7 simple ways to decrease your carbon footprint when traveling

The average traveler has a surprisingly large carbon footprint. A return flight from New York to Los Angeles, for example, emits almost 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide – more than the average person in many developing countries emits in an entire year!
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What is a carbon footprint?

So let’s talk sustainable traveling now! A “carbon footprint” is the total amount of greenhouse gasses that are released into the atmosphere as a result of the decisions and actions we all make.

The average traveler has a surprisingly large carbon footprint.

A return flight from New York to Los Angeles, for example, emits almost 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide – more than the average person in many developing countries emits in an entire year!

Fortunately, there are a number of easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint when traveling.

Ways to travel more sustainably:

Drive to your destination

Drive if you can. In most cases, driving is more sustainable than flying.

If your destination is within driving distance, consider leaving the plane behind and hitting the open road instead. Not only will this save on emissions, but it can also be a great way to see more of the area you’re visiting.

Driving compared to flying emits less carbon dioxide per passenger-mile traveled. A car emits about 423 grams of CO2 per passenger mile, while flying emits 883 grams of CO2 per passenger mile.

Trains are another great alternative to flying, especially if you're traveling in Europe where the rail network is well developed. Not only are trains more efficient than cars and planes in terms of emissions, but they're also a great way to see the countryside.

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Take the train

Trains are another great alternative to flying, especially if you’re doing sustainable traveling in Europe where the rail network is well developed. Not only are trains more efficient than cars and planes in terms of emissions, but they’re also a great way to see the countryside.

If you fly, fly mindfully.

Air travel counts for a significant portion of many people’s carbon footprints, but there are things you can do to offset your emissions. If you must fly, try to fly direct whenever possible, as takeoffs and landings emit the most carbon dioxide.

Look for airlines that offset their carbon emissions. Some airlines are investing in carbon offsets, which help to reduce the impact of their emissions on the environment.

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Pack light and sustainably

One of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint when traveling is to simply pack less. This not only reduces the emissions associated with transportation, but it also cuts down on the number of resources used in manufacturing and disposing of luggage.

There are many tips for packing light, including bringing your own toiletries. Decant your regular shampoo and conditioner into travel-sized bottles and pack a cleanser instead of disposable face wipes. Packing your own toiletries will not only save you money, it’s a more sustainable option.

Be sure to pack your own water bottle, reusable bags and other essential items.

Packing light cuts down on carbon emissions because there is less weight for the airline to transport. It also means you’ll be able to travel with a smaller bag, which requires less energy to produce and results in less waste.

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Eat local

Another great way to reduce your carbon footprint when traveling is to eat local food. Not only will this help support the local economy, but it will also help reduce the emissions associated with transportation. And who doesn’t travel for food? Am I right?

Sustainable Lodging

Not everyone is willing to rough it while traveling, and that’s okay! If you’re looking for a more comfortable (and sustainable) experience, there are plenty of options out there.

Try looking for eco-friendly hotels, bed and breakfasts, or vacation rentals. Many places like these have made sustainability a priority and are doing their part to reduce energy consumption and waste. Look at company policies and sustainability certificates.

If you’re staying in a hotel, put out the “do not disturb” door hanger. Clean up and maintenance use up resources. Use towels more than once and omit the turn-down service.

When you leave your room, turn off the lights and adjust the thermostat.

Slow tourism or mindful travel is taking the principles of slow living and applying them to travel. It's about focusing on quality over quantity and appreciating the simple things in life.
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Embrace Slow Tourism

Slow tourism or mindful travel is taking the principles of slow living and applying them to travel. It’s about focusing on quality over quantity and appreciating the simple things in life.

When you do sustainable travel mindfully, you’re more likely to connect with your destination and the people who live there. You’re also more likely to have a positive impact on the environment and local economy.

Some practical examples are:

Extending your stay. Instead of planning multiple small trips, plan one longer trip.

Rent a bike. Biking is a great way to explore a new city and get some exercise. It’s also much more environmentally friendly than taking a taxi or renting a car.

Take public transportation.

Public transportation is often the most efficient way to get around a city. It can also be more affordable and better for the environment than other options.

Walk. As with biking, you’ll get great exercise and see the city from the ground. Walk-off the New York slice instead of hailing a cab.

There are all sorts of sustainable traveling choices you can make when traveling, and these are just a few of them! Think about what steps you already take at home and apply them to travel.