for city transport. You can find a list of those programs here.
- Take public transportation
Many cities have excellent, efficient public transportation. And now Google Maps will help you get from point A to point B. If you have a smart phone, traveling by public transit couldn’t be easier. But I managed to get around a number of cities by bus or train with no cell phone and just a little advance planning. (And as my husband will tell you, if someone with my sense of direction can get around in a strange place without getting lost, you probably can too.)
- Consider taking the train
According to the UIC, a Paris-based international organization of the railway sector, trains are three to ten times less CO2-intensive than road or air travel. Sadly the United States lags far behind much of the world when it comes to train travel, and Amtrak is usually not the most economical or reliable option. (It probably doesn’t surprise you that the Federal Highway Administration budget for 2010 was 50 billion as compared to 1.5 billion for the Federal Railway Administration.)
That said, my husband and I have taken Amtrak from Eugene to Vancouver, British Columbia and from Denver to San Francisco and we had comfortable and enjoyable (albeit long) journeys each time. And because train stations are often in the downtown centers of cities, it’s usually easy to find a hotel or hostel nearby. So, you might consider traveling by rail in the U.S. And if you’re heading to Europe or Asia, train travel is a comfortable, green, and efficient way to get around.
- Pack light
One trick for successful car-free voyages is to only take along what you need. Bags with wheels might be a good idea too, especially if you’re planning to switch accommodations mid-trip. My husband and I have logged some miles on foot from train terminals to hostels to transit stations with our bags. But because they’re on wheels, it wasn’t a big deal. Eco and thrifty bonus: small bags make buying trinkets less attractive.
More eco-travel tips:
- Look into couchsurfing or a home exchange.
- Consider an eco-hotel.
- Bring your reusable coffee cup and water bottle.
- Conserve energy in your accommodations. (Turn off lights, fans, TV, and AC off when not in use.)
- Conserve laundry.
- Shop locally.
- Read The International Bicycle Fund’s Tips for Environmentally Friendly Travel.
Have you taken a car-free vacation? I’d love to hear about it.