Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint While Traveling

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With people starting to plan next summer’s vacations, maybe this is the right time to consider our carbon footprint. The international tourism industry is growing faster than the whole of global trade. And the environmental consequences of this growth are expanding just as rapidly. To curb the greenhouse gas emissions associated with travel, a substantial cultural shift needs to occur. With a bit of planning, critical thinking, and open-mindedness, you can minimize the negative environmental impacts of your travels and experience a more authentic side of your destination. Here’s how:

Drive instead of flying.

Driving in a relatively fuel-efficient car (25–30 miles per gallon) usually generates fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than flying. In assessing the global warming impact of a trip from Philadelphia to Boston (about 300 miles), the environmental news website Grist.org calculates that driving would generate about 104 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2)—a leading greenhouse gas—per typical medium-sized car (regardless of the number of passengers) while flying on a commercial jet would produce some 184 kilograms of CO2 per passenger.

The bulk of a plane’s carbon emissions is due to take-off and landing. For this reason, you can dramatically reduce your flight-related carbon footprint by seeking alternative travel methods (like bus, train, or carpool) if your flight would be shorter than 3 hours and by choosing direct flights whenever possible.

Pack light and with plans for reuse.

Heavy luggage requires more fuel during transport! But relying on single-use items during your stay also contributes to waste. Don’t bring more than necessary, but plan smart by bringing things that will help you eliminate disposables during your travels.

  • Remove and recycle any packaging from your items before you leave. This will cut down on bulk in your luggage and ensure that the packaging is disposed of properly.
  • Bring reusable containers with you! A reusable water bottle, a Tupperware container, and a canvas grocery bag can come in handy during your travels and cut down on single-use plastic waste.
  • Plan for laundry day. Hotel laundry services are expensive and generally use a lot of water. Packing clothes that don’t need to be laundered after each wear is good to start. Socks and undergarments made of merino wool, cotton, or bamboo also dry very quickly! You can wash these in the sink and hang them to dry overnight.
  • Think multi-purpose. Why bring two items when one will do? A sarong can be used as a scarf, a towel, and a blanket. The right pair of sandals can work for hiking and an afternoon on the beach.

Research your destination.

Eco-tourism and travel have been steadily rising in popularity, and for great reasons. There are some countries though that have stepped up their efforts to protect and preserve their natural environment not only for the locals and visitors but for the wild inhabitants and for the greater good of our planet. Iceland has continued to hold its ground as one of the most environmentally-conscious countries in the world. New Zealand is made up of two incredibly diverse islands in landscape, ecosystems, and wildlife. Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Ecuador is home to over 5,000 species of mammals, a variety of thriving ecosystems, and let’s not forget about the famous Galapagos Islands. Costa Rica has stood at the forefront of the eco-tourism and travel movement.

Walk, bike, and use public transport at your destination.

You’ll cut down on gas and save yourself the stress of driving in a new city. Plus, walking and biking allow you to see much more of your surroundings! And taking public transportation is a great place to chat with locals. If you’re arriving at an airport, rather than defaulting to a taxi, try to book an airport shuttle via a service such as Shuttlefinder to reduce your emissions.

Double-check that your souvenir is authentic.

Avoid mass-manufactured apparel and plastic tchotchkes that had to travel just as far as you did. If you feel the need to return home with gifts or trinkets, buy directly from local artisans and craftspeople wherever possible. Not only are hand-crafted, locally made items better for the environment and regional economy, they also make for much cooler, more authentic gifts!

Stay in a green hotel.

According to the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative, the industry standard for hotel emissions is 68.6 lbs of carbon per room per night. Green hotels, on the other hand, averaged just 13 lbs of carbon per room per night. When booking, look for hotels that use renewable energy, were built for LEED certification, have extensive recycling and composting programs, and use eco-friendly cleaning products.

Consider purchasing carbon off-setting.

Once you’ve decided whether to drive or fly, consider purchasing carbon offsets for renewable energy development to balance out the emissions you are generating. TerraPass, among others, is a company that makes it easy to calculate your carbon footprint based on how much you drive and fly and then will sell you offsets accordingly. Monies generated through carbon offsets fund alternative energy and other projects, such as wind farms that will ultimately take a bite out of or eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions. TerraPass will also calculate your home energy consumption.

If your adventures around the world have opened your eyes to different ways of living and the wonders of nature, consider giving back to the planet through the carbon off-setting initiative of your choice. Carbon off-setting ranges from investing in projects based in developing countries to roll out clean energy sources or investing in reforestation so that there are more trees worldwide to sequester emissions. Many carbon off-setting organizations qualify as non-profits, which means you’ll be eligible for a tax write-off. And in your daily life, you can make a point to buy goods and services from companies that dedicate part of their profits to planting trees.


Updated, 23 December 2021

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