Fuel Costs Aren’t Making Airlines Eco-Friendly

As discussed in an article in The Economist today, airlines should theoretically be becoming more and more “green.” Fuel costs are normally the largest single cost for airlines and rising fuel costs aren’t good for the airline or the customer. One might assume that airlines would pursue fuel efficiency with their bottom line in mind, but that doesn’t appear to be the case, at least not with the most profitable domestic Airline (2009-2011), Allegiant Air. Allegiant was found to actually be the least fuel efficient airline for the year of 2010 in a report recently released by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).
While it is certainly counter-intuitive that the most profitable airline can also be the least fuel efficient, there are other factors that play into the sometimes ambiguous cost/profit setup of airlines.

Still, The Economist asks the question that I have to echo: “If the bottom line cannot force airlines to be more fuel efficient, what can?” One of the many possible answers to that question is fleet, since almost one-third of the efficiency gap between airlines can be attributed to differences in fleet. Here’s to hoping for the employment of greener planes down the road.

[Thanks, The Economist]

Where To Sleep During A Long-Haul Road Trip: Putting A Price On Your Safety

As you may have gathered from my last few posts, I spent the second half of July and first week of August living out of my car during a relocation from Seattle to Boulder. En route, I had a family vacation on the Klamath River in Northern California, and business trips to the Bay Area and North Carolina, which is why I was in limbo.

I’ve road-tripped and relocated across the West many times, and love the time alone with my thoughts and enjoying the scenery. Now that I’m in my early 40s, however, I’ve become more wary about where I choose to spend the night. I’m still on a tight budget, but this increasing awareness is a direct result of life experience, and my obsession with TV shows like “Forensic Files.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, someone who is truly fearful wouldn’t travel or drive cross-country alone. They certainly wouldn’t elect to drive Nevada’s notorious Highway 50, aka “The Loneliest Road in America,” but that’s what I did last week (anything to avoid the mind-numbing hell that is Highway 80). Allegedly, less than 200 drivers a day pass on this route, so one needs to plan accordingly.

Highway 50 is mostly high desert landscape, broken up by a handful of historic mining towns like the curiously appealing Austin. Located seven hours east of the Bay Area, this is where I chose to spend the first night of the final leg of my journey, in the rustic but comfortable Cozy Mountain Motel.

Although I was desperate to save money (my room was $60, and of the three motels in town, it had the best reviews … I also use the term “town” loosely), I didn’t feel safe camping alone in such a desolate region. It’s a shame, because the nearby primitive Bob Scott Campground, in the sagebrush and Piñon pines of the Toiyabe National Forest, is a beauty. Yet, due to its isolation and handful of sites, it wasn’t the place for an exhausted, solo female to spend the night.The next day, I had a grueling ten hours on the road before I hit Green River, Utah. Green River isn’t the most savory place, but it’s a popular jumping-off point to Moab/Lake Powell/Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks.

I was so wiped out when I arrived that I chose the first campground I saw: a KOA, which is the type of place I usually go to great lengths to avoid. At that point, all I cared about was a shower and rest, and because it was a glorious, hot desert night, I planned to sleep under the stars. Expediency meant more to me than dealing with setting up a tent in a less generic campground.

I walked into the office and asked the very friendly girl behind the counter for a tent site. Upon driving to the location, I discovered several things that didn’t thrill me. It abutted a vacant lot separated only by some sparse vegetation. Next to the lot was a rundown Motel 6. To my right were a few unoccupied, dusty campsites and open highway. Um, no thank you.

I scouted the mostly empty campground (which was primarily RV, and not tent, sites) and chose a location between two motorhomes, which was backed by a chain-link fence. Then I returned to the office and explained that I didn’t feel safe in my assigned site, and could I please have X or X location?

No problem. The receptionist said she understood, and proceeded to tell me a horrifying story about a recent encounter her mother had had in the town park with a drug-addled freak. She didn’t even charge me the higher RV rate.

An hour later, I was sprawled happily on my sleeping bag, reading, when the receptionist and her employer, a crotchety old man, whizzed up in a golf cart. She looked uncomfortable as he sniped at me for being in an “unauthorized site” because I was in a car. I was ordered to come to the office to rectify the situation immediately. Sigh.

Back behind the counter, the poor receptionist apologized profusely, and I shrugged it off, saying I’d rather pay more to ensure my safety. A manager was needed to get into the system and charge me accordingly, and when he showed up at the office, she explained the situation. He was clearly more interested in returning to his happy hour, so I was permitted to remain in my present location, free of extra charge.

