10 Tips To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint While Traveling

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Did you know that the average person has a carbon footprint of 16 tons per year? This means this is how much greenhouse gasses our actions are emitting. That’s a lot of emissions! If we want to reduce our environmental impact, we must take steps to travel more responsibly. In many cases, it seems like traveling and eco-responsibility don’t inherently go hand-in-hand. However, reducing your carbon footprint during your journey allows you to explore the world with as little harm to the environment as possible. Additionally, eco-friendly travel choices don’t have to involve major sacrifices. Even small adjustments can make a big difference, making them an easy way to get started. If you want to reduce your carbon footprint while traveling, here are ten tips to get you started.

1. Visit “Green” Cities

Some cities are known for greener practices, such as heavy investments in alternative energies and significant commitments to protecting the natural world around them. By choosing a green city as your destination, you’re visiting areas that work to reduce everyone’s carbon footprint. Additionally, you’re supporting towns that dedicate themselves to sound eco-responsible choices, which could encourage development in other areas.

If you want to go the extra mile, make wise choices while in a green city. Walk or bike instead of drive, choose restaurants that use locally-sourced ingredients, and avoid single-use items as much as possible.

Many cities around the world are known for being environmentally friendly. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Vancouver are just a few examples. If you’re planning a trip to one of these cities, you can rest assured that your carbon footprint will be lower than if you were to travel to a less green city.

What’s great about these cities is that they offer a variety of transportation options that are all eco-friendly. In Amsterdam, for example, you can rent a bike and explore the city in a sustainable way. Copenhagen’s extensive public transportation system makes it easy to get around without using a car. And Vancouver is home to many green spaces where you can enjoy the outdoors without traveling far.

2. Don’t Fly to Drivable Destinations

While it may seem counterintuitive, short flights between 30 minutes and 3 hours aren’t necessarily a good way to lower your carbon footprint. Most of the harm occurs while reaching and descending from altitude. Overall, the CO2 emissions per passenger per kilometer traveled work out to 133g with short flights, far above the 102g from long haul routes, which are flights that last for 6 hours or more.

Additionally, four people traveling in a single vehicle from Philadelphia to Boston ( 5 hours and 30 mins) works out to 43g, a full 90g lower than a short flight (1hr and 25mins). That’s similar to taking a train, which is 41g (5 hours and 16 mins). If you’re traveling with a small group – a number that could fit in a single vehicle – driving or taking a train is more environmentally friendly.

Plus, if you use a hybrid or plugin vehicle instead of other options, the amount of carbon emissions can get even smaller. If your car doesn’t fall in that category, consider renting one to reduce your carbon footprint.

3. Pack as Light as Possible

Fuel consumption isn’t just based on the vehicle; the vehicle’s weight also matters. By packing as light as possible, you’re limiting the amount of weight transported. As a result, fuel consumption may decline slightly, resulting in a better carbon footprint.

If you aren’t sure how to reduce the amount of luggage you’ll need, try these options:

  • Avoiding full-size toiletries. Instead, use refillable mini bottles or containers, allowing you to avoid unnecessary bulk.
  • Design a capsule wardrobe for your trip. Essentially, you’ll focus on pieces that all work well with one another, allowing you to combine them in different ways as you travel. Stick with a single color palette. If you need a few differentiators, opt for lightweight accessories for flare, like scarves or statement necklaces.
  • Choose items you can easily handwash and hang dry. You can reduce your attire needs even more. It lets you pack just a few things you can launder along the way.

4. Take Advantage of Public Transit

Once you reach your destination, public transit should become your go-to way to get around. It’s far more efficient than driving a rental car or using taxis and rideshares. Plus, public transportation usually has stops in popular areas of town.

In many cases, public transit options will also save you a bundle. You may be able to get passes for full days or weeks that cost less than a single rideshare ride. Plus, some public transportation systems are free to use, allowing you to eliminate an entire travel expense.

Some of the best cities for public transportation include London, Paris, Tokyo, and New York City.

5. Keep the “Do Not Disturb” Sign Up

If you’re staying in a hotel that offers daily cleaning, towel replacements, and bedding changes, putting your “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door can lower your carbon footprint. It prevents those services from taking place, saving water and energy while reducing the use of chemical products in your room.

For extended stays when you need services, simply remove the sign on just the day you want your room cleaned. Then, put it back up until it’s needed again or your visit is over.

6. Find LEED-Certified Hotels

If you have a hotel stay, try to find LEED-certified properties. LEED certification means the structure embraced green design principles, meeting the organization’s standards regarding energy efficiency, building materials, and more. As a result, you’re supporting a hotel with a lower carbon footprint.

7. Skip the Cruise

On the surface, it may seem like taking a cruise is an energy-efficient way to travel. After all, a large number of passengers on a single vehicle leads many to assume their carbon footprint for the trip would be reasonable. However, cruises have a significant negative impact on the environment and human health. Usually, they burn substantial amounts of low-quality fuel, becoming a major source of pollution. Additionally, they can contaminate water as they pass through and cause other damage. There are a few exceptions to this rule, as eco-friendly cruises exist.

8. Return Your Brochures

If you picked up any brochures for attractions along the way, don’t just throw them away. Instead, return them to the display or desk whenever possible, making them available to other travelers. Many companies will take back their brochures and recycle them. This way, you can help reduce the amount of paper used.

9. Adjust the Temperature

Heating and cooling require a lot of energy. If you’re away from your accommodations, adjust the temperature in your room by a handful of degrees to reduce energy consumption while you’re gone. That allows you to reduce your carbon footprint when you aren’t benefiting from the HVAC system. Then, you can move it back into comfortable territory when you return.

There is some debate about whether or not it’s more environmentally friendly to adjust the temperature in your room when you’re gone. Some people believe it’s better to turn the heat down so that less energy is used. Others think that it’s better to leave the temperature as is and simply unplug any electronics that you won’t be using.

10. Buy Offsetting Credits

Even if you don’t have many options to reduce your carbon footprint directly when you travel, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. You can support activities benefiting the environment by purchasing offsetting credits that fund environmental projects. Many airlines and cruise lines offer this option, so be sure to ask about it when booking your travel. 

If you go this route, make sure you do your research. Regulations regarding offsets are limited, so some projects may not do as much good as they claim. By digging in and checking reputable registries – such as the one operated by the Climate Action Reserve – you can find vetted options that will help you offset the impact of your travel with ease.