Fear Of Flying

Travel thoughtfully, probably less, but do get out there if it drives impact.

Oof. Just read another of those "flying is bad, don't travel" posts, this one about conferences. I admire the spirit, but I think that the cost/benefit equation is more nuanced.

Air travel is a small slice - less than 3% - of the carbon emissions pie, and people traveling in service of making the world a better place make up a tiny sliver of that. Overwhelmingly the people sitting next to me on a plane are either on holiday or selling stuff people don't need—they're not trying to save coral reefs or protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

A well-designed site visit or convening is a wonderfully productive thing. Having run both virtual and in-person convenings—a lot of them—I can say that in-person convenings can be exponentially more productive.

On-site-and-in-person is about the long conversations, the depth of connection, the hold on your attention, and the serendipity that can only come from real-time face-to-face contact.

In our work as funders, we don't really know an organization until we've felt the context, gotten to see the model enough to fully grasp it, and come to know the people who run it. I've found that the single most important aspect of travel is the long conversations you can't have without it.

I also find the 2-3 well-designed convenings I travel to among the most productive things I do all year.

The responsibility of both those who convene and those who travel is to create productive events whose impact far outweighs the undeniable damage done by getting to them. The dog-and-pony-show field visits need to go away, along with the dreary tedium of lazily-designed conferences featuring an endless array of least-common-denominator panel discussions.

The gravity of climate change absolutely should make us pause and think before buying that plane ticket, but I believe that taking the responsibility seriously will lead to better-designed site visits and convenings (and perhaps a pared-down number of both). It can be really helpful to sit down with your team after a trip to make an honest assessment of what you did and didn't accomplish.

Also, if you have like-minded highly capable colleagues in other organizations you can, with good prep and follow up, accomplish a lot vicariously through their travels.

Not incidentally, I've become a fan of the long trip, staying out for a month or more, doing a lot of sequential site visits with a single intercontinental lap. I @#%@! hate jet lag, and the patterns that emerge from seeing a lot of stuff in a row are priceless. Tacking a little surf trip on the end doesn't hurt either…

So travel thoughtfully, probably less, but do get out there when and if it translates to doing your job better in a way that disproportionately drives impact. Sometimes there really is no substitute.