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This couple stopped flying because of the climate crisis and found a more rewarding way to travel

<i>@solarpunktravel</i><br/>Will and Claire Stedden
Will and Claire Stedden

By Ryan Bergeron, CNN

Will and Claire Stedden tied the knot in 2017, but their “honeymoon phase” was longer than most.

“We called it a honeymoon with interest,” Will told CNN.

Because of other commitments, the Steddens didn’t honeymoon until three years after their wedding.

While dreaming up the trip, they thought about flying to New Zealand to go backpacking. But once it was time to book, the Steddens had grounded themselves. They had to limit their options to places they could get to without flying.

The ball and chain tethering them to the ground wasn’t the Covid-19 pandemic, it was their commitment to being flight-free in order to combat the climate crisis.

“I started learning about the idea of choosing not to fly intentionally from Peter Kalmus, who’s a climate scientist, who was very vocal about not flying,” Will said.

For Claire, who used to live in the Midwest, moving to California brought the realities of the crisis to her front door.

“Actually seeing the fires around and the ashes rain down on my car. The town next to us ran out of water,” she said. “That was a really big part of it — living it and realizing what the future would be if you don’t start doing something.”

Their pledge to stop flying did not diminish their commitment to find adventure, and they decided to spend their honeymoon biking up the Northwest Pacific coast. The couple traversed Northern California to the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, then Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park in Washington.

“That was the most life-changing trip I’ve ever done. And it would never have happened if we had not decided to stop flying,” Claire said.

Learning to not fly

As a CNN story from 2020 reports, at least 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions comes from aviation and that number will continue to climb if changes aren’t made.

Some people are beginning to curtail their travel habits because of the climate crisis, but the Steddens do not want to “flight shame” anyone. Instead, they’d like to inspire.

They began posting their adventures on Instagram as Solar Punk Travel. They travel mostly by e-bikes hooked up with solar panels and have so far visited the Northwest, Southwest and Midwest United States. They have also taken some trains, which helped in their recent move from California to Wisconsin.

“When our lease started it was just me unloading my bicycle,” Claire laughed.

The couple credited clipping their flying wings with a much more rewarding way to travel. Instead of being “frustrated in the airport,” they now enjoy seeing the landscapes change as they pass through.

It is also providing them with more flexibility on the road. If there’s a place they’d like to stay longer, there’s no flight rearrangements or fees to worry about. For the Steddens, it’s been their ticket to vacationing like a local everywhere they go.

“It makes you really appreciate where you are,” Claire added.

What started out as a plan to go flight-free for one year has now stretched to three for Will and two for Claire.

“Part of our reason to continue doing it, is just to show how fun it can be and it’s not a hardship. You can have a great life,” Claire said. It’s a similar thought to one of her favorite quotes, “Being sustainable is not about hardship and loss; it’s about beauty and creativity.”

But the well-grounded couple isn’t giving up flying forever. They plan to follow a report that says one flight every 8 years is sustainable. So, the Steddens are considering a 2027 flight to Europe. Once there, though, they would be sightseeing by bike and train, of course — a nice way to celebrate eight years of flightless travel on what will be their 10th anniversary.

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