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Reducing our Travel Carbon Footprint.

Leaving no trace as travellers is not a new concept, but the effectiveness of the idea seems to have somehow got lost in limbo.

Carbon neutral travel might sound nice, but in reality is currently a dim and distant dream.

When it comes to making travel more environmentally sustainable, and low carbon travel, this much is true: Carbon Emissions continue to rise, the amount of plastic produced, consumed, and finding its way into our parks, oceans and rivers has increased, and sustainable development in tourism is all too often an after-thought. Despite its appeal, making travel green in reality is far from easy.

With a view to changing the current status quo, here is a look at where our carbon footprint comes from while travelling, and the steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprints while travelling – both at home and abroad.

What has the biggest impact on your travel carbon emissions?

responsible travel in Ladakh discovering the sham trek Ladakh - reducing carbon footprint while travelling

One of the reasons we travel: to get fresh air!

Comparing Transport Carbon Emissions.

When it comes to carbon emissions from transport, flying is easily the worst culprit. In fact flying is responsible for 40% of carbon emissions generated by the global tourism sector (Source: UNWTO). However flying is often the fastest and “easiest” means to get to many of our favourite holiday (or business) spots. So, what to do?

Firstly, there are many ways to travel that do not involve flying. In fact, not only is taking the train more carbon efficient and environmentally friendly, but in many cases taking the train between cities in Europe (and other parts of the world) but is quicker too (as well as more interesting and relaxing). GoEuro put together a study showing the average time saved when travelling by train between popular European cities:

low carbon travel how train travel can help.

Data courtesy Go Euro.

To get the best deal on train tickets, it pays to book well in advance.

Beyond taking the train, ferries, buses, cars (sharing where possible) and even hitchhiking for the adventurous amongst us (!) are more environmentally friendly modes of transport, so we can use these where possible.

Train travel and reducing carbon footprint while travelling

Train travel is nearly always more scenic than flying! The River Kwai, Thailand.

Carbon Offsetting for Flights

All the above said, sometimes we have to fly. Taking a cargo ship across the Atlantic to New York is not practical or for everyone.

The truth is that not all airlines are made equal. Where possible, choose airlines that use newer planes (more fuel efficient), offer carbon offsetting, have a sustainability programme, and that are investing in more sustainable ways of flying.

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To Offset or not to Offset Airline Carbon Emissions?

Carbon offsetting is the practice of giving a donation to sustainable projects (eg reforestation initiatives) with the idea that it offsets the emissions you are creating by flying. The debate about offsetting carbon emissions is divisive, but essentially we have a choice. Do we want to support environmental initiatives from our own pocket, or not?

That’s why I choose to offset my carbon emissions when flying whenever I can (ie. given the option). It’s not a substitute for being mindful of how often I fly, but rather an additional thing I can do. First we can be mindful of how we travel, then we can focus on supporting causes that are doing their bit for the earth through carbon offset programs.

reduce carbon footprint while travelling through low carbon travel

The world’s most “sustainable” plane, the Boeing Dreamliner was launched last year.

Choose a Travel Agent / Company who Practices Low-Impact Travel.

Just as many airlines are not fully invested in sustainability, unfortunately the same is true of many travel agencies; for whom sustainable travel is simply not a priority. Thankfully, there are some exceptions!

One example of a travel planning company who has chosen to be very different, (and one that I have travelled with) is Better Places Travel. They have taken the decision to be one of the first tour operators to not only advise their customers on the most carbon-efficient ways to travel (both in terms of international flights, and slow – local travel on the ground in country), but they also monitor and offset carbon emissions for all of their travellers. They compensate for all traveller and staff emissions by supporting a hand-picked project in Ghana that distributes fuel efficient stoves, enabling more environmentally friendly cooking in more homes there – an important step given that today, developing countries contribute 63% of total global carbon emissions.

Low impact travel, low carbon travel

The lush landscapes of Southern India (Wayanad, Kerala)

Choose to Stay in a Sustainable Accommodation.

Despite transport being the biggest cause of carbon emissions within travel (transport collectively accounts for 75%), accommodation makes up for 20% of carbon emissions within travel. Therefore, where we choose (not) to stay makes a difference.

There’s a lot of choice when it comes to eco friendly and sustainable places to stay – from small and cosy farmstays to luxurious but sustainable resorts. But carbon emissions are hard to keep track of. For instance, older buildings are less efficient, and therefore old hotels nearly always have a higher carbon footprint. There are also plenty of things we can do to reduce our footprint while staying away – see more in the tips below! is a website which shows the carbon footprint for every hotel on its website so is a handy booking tool. Some other major websites also highlight which hotels have eco labels, and Lonely Planet Guidebooks include sustainable accommodation suggestions.

low carbon travel eco friendly resorts

The beautiful Coconut Lagoon by sustainable hotel group CGH earth is a great example of beautiful places to stay that are environmentally sensitive.

How To Reduce your Carbon Footprint while Travelling: Top Tips

1. Avoid flying whenever you can. Virtually any other means of transport is more sustainable – especially shared and public transportation.

2. Choose to stay in an accommodation with an eco label or that has sustainability initiatives, and that uses solar /renewable energy (cuts down on fossil fuels for heating).

3. If booking through a travel agent, use one that is committed to responsible travel

4. Eat at hotels / farms / restaurants that serve local produce (the fewer food miles, the better) – even better choose places that grow their own produce.

5. Consider adopting a plant-based diet – animals (especially cows) are known to produce high levels of methane and greenhouse gases, and are often transported far. Choose to decrease the methane and food miles by going easy on the meat 🙂 .

What’s your favourite way to keep a track of your carbon emissions, both at home and on your travels? Let us know in the comments below!