Needless to say, I remained unmolested during the night, and although I was embarrassed by the musical campsites, the entire experience reinforced that it’s best to listen to your gut. Always insist upon putting your safety first.

[Photo credits: tent, Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography; Arches NP, Flickr user Fikret Onal; Jason, Flickr user Stinkie Pinkie]

Five Things You Can Do On Earth Day To Save Natural Resources

Earth Day is upon us, and even if you’re not planning to celebrate our planet’s making it through another year (what global warming?), there are still some simple measures you can take to show your gratitude. Love your Mother, you know?

Whether you’re on the road or at home, the following are smart rules to implement every day of the year:

  • Do laundry at night, after peak electricity usage hours and only wash full loads.
  • Use a travel mug when you purchase your morning coffee and carry a reusble water bottle.
  • Stash reusable shopping bags in your car, purse or backpack and desk.
  • Turn the tap off while brushing your teeth, washing your face, doing dishes or shaving.
  • Switch to e-tickets, e-pay, and other paperless forms of commerce; add your name to no junk mail and catalog lists.

[Photo credit: Flickr user kevin dooley]

Travel Smarter 2012: New approaches to sustainable travel

When most people think of ecotourism, they imagine off-grid rainforest lodges and volunteer work in impoverished communities.

While those can certainly be great experiences, they’re not the only way to travel sustainably. These days, the definition of ecotourism has broadened, and travelers are embracing a new consciousness around the way we travel, how we interact with places, and what kind of impact our visit has on our surroundings. The best thing is, this new type of conscious travel doesn’t have to be restrictive. In fact, it often leads to much more meaningful experiences. Consider the following approaches as a starting point.Slow down
Taking inspiration from the slow food and slow fashion movements, “slow travel” has evolved as a backlash to the manic pace that traditionally accompanies air travel and mile-a-minute sightseeing vacations. Slow travelers cherish the journey as much as the destination. They’ll choose leisurely modes of transport like trains, bicycles, and barges; stay in long-term vacation rentals instead of hotels; and structure itineraries that allow enough time to savor experiences. Not only is the slow travel mindset easier on the environment because it cuts out unsustainable forms of transport, but it can also be cost-effective since the emphasis is on quality of experiences rather than quantity. For resources on planning a slow travel vacation, check out the SlowTrav.com community.

Get local
Many travelers are tired of following the tourist path, preferring instead to experience new places as locals. Enter, the “local travel” movement, which focuses on connecting with local people, being sensitive to the local environment, respecting local culture and heritage, and spending money locally. The popularity of the local travel movement is evident in the explosive growth of home-stay listing service Airbnb, which experienced 500 percent growth in the last year and recently announced its 5 millionth night booked. Another website that can help facilitate local experiences is GuideHop, which allows city residents to host and post their own custom tours. Recent listings included a tour of Austin‘s urban farms and a bike ride along the San Francisco waterfront.

“Voluntour” smarter
The practice of voluntourism — which combines travel with volunteer work — has grown more and more popular in recent years. At the same time, it’s also become more and more controversial. Critics say that voluntourism often hurts communities more than it helps them, and that tourists who pay thousands of dollars to paint a school in a developing country are better off donating that money to a non-profit that can handle the task more effectively. Valid points — but the truth is volunteer travel can also be a tremendously positive and transformative experience, both for the individual and the community, when done smartly. New certification programs are in the works from groups like UK non-profit Tourism Concern, but nothing really beats personal research. Rather than limit yourself to the top Google search results for “volunteer abroad,” use your social networks to find friends who live or have lived in your target destination and ask them about well-respected organizations. In the U.S., you can also use Charity Navigator to see how non-profit groups stack up against each other.

Though ecotourism and sustainable travel can take on many forms, the first step to more conscious travel is awareness. Once you take care to explore the world while being kind to it, the rest will come naturally.

[flickr image via Stefano Lubiana Wines]

Photo of the Day: the greener side of Antarctica

We see a lot of amazing images from Antarctica, some with jaw-dropping glaciers and icebergs, others with cuddlier subjects like penguins. Seeing the greener side of Antarctica is rarer, as we tend to envision the continent as perennially covered in ice and snow. While no trees and few leafy plants grow there, you can still see green fields like the one above captured by Flickr user SummitVoice1 on some of the sub-Antarctic islands. The almost plush animal-like chinstrap penguins pop against the background of green grass and white feathers.

Add your unusual travel photos to the Gadling Flickr pool and you may see one featured as a future Photo of the Day.