I like to think I do my bit for the planet. I recycle, I don’t buy plastic water bottles, I am kind to animals…. But my guilty secret? Flying. I adore travelling, and flying is part of travel so I feel like I can’t just give it up! However, I know I need to do something to reduce the carbon I produce from flying. In fact, we should all do something to reduce the carbon we produce, so here are some easy changes we can all make to reduce the carbon footprint of our flights.
How Much Carbon Does Flying Produce?
Unfortunately, flying produces a huge amount of carbon emissions, and according to the New York Times, in the US, the aviation industry accounts for 11% of all transportation-related emissions. In an analysis by The Guardian, they found that taking a transatlantic flight can generate more carbon emissions than the average person in Paraguay in a whole year. Even a relatively short return trip from London to Rome emits 234 kg of CO2 which is more than the average person in 17 different countries produces annually.
Rock stars, royalty and the super-rich need to think about whether they really need to take a private jet when they fly. Business people need to think carefully about whether they really need to fly halfway around the world in business class just for one meeting. We all need to think about whether we really need to take that flight.
However, as a travel blogger, I can’t in good conscience tell everyone to stop flying altogether because I travel so much, often on flights. I believe travel is a powerful means to unite people across the world and can help to reduce racism, bigotry and misunderstandings across all cultures. So please don’t stop travelling and seeing the world, just make some changes to do it in the best way possible. You’ll be glad to know that there are some easy ways we can all make our travels a little more environmentally friendly.
The added bonus? A lot of these suggestions will also be easier on your wallet as well as the environment! So there’s no excuse.
How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint while Travelling
This one is the most obvious, but potentially the hardest to do, especially if you travel a lot for work. Over long distances, flying is often the only practical option as we can’t all sail across the Atlantic like Greta Thunberg – but for shorter journeys consider other options like taking the train or a bus. If you are travelling in a small group, hiring a car may be better than taking a flight together, and you get to take a road trip together which adds to the adventure.
Embrace Slow Travel
I wouldn’t want to deny anyone a weekend away, but flying long distances only to return a couple of days later will have a huge impact on your carbon footprint. Is a weekend away worth that? Probably it is if you get to have some time with your partner or friends, or to visit a new country, but instead of jetting off abroad, think about going somewhere closer to home where you can take a train. Alternatively, take more time off and spend a week or two in a destination so you get more bang for your carbon buck.
Combine Your Trips
If you have enough time to spend, instead of going to two separate weekend trips away, why not aim to combine them? A couple of days in Barcelona followed by a trip to Madrid will probably save you money and will mean at least one less flight. If the destinations are close enough, take the train or bus between them so you’ll save a whole return flight by visiting one place right after the other.
Flying economy class has a much lower carbon footprint than flying business or first class. In business or first class, the number of people able to travel is much lower for the space than it is in economy, so the carbon footprint per person is much higher. OK, so your comfort might suffer, but the planet will thank you, as will your bank account!
Taking off uses more fuel than cruising at altitude, so taking a direct flight will release less CO2 than flights with a stopover. For some destinations, a direct flight isn’t possible but flying direct not only gets you to your destination more quickly, but it also makes your trip a little greener.
Heavier planes use more fuel than lighter aircraft, so if you max out your baggage allowance you will contribute more carbon than just taking hand luggage. If everyone reduced their baggage weight by just a kilo, that would make a difference, no matter how small. Are you sure you need that extra pair of shoes?
Take Public Transport to the Airport
Thinking about your carbon footprint shouldn’t just start when you reach the airport, it starts before you even leave the house. Even if taking a taxi will save you time, taking a public bus or train to the airport will save you money and reduce the carbon you use for your journey. Or if you are flying with friends, at least share a taxi.
Many airlines now have an app or have an e-ticket option so you can show your boarding pass on your mobile phone without having to print it off. Why waste a piece of paper if you don’t have to? Just a small change but if we all did it, we’d save a lot of paper!
Don’t Buy Bottled Water at the Airport
Did you know that you can take an empty water bottle through security with you? Most people don’t realise this and throw away the plastic bottle they have before going through security, only to buy another bottle of water as soon as they get through. Bringing your own refillable water bottle to fill up after security will not only save you money but also reduce plastic waste. Some airports have dedicated water fountains where you can fill up, or you can ask at one of the food outlets to fill up your bottle, who will usually fill it up for free from the tap.
I have just launched a campaign to encourage people to bring their own reusable water bottle to the airport, called #BYORB. You can read more about the BYORB campaign here. I personally bring a water bottle with a filter so I can fill it up from any source, like a Water-to-Go bottle.
I have partnered with Water-to-Go to offer all Tales of a Backpacker readers and #BYORB supporters a 15% discount on the purchase of a Water-to-Go bottle so you can save even more money! If you are based in the US or Canada, click here to order your bottle now, or if you are in Europe or Australia, click here. Simply choose the water bottle you want to buy, and put in the code BYORB for a 15% discount on your purchase.
Say No to Food, Drink & Freebies on the Plane
Aeroplanes create masses of plastic waste, most of which will not be recycled. It is estimated that every passenger on a long haul flight generates over a kilogram of material waste. Blankets and pillows are wrapped in plastic, free headphones are plastic, and the number of plastic cups and the amount of waste produced at every mealtime is just shocking. For long haul flights, it is harder to avoid all of these things, but for short-haul flights, it is much easier. Some airlines are trialling the use of non-plastic food trays and packaging, so I hope that more will follow suit. Until that happens, bring your own earphones and have your own toiletries with you in your hand luggage so you don’t need to use their mini versions to freshen up. Don’t forget to bring your own water bottle and packed lunch to eat, with bamboo cutlery of course!
Offset Your Flights
Although carbon offset won’t reduce the amount of carbon you use, you can help by contributing to programs which aim to offset it by reducing carbon in the future, such as tree planting projects. If you usually use Google to search for flight deals, one of the easiest changes you can make is to use the search engine Ecosia which plants trees for every search you do, using the money from ad revenue on their search engine.
They even have a tree ‘tracker’ where you can see how many trees they have been able to plant thanks to your searches. In just 2 weeks the searches I’ve done on my phone have contributed 34 trees which is amazing! I’ve been using Ecosia on my laptop too but unfortunately, my computer settings delete the cookies Ecosia uses to track the trees so I can’t tell how many I’ve contributed, but it must be more than 34 as I use my laptop search a lot!
While booking your flight, some airlines have an option to donate to their carbon offset programs so you can make your flight carbon neutral, or you can choose to donate to other projects which are more personal to you. One of my favourites is Trees for Life, which I visited this summer as part of my Haggis Adventures tour in Scotland. You can donate to them and they will plant trees on your behalf in a beautiful area in Scotland. Each tree costs £6 and are planted in specific areas to help native animals like red squirrels, pine martens and golden eagles.
I started my own Tales of a Backpacker grove with Trees for Life, where I’m going to donate money to plant trees every year to help offset the carbon of my travels. If you’d like to contribute and plant trees in my grove, you are more than welcome – let’s plant a forest together! You can find my Trees for Life grove here.
Another project I’m looking into is Treedom, who work with projects in 14 different countries to plant trees which will help the environment and local communities, providing food and work for the people who live there – like planting an avocado tree in Tanzania or a lime tree in Guatemala. These trees would be great gifts as you can choose depending on horoscopes or a specific project close to your heart.
Do you think you’ll be able to make some changes to how you travel? In your personal life, these small changes can make a big difference if we all work together, and at work why not challenge your company to follow these too? These are all easy changes we can make, so let’s do this!
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