Q: I’ve got my calendar open, credit card in hand and I’m gearing up to start looking into holiday travel options.

Here’s my situation: Every Christmas, my husband and I head to my in-laws’ place in Chicago from our home in Memphis. Every year, my mother-in-law makes not-so-subtle “where’s the baby?” comments; every year, I gain five pounds in five days even though I avoid the abundance of mayonnaise-based salads that my mother-in-law specializes in; every year I want to lock myself in the bathroom and cry when my mother-in-law isn’t looking; and every year, my husband and I, at my mother-in-law’s insistence, fly to Chicago from Memphis. To be precise, we drive to the airport (about 40 minutes), fly to O’Hare (60 minutes), rent a car at O’Hare and then drive to the in-laws’ (another 60 minutes).

It’s a schlep to be sure, but it’s also become routine. This year, however, in defiance of my mother-in-law and in an effort to minimize our holiday travel footprints, I’m thinking of giving our itinerary a lower-carbon makeover. I don’t do buses, and the drive to Chicago is about nine hours. I’ll let you work with that.

Making plans and avoiding mayo,

-- Mel, Memphis, Tenn.

A: You may not like my first suggestion (although it sounds like you may need a respite from your mother-in-law) but here it is: Don’t go.

Spend a few days around the house with the hubby and funnel travel expenses into making eco-friendly home improvements ('tis the season!). Eat out, sleep in, see a couple of movies, explore Memphis, do something you normally wouldn’t do. And take a few minutes to get the in-laws set up with a Skype account if they simply must see your faces over the holidays.

I realize that this idea may not fly, no pun intended, so here’s my thoughts on how to tweak your normal MEM–ORD itinerary to make it less carbon-intensive. If you have to fly (one hour in a plane versus nine hours in car is a toughie), don’t drive to the airport. Leave the car at home and hop on an airport shuttle bus. You might struggle with baggage a bit more, but it’s a solid alternative. Or, if you have friends or coworkers flying out of town at around the same time and space allows, carpool.

When you get to O’Hare, hire an airport shuttle or look into mass transit options instead of renting a car. But if this means being stranded in the snow with your mother-in-law, look into renting a hybrid vehicle. Most major car rental chains with airport locations have (and if they don’t, they should) fleets of hybrids at your disposal. And please, please, please, avoid a layover, if possible. Connecting flights are responsible for more carbon emissions — by as much as 25 percent — than direct flights since takeoff is when a bulk of them are generated.

Also, don’t forget to purchase the holiday gift that keeps on giving, carbon offsets, for the flight. For example, Delta offers an offsetting option through a partnership with The Conservation Fund or you can purchase directly through carbon offset companies.

As you may have caught on, you’ll be sacrificing convenience and a few extra bucks, but these are the easiest ways to trim CO2 emissions from your flight-centric travels. If you think you’d be open to the idea of spending nine hours of QT with your hubby in a car, hit the road.

Auto travel, in general, is less carbon-intensive than flying, especially if you’re behind the wheel of a hybrid or vehicle that gets good highway mileage. Have fun with the drive — turn it into a mini-road trip — without taking too many detours. And, if possible, turn it into a group journey if you have friends who also are heading north for the holidays.

My ultimate advice? Take the train. If you hit the rails, the trek from Memphis to Chicago can take a wee bit longer than driving (about 10-and-a-half hours) but it’s a traffic-less, overnight journey and costs less than flying. Plus you can completely avoid the terror that is O’Hare at the holidays. And just imagine the shock that will ensue when your mother-in-law asks what time your flight gets in and you say, “Our train gets in at 8:30 a.m. and we’re not renting a car this year. See you at the station bright and early.”

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

What's the most low-impact way to travel to my in-laws' over the holidays?
Advice columnist Matt Hickman offers alternatives to air travel during the holidays.