Couples Travel the World Without Planes, Cars

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Nonprofit TransForm’s recent event in San Francisco, “Car-Free Adventures and Heroes,” featured five people who think outside the car and plane. Photo: Alexis Petru, Earth911

On July 21, more than 60 bicycle, transit and pedestrian enthusiasts gathered in a community center in San Francisco to hear stories of people who think outside the car and plane. “Car-Free Adventures and Heroes,” organized by nonprofit TransForm that seeks to improve the Bay Area’s public transportation and walkability, featured a couple who spent a year traveling the world without flying, a couple writing a series of guidebooks for car-free trips and a San Francisco family that lives car-free.

Barnali Ghosh and Anirvan Chatterjee visit the Great Wall in Beijing, China, on their one-year journey across the world without flying. Photo: Barnali Ghosh and Anirvan Chatterjee

Around the world, without a plane

Barnali Ghosh and Anirvan Chatterjee couldn’t believe their eyes when they calculated their carbon footprint online. Though the couple is vegetarian and had given up their car a decade earlier, their carbon footprint was higher than that of 90 percent of Americans. The culprit? Air travel.

Ghosh, a landscape architect, and Chatterjee, founder of BookFinder.com, make a trip from their home in Berkeley, Calif., to visit their families in India once a year. They did some calculations and realized that the round-trip flight to India, which produced seven metric tons of carbon dioxide, was cancelling out their car-free year, which saved five metric tons of carbon dioxide.

“It’s the equivalent of exercising and dieting every day. Then on Dec. 31, you have a 200,000-calorie dessert and ruin the whole year,” Chatterjee says.

The couple asked themselves: Could they go for a year without flying?

To bring attention to air travel’s impact on the environment, Ghosh and Chatterjee decided to embark on a trip around the world without setting foot on a plane, chronicling their travels on their blog.

Nine months later, in September 2009, they drove up to Seattle, where they boarded a container ship headed to Yokohama, Japan. A popular way for European retirees to travel, container ships actually offer accommodations and meals for 100 euro a day.

Over 12 months, the couple visited 56 cities in 14 countries, including China, Turkey, Russia and Italy, and rode only one car, two containers ships, three ferries, 16 buses and 39 trains. They spoke to people affected by climate change on their journey, as well as individuals working on sustainable solutions to the climate crisis: from climate-vulnerable fishermen in Bangladesh to a teenage climate activist in Vietnam.

Since arriving back to the Bay Area last August, Ghosh and Chatterjee are working on an international aviation justice campaign to make air travel more sustainable and offer environmentally and socially responsible alternatives to flying. They recommend calculating the climate impact of your own travels at TripFootprint.com.

Kelly Gregory and Justin Eichenlaub take one of their post-car adventures to Death Valley National Park. Photo: Kelly Gregory and Justin Eichenlaub

It’s the car-free journey, not the destination

Kelly Gregory and Justin Eichenlaub want to help you rethink your next vacation.

The Oakland couple is working on a series of guidebooks that offer trips from major cities to local destinations via bicycling, walking, bus or train – but without using a car. The first book in the series, “Post-Car Adventuring: The San Francisco Bay Area,” details step-by-step directions for nine car-free trips to places such as Napa, 50 miles from San Francisco, and Yosemite, 200 miles from San Francisco.

“Traditional guidebooks tell you what to do once you get to your destination,” Gregory says. “Our guidebook starts at your doorstep. The journey is an integral part of the adventure – it’s not just the destination itself.”

While the couple shares a passion for cycling – they actually met on a bike tour – they say their carless trips aren’t just for other cyclists, but for everyone: weekend campers, backpackers, hikers and more.

Here’s one sample post-car adventure: Ride Amtrak for 120 miles from the Bay Area to Merced, Calif., hop on a local bus for 25 miles and then bike the last 25 miles to Mercy Hot Springs, enjoying scenery and stops along the way.

Don’t live in the Bay Area? Gregory, an architect, and Eichenlaub, a PhD student in English literature, say their first guidebook is perfect both for locals and visitors and that guidebooks for Seattle, Los Angeles and New York are in the works. In the mean time, they post updates on their own car-free adventures on their blog.

Aaron Ogle’s family of four enjoys their car-free lifestyle in San Francisco. Photo: Aaron Ogle

Trading in the minivan for a transit pass

Aaron Ogle has a host of catchy one-liners that describe his family’s car-free lifestyle.

“We traded in the minivan for a transit pass. We choose walkers moms over soccer moms. We run on Honey Nut Cheerios, not foreign oil,” he says.

The father of two may have a sense of humor, but he does not own a car. Ogle and his family live in the inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco, within walking distance of parks, the library, grocery stores, restaurants and public transit.

A number of tools make the Ogle family’s daily activities run smoothly: rain gear for the rainy season, as well as a variety of strollers and ergonomic child carriers for when his kids, ages two and four, get tired of walking.

Ogle is passionate about getting people out of their cars at his day job, too; he is developing a comprehensive transit trip planner that calculates calories burned, emissions saved or produced and cost for Code for America, a program that designs free web applications for city governments.

He admits that his friends and family thought he was crazy for getting rid of the family’s car and pummeled him with questions: “How will you pick up friends at the airport? What if your child needs to go the emergency room? What if you want to go camping on the weekend?”

To tackle these non-everyday events, Ogle follows the same advice he offers to others considering going car-free.

“Don’t coordinate your life around the exceptions; plan by what you have to do every day,” he says. “If you have a back-up plan for these exceptions, you are ready to be a car-free family.”

His back-up plans for the above exceptions? Car-share for a few hours, an ambulance or taxi, and car rental for the weekend.

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