How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When You Travel

Reduce Travel Emissions

Written by TerraPass

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For most of us, traveling is an exciting and memorable experience, full of opportunities to see famous places, embrace new cultures, try exotic foods, and even make new friends.

But in the midst of all the fun, it’s easy to forget just how much our holidays and business trips impact the climate.

Factors such as your modes of transport, style of accommodation, eating habits, and even the contents of your suitcase can each affect your journey’s carbon footprint. And just like in your everyday life, your environmental impact isn’t determined by any single activity – but a combination of many smaller ones that can quickly add up.

And when it comes to reducing your next trip’s CO2 emissions, it’s understandable to have a number of questions. Is it better to take a short flight or a long train journey? How do you find green accommodation? How much do your food and drink choices affect the climate?

Today, we’re taking a look at some of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint when you travel – so let’s dive in a take a closer look.

1. Replace Air Travel With Greener Alternatives

We all know that sometimes, whether it’s due to the distance involved or how quickly you need to get there, a plane ticket is the only viable option. But in many cases, other modes of transport that have a much smaller carbon footprint – and may even offer a more comfortable experience.

Climate change research by the BBC found that compared to air travel, you can reduce your CO2 emissions between 50% and 80% by taking a train, coach, or even a full passenger car instead. And without the hassles of lengthy check-ins, weight limits, and security restrictions, these alternative modes of transport can get you to your destination in a much more relaxed, stress-free way.

2. When You Fly, Make Climate-Friendly Choices

Sometimes, there really is no other choice but to take to the skies. But thankfully, there are a number of ways you can reduce or even eliminate the CO2 emissions of your flight.

  • Choose a greener airline. Just like not all planes are the same, some airlines are working harder than others to offer greener forms of air travel. Major carriers such as Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines, and JetBlue have each launched sustainability programs to improve fuel efficiency, initiate recycling programs, and adopt the use of biofuels. For a more detailed list of popular airlines, view this list from greenvacations.com.
  • Fly economy, and fly direct. Business and first-class seats might be more comfortable, but they also take up significantly more space per person, and therefore, have a much larger carbon footprint. If you want to keep your emissions to a minimum, it’s better to fly economy instead.

“A first-class ticket on a long-haul flight emits, on average, four times as much as an economy seat on the same plane…” Jocelyn Timperley, BBC.com

Flying directly to your destination is also much better for the environment. According to NASA research, around 25% of a plane’s total carbon emissions come from takeoff and landing, which you can avoid by eliminating connecting flights.

  • Pack light, and rent bulky items. The heavier the plane, the higher the fuel consumption and the bigger the carbon footprint. If you’re embarking on an action-packed holiday with surfboards, skis, or camping goods, try to rent them locally instead. This will not only significantly reduce your traveling weight, but you’ll also enjoy a smoother, hassle-free flying experience.
  • Offset your emissions. By making smarter choices when you fly, you can substantially reduce your environmental impact. And for those unavoidable emissions, you can purchase carbon offsets to restore the natural balance. At terrapass, we have an online carbon footprint calculator to measure the greenhouse gasses of your annual air travel – or even just a specific flight. We also have a flight carbon offsets product that makes it easy to offset the impact of your air travel.

3. Stay in Environmentally-Friendly Hotels

When it comes to booking your accommodation, it’s worth taking a little extra time to find hotels and resorts that provide a more environmentally-friendly stay.

The United States Green Building Council has developed the LEED program, which awards a certification level based on a hotel’s performance across six environmental categories, such as energy and water use, waste management, air quality, and efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. When a hotel achieves LEED certification, it then receives a silver, gold, or platinum classification rating.

If you’re searching for green accommodation suggestions, here are a few places to start:

4. Be Smart With Energy and Water

When we stay in hotels and resorts, we often forget the value – both monetary and environmental – of basic utilities such as electricity and water. And because holidays and business trips provide an escape from our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking extra-long showers, leaving lights and appliances switched on, and running heating and cooling systems 24 hours a day.

But in our experience, the best way to limit your greenhouse gas emissions is simple: act like you’re the one paying the bills.

Thankfully, this doesn’t mean you have to scrimp and save – but just to avoid needlessly wasting power and water. Keep showers to a normal length, turn off lights and appliances when you’re not using them, and only use the HVAC system when you’re actually in the room.

By being more aware of your consumption, you can still enjoy all of the typical hotel creature-comforts – but have a much smaller environmental impact in the process.

5. Make Use of the “Do Not Disturb” Sign

Do you really need fresh bedding and towels every single day? Probably not.

In an effort to create a memorable experience, many hotels will thoroughly clean and refresh your room as a matter of daily routine. And while it’s nice to enjoy the VIP treatment, the frequent use of washing machines, dryers, and vacuum cleaners adds significant carbon emissions to your stay.

If you don’t want the cleaners to come by every day and send everything off to the laundry room, simply leave the “Do Not Disturb” hanger on your door. And of course, if you do require some cleaning services. you can always take the sign down, or make a quick call to the front desk.

6. Pack Your Own Reusable Items

When we stay in new locations for short periods of time, it’s easy to fall into a disposable mindset. We often buy items such as plastic water bottles, shopping bags, coffee cups, and food containers only to throw them away without a second thought. And all of these items require natural materials, energy, and water to manufacture, not to mention their disposal adding to landfill and ocean pollution.

If you’re committed to enjoying more sustainable travel, we suggest that you always pack a few core items you can reuse throughout your trip, such as:

  • Refillable water bottles
  • Reusable coffee cups
  • Food storage containers
  • Shopping bags
  • Reusable straws

You can easily fit many of all of these items in a small bag or backpack, and you’ll be amazed at how much waste you can eliminate simply by refilling and reusing. We suggest trying out these sustainable items on your next vacation or business trip – and then making them part of your everyday life when you get back.

7. Walk, Bike, and Take Public Transport

A big appeal of traveling to a new city or country is the chance to explore different places, see historic landmarks, and immerse yourself in a new environment. But it’s how you move around during your travels that can have a big impact on the carbon footprint of your trip.

Rather than relying on carbon-intensive taxis and ride-hailing services, try to explore your new surroundings on two feet or two wheels. Many cities offer free walking or bike tours if you’d like a structured trip, or you can simply walk around, hire a bike, or even rent an e-scooter if you’d prefer to explore on your own.

And if you need to cover greater distances or want to travel more quickly, utilize public transport as much as you can – particularly low-emission forms like trains and trams.

8. Eat Local Cuisine

As we’ve covered in a few of our recent articles, your food choices have a significant impact on the environment, both in terms of the type of food you eat and how far it travels to reach your plate.

And if it’s not already one of your trip’s main drawcards, try to eat as much local food as you can. Consuming foods from local growers and producers is an effective way to reduce the shipping and transport emissions of your meals – not to mention supporting the local community.

And if you’re traveling to areas of the world famous for their vegetarian dishes – particularly India, Israel, and many parts of Asia – try to embrace meat-free dining during your stay. It’s been well documented that plant-based diets have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than those high in meat, and you might discover some exciting new dishes in the process.

9. Balance Your Remaining Emissions With Carbon Offsets

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure – or perhaps a mixture of both – we hope you’ve discovered many new and effective ways to minimize your trip’s environmental impact.

It’s important to remember that reducing your carbon footprint doesn’t need to be at the expense of enjoying your travels. In fact, it can encourage you to try new activities, discover new places, sample different foods, and minimize waste.

And thankfully, for those remaining emissions you can’t eliminate through choices and behavior, you can balance them out by purchasing verified carbon offsets.

At terrapass, we’ve created a free online carbon footprint calculator that measures your CO2 emissions from air travel, driving, public transport, electricity use, and much more. You can then purchase carbon offsets to fund certified emission reduction projects.

And while eliminating greenhouse gasses is an effective measure in the fight against global warming – the best way to protect the climate is to avoid producing them in the first place. Traveling is a chance to see new parts of the world, but it should also serve as a reminder that our planet is beautiful, unique, and delicate.

And by reducing your trip’s carbon footprint – and offsetting as many of your remaining emissions as you can – you’ll ensure future generations get to enjoy their travels just as much as you do today.

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

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