California’s latest heat wave has scared the shit out of me. I mean, I always knew climate change was real. But as I drove on the 101 freeway in record-breaking 120º F weather, I knew the earth was changing rapidly. Carbon emissions, nuclear waste and deforestation are just some of the manmade terrors that are destroying our planet. And while travel doesn’t help the earth, our inner voices are telling us how much we love to explore. So how can you satisfy your love for travel and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time?
The short answer: You kinda can’t.
Flying, bussing, even driving your car means you’re spreading carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuels throughout the entire world. Hotels also create waste, use a ton of energy and destroy local ecosystems.These emissions and waste drastically effect our very thin atmospheric layer.
According to this information, we would have to give up travel altogether.
I understand that for many, this concept is damn near impossible. Whether you travel for work, visit family around the holidays or simply love to get away every now and then, a life without travel is just not an option.
After all it’s in our DNA!
Our ancestors would explore, conquer and travel again just to discover new lands. The deep feeling we have inside of us to satiate our curiosity and create is the very essence of the human experience. We can’t possibly cut off what is already embedded so deeply inside of us!
So how do we possibly justify the two? How do we save our planet while still enjoying the wonders of modern-day travel?
If you care about our planet but still wish to travel, here’s how to travel and reduce your carbon footprint.
1. Avoid Flying If You Can
This one can be difficult if you’re planning a summer getaway to Europe or only have a few days to visit your family for the holidays.
But if it’s possible, try taking a train or bus to get where you want to go. True, these modes of transportation produce emissions, but they are far less than that of a single flight. Plus traveling overland is a great way to see some places off the beaten path.
It may be more difficult to take more time off of work (since your travel time has now doubled, tripled or even quadrupled). But don’t we all deserve a little more vacation time anyway? Perhaps you can offer to work on your laptop while traveling on the train or maybe work a little overtime before and after your trip so you can get those extra days off for the commute.
2. If You Do Fly, Fly Coach
I know first class is super glamorous. And with mileage rewards programs, it’s easier than ever to afford this luxurious style of transportation. But according to a study from the World Bank, emissions that are associated with flying in business class are about three times as great as flying coach!
Business class and first class seats are much bigger which means that fewer people are being moved by the same amount of fuel from this particular trip. According to the study, it’s estimated that a first-class seat could have a carbon footprint as much as nine times as big as an economy one!
So while you may be feeling a tad cramped in that seat of yours, know that you’re actually helping the environment!
(To make coach WAY more comfortable, read this!)
3. Offset Your Flight Emissions
Offsetting means that you can pay to take planet-warming carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in exchange for the greenhouse gases you put in. For example, you can put some money towards replanting trees, which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
There is some debate that offsetting eases individual’s guilt more than emissions. I think a majority of this is true. However if you do have to fly, you might as well do a little good in the world rather than nothing at all!
Delta Airlines, for example, offers three carbon offset options. One of these options is through the purchase of forests in southern Chile. This land would have otherwise been converted for land use. With the help of funds from Delta passengers, this avoids the emission of over 445,000 metric tons of CO2 (the equivalent of not consuming 50,073,141 gallons of gasoline).
Here are just some airlines that have their own offset programs:
If you plan on buying offsets, it means you’re spending more on a single ticket. Which means you’ll need a little bit more money, though some programs will accept your accumulated miles.
(Find out how you can afford this and even more travel expense with my free e-guide coming out this week!)
4. Try Staying at an Eco-Friendly Resort or Hotel
A great glimpse into a local culture’s way of life isn’t just through a local tour or class. Staying at an eco-friendly hotel, resort or lodge is a great way to save the planet and get a glimpse into real life.
It’s hard to know which hotels are really eco-friendly now that the new “eco-tourism” trend has taken over the world. Big chains like Marriott or Hilton may reduce their waste and their water usage, but their overall impact on the environment isn’t really sustainable. Their sheer size alone uses more electricity and creates more waste than it could possibly make up by “going green”.
Instead of larger hotel chains, think small. When looking for an eco-friendly lodge, you might find smaller, boutique hotels on Booking.com or TripAdvisor, but some may take a lot more digging online.
We recently stayed at our first eco-friendly lodge in the Amazon of Peru. Muyuna Lodge sources all of their food from the Amazon (keeping importation costs low), hires local villagers only and use a small amount of electricity for a few hours per day. And let me just say, being in the Amazon in the dead of night with absolutely no lights was both mesmerizing and terrifying.
These details might seem like hell on earth to travelers who like a little more comfort, but there are eco-friendly hotels that aren’t quite as drastic. From budget to luxury, there are environmentally sustainable properties for every traveler’s style.
5. Cycle Your Way Through Town
Whether you’re at home trying to get around town or doing the same thing in a foreign city, try using a bicycle to get around! This will keep you from driving a car or transport by bus.
In addition to helping the environment, you’re also seeing a foreign city in a new way. You’ll save money compared to automobile costs, see more sites than you would on foot and also get some exercise. It’s a win-win-win for everyone!
6. Eat and Drink Locally
I understand that when you travel, sometimes you want the comforts of home (that comfort being a Big Mac or a Heineken). However, not only are you paying more for that item because of importation expenses, but the carbon emissions created just to bring that item over is high and unnecessary.
Instead of staying in your comfort zone, try something new! Enjoy the local cuisine or a locally crafted beer. You will stimulate the local economy, lower carbon emissions from importation and maybe enjoy a new type of cuisine!