December 31, 2008

Traveling Mindfully: No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

Travel always is cause for a certain amount of stress; there’s the packing, making sure transportation is lined up, schedules, and so forth.  Added to that, at least for me, is the dual concern of traveling with as small a carbon footprint as possible while sticking to my chosen diet as closely as possible.  While there is no easy answer to travel and carbon footprint, the train seems to represent the form of mass transportation that offers the smallest impact.  According to the Amtrak site, traveling by train the most efficient form of travel when it comes to the passenger-per-mile impact.  While it does take longer than a plane, it takes less time than a car, and for my family and I, it represents an opportunity to unplug, literally and figuratively, and just be with each other.  The up side of train travel is that laptops, cell phones, and the like aren’t forbidden; I saw several people using their electronics on the train, so for the average business person, traveling by train means you don’t have to unplug, but I’ve always opted to use that time to take a step back and focus on my children.  We play various travel games together, read, meditate (well, at least I meditate… the kids, not so much), talk, and just be with each other without the internet, phone, and the hundreds of other distractions in our daily lives.  For those few days on the train, we disconnect from the world and reconnect with each other.  Of course, the “down” side is that it does take longer, but if you have the time (or can make the time), and you’re serious about lessening your carbon footprint, then traveling by train is the way to go.

For the most part, the idea of eating locally pretty much goes out the window when traveling, especially since the majority of restaurants cater to the least expensive option for them.  While preparing to embark on my trip, I wondered how closely I was going to be able to stick to my resolution of not eating factory farmed meat.  I realized that once I’d gotten to my mother’s, I was going to have to back off from that stance a bit rather than turn up my nose at a meal that my mother had spent several days (literally) preparing.  Being mindful also includes being mindful and appreciative of the efforts of others.  However, there was no reason not stick to it on the actual journey there and back again.  Fortunately, I was able to do so much more easily than I thought I would.  For the record, eating on the train is actually a lot of fun.  While in the dining car, the staff will sit you wherever there is an open seat, so you never quite know who your dinner companions will be.  One meal found my son and I sitting with a high school history teacher and train buff from California, and he and I sat and “talked shop” for a good bit of the meal; my son and I were both interested in what he had to say about the history of the railroad as well.  As we sat and watched the scenery go by, we were able to choose from a rather larger menu than one might think, including a few vegetarian options, successfully resolving the “no factory farmed meat” issue for me. 

Like any form of transportation, trains are subject to the whims of weather (though less perhaps than planes or automobiles and buses), and we found ourselves with a 14 hour delay in Chicago; an inconvenience to be sure, but one that was better than the 500+ flights out of Chicago that were outright cancelled.  Ultimately we arrived at our destination a little over 19 hours late, but we arrived, safe and sound, and none the worse for wear, really.  Our return to Colorado was thankfully uneventful, and Amtrak delivered us to Denver without much fanfare, but with a whole lot of gratitude to be home.  Seeing family and old friends is always enjoyable, but there really is no place like home.

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