How to travel with a lower carbon footprint

The New York Times recently published a report showing that greenhouse gas emissions created by the airline industry is at an all time high, despite promises made a decade ago to curb emissions. The International Civil Aviation Organization has predicted that by 2045, international air traffic will increase by 3.3 times, leading to increased fuel consumption