Although I tend to prefer alternative methods of transport these days, there is something to be said for the joys of traversing the open roads of America in a personal automobile. Last week, I drove solo from Seattle, WA to Austin, TX over the course of four days. With most of my belongings in the trunk of my Challenger, I made the trip in anticipation of my move to New York City in September. As someone with increasingly mixed feelings about cars and their impact on the Earth, I spent much of the trip thinking about the relationship between me, the roaring machine under my grip, and the landscape sailing by.

Having spent the last 3 years living in Seattle, I have come to see how much a halfway decent public transit network can transform life within a city. During trips to Europe and New York City, I’ve also gained glimpses of the type of comprehensive transit network Seattle to which can only hope to aspire. Day-to-day, most of our trips – whether it be to work, to the grocery store, or to dinner – are within a several mile radius of us. In a place where alternatives to driving are valued, cycling or public transit wins out against cars for this length of trip in terms of environmental impact, exercise, and impact on mental health. But most of America doesn’t value these modes of transportation, and as a result, the only option is to drive a personal vehicle, suffer through traffic, find a parking space, insulate yourself from the reality of your surroundings – all the while either pumping emissions into the atmosphere with a combustion engine, or stripping the Earth of precious resources with an electric motor.

That being said, on long trips between states or countries, plane travel insulates us from our surroundings even more than cars, lifting us up above the land to satisfy our modern sense of impatience. Cars or trains allow us to keep a finger on the pulse of the vast lands between our point of departure and our destination. While we can’t spare so much time for every trip, the thrill of seeing the colors change as they whizzed by me, the rush of an engine getting up to speed to pass, the uniquely American experience of it all, was a good reminder that there are benefits to slow travel.

Calculations of the environmental impact between the two become complicated depending on how many passengers are in each mode of transit, the type of engine in question, etc. In some cases, plane travel can pollute more than car travel. However, not all of the benefits of long-distance travel over land are unique to cars. In fact, trains contribute a fraction of the emissions compared to cars, and high-speed rail can be even more satisfying than flights for mid-range journeys. The need for a truly viable passenger rail line in the US has gone unattended for too long, and it’s a big part of the reason I’m so excited to travel across Europe in the coming weeks. Until some time in the future where we reach critical mass for building large-scale rail networks, I continue to dream of the day where we can all see these benefits without having to concern ourselves with the environmental impacts of our travel