Flying harms the environment. In fact, a round-trip international flight can burn around one ton of gasoline (1). So to lessen our environmental impact, we ought to reduce the number of miles we fly each year. The best choice is to not fly at all. And for the most part, I’ve stopped flying in order to practice conservation. But when I need to visit family overseas, I’ve decided to practice nomadic travel. The basic idea is to carry all your belongings with you when you travel, so that there’s never a need to return home.
By not having a home base, I won’t be in a rush to leave. I can stay longer each trip, reducing the total number of flights each year. As a nomadic traveler, I intentionally avoid owning a house, a car, or extra possessions at home. which gives me greater time and flexibility while traveling. I hope to spend months (even years) in the same country, and when possible, I try to get around using slower forms of transit (rail and bus instead of flying). By staying longer and flying less frequently, I can help conserve fuel, which lessens the impact of travel.
But nomadic travel does more than just protect the environment. By flying less frequently and staying longer, I immediately save thousands on plane tickets alone. Less flying also means less time spent in uncomfortable plane seats, and more time to experience the country first-hand. I can learn the native language, meet new people, and see more sites. Vacation is more relaxing when done slowly since there’s no need to see the entire country in a single weekend. Instead of staying in expensive hotels, I can rent an apartment. These slower experiences will be far cheaper, more meaningful and more authentic.
To become a nomad, you need to adjust your traveling mindset. An average tourist is limited by all the possessions he has back at home–his house, job, and car. As a result, he’s bound by a tightly fixed schedule, which limits his flexibility to travel slowly. For a nomad, however, home base is wherever he’s currently staying. There’s never a rush to “return” when you travel with everything you own.
Giving up a permanent dwelling isn’t as painful as it sounds. Permanent assets can feel like deadweight. There’s the cost of paying for space you’re not using, and the emotional burden of caring for your possessions. Without a fixed dwelling, the cost of traveling can actually be cheaper than the cost of living back home. This is because of you’ll likely rent a cheaper apartment and own fewer possessions.
Once you make the leap to become a nomadic traveler, you’ll find traveling to be a lot less stressful and expensive. You can travel once and stay put for months (years) at a time. And if you can get to your destination by bus or train, then you’ll literally save a ton of fuel.
Of course, if you can avoid it, don’t travel at all. That’s always the greenest (and cheapest) option available. When that’s impractical, try to take the train or bus instead, since both options get far better mileage than flying. But when you must fly, consider becoming a nomadic traveler. You don’t need to become the yak-herding shepherd type, either.
- According to Michael Bluejay, a plane averages around 43.0 pmpg (passenger miles per gallon). The one-way distance between Los Angeles and Taipei is 6800 miles, so the round-trip distance is 13,600 miles. This in turn gives 13600 ÷ 43.0 = 316.3 gallons of gasoline burned per round-trip. Gasoline is about 6.073lbs/gal, and there are 2000lbs./ton, so you’ll end up wasting 0.96 tons of gasoline per passenger per round-trip flight.