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Ride or stride? Choose your transport modes mindfully

June 27, 2018

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This is the first part of the "Sustainable Travel Guide" Series.


If time is not your concern, what will you pick as the most sustainable way to travel? What are the transport modes that hurt our planet the least?

-- Photo from

Ignorance is not bliss

Most of us are aware that global warming is real and getting worse largely due to human emissions of greenhouse gases. We are impacting the environment to our own detriment and the consequences are obvious.

It's time to stop pretending that our individual influence doesn't matter and that it is up to the authorities to take action.

Greenhouse emission from transportation is a huge contributing factor. A large part of it is produced when we travel.

And we travel a lot.

-- Number of departures - trips made from one person's residential country to another (billions per year) - World Bank

In 2014, there were 1.22 billions departures around the world. The trend suggests we will continue to make more trips as it's getting increasingly cheaper and easier to travel. It is a good thing to go out and expand your horizon, but are you doing it the right way? Are you aware of your travel footprints?

To help prevent or postpone our Armageddon, you can make a difference when travelling by choosing the transport modes that are friendliest to the environment.

What the stats say..

Here is a comparison of CO2 emission when we travel using various transport modes:

-- Greenhouse gas equivalent emissions in grams per person per kilometre - Beagley Brown

Let's take a look at the most frequently used means of travelling:

1. The fastest and getting-cheaper-than-ever: Plane

Is not actually our best friend here…

Travelling by plane has the biggest impact on the climate per distance travelled. Not only that flying produces the most CO2 but also creates contrails and formation of cirrus clouds - can you recall looking up at the flying plane and seeing the white clouds that formed by its engine exhaust? They are worse than CO2 in warming up the atmosphere.

2. The classic and road trippers' favourite: Car

What could be as bad as flying? Travelling alone in a large car.

According to a study by researchers at IIASA and Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO) : "A 1000-km trip alone in a big car could emit as much as 250 kg of CO2, while a train trip or carpooling in a small car could emit as little as 50 kg of CO2 for each traveller".

If you have to take a car, consider increasing the number of occupants. Try car sharing (or carpooling), or take hitchhikers along the way. It's better for the environment, and makes your trip much more fun!

Here is a popular platform for car sharing for your next trip:

3. Public transportation

Based on the logic that the more occupants there are in a vehicle, the more you can lessen the amount of greenhouse emission per passenger.

So, use buses and trains for your trips. It requires planning a bit in advance but you can reach almost anywhere these days with these transport modes.

Marion and Diana's trip in Europe and Southeast Asia

4. Electric vehicles

Electric vehicles are the future. They are getting more and more popular thanks to pioneering companies like Tesla, Proterra (electric bus startup).

The great thing about them is clean energy: they don't consume fossil fuels and pollute the environment so much with greenhouse gases. Although there is still some emission admittedly to a certain extent during the manufacturing process. And the energy used to charged the car might come from a mix of fossil fuels, nuclear and renewables.

However, these vehicles are getting greener and becoming more accessible and affordable to the general public. There are hopes that they will soon replace all the fuel-burning, air-polluting, old-tech machines we currently have.

Meanwhile, if you can afford them already, please go ahead, it's worth the investment.

Check out some advice we have for you when planning for a road trip with an electric car.

5. The winners: Cycling and Hiking

Cindy and Fabrice's cycling tour around Europe

Cycling and walking are at the top of the chart, producing virtually no CO2 while travelling.

They are the best alternatives to motorised vehicles. No fossil fuels used, no carbon emission produced (except a small amount during the manufacturing process of the equipment). Your travel footprints in this case are at the lowest of all.

The energy is taken from the food you eat and the working of your muscles. Using your own energy to travel promotes good health and doesn't pollute the environment. Moreover, when you go slow, you are more connected to nature, your surroundings and local people. Your travel experience is more enjoyable than ever.

So, the learning here is: use your own energy by travelling by bike or on foot. It makes you healthier and is better for the environment. Otherwise, go electric and opt for shared vehicles whenever you can.

The colors behind TravelMap

-- TravelMap - Travellers' modes of transport (credit: TravelMap 2018)

Have you ever wondered what is the meaning behind the colors on TravelMap for each transport mode?

Well, at this point of the article, you probably have a better idea why "driving" is dark blue (used to be black) and "cycling" is blue for example.

Clément first created TravelMap for his cycling trip around Australia and chose the color blue for cycling, since it looked good on a map. Then came the idea that the more sustainable you travel, the prettier the color you get, the more beautiful your map looks - as a reward :). That explains why cycling is calming blue, hiking is luminous red (because of the physical effort) - au contraire, gloomy grey for airplane and "smoky" black for driving.

At TravelMap, half of our travellers are still using cars to travel for particular reasons: limited time, having to carry big luggage and equipment, age and physique don't allow otherwise, etc. Some travellers also don't change the default transport mode so it stays "driving".

And some just don't care because it's "convenient" to not think too much.

We want to encourage those of you who can to opt for more sustainable transport modes. As a citizen of Earth, we are responsible for every small and seemingly insignificant decision we take. As we are travelling more, we need to stop being ignorant of the effects we have on the planet.

Remember: Be mindful in choosing a transport mode when you travel. Seek to minimise your footprints as much as you can.

-- Photo from

Ryan Smith  • 
This article is really eye-opening, I’ve never thought that traveling by plane is that bad. Will plan to travel more with public transportation and cycling (my favorite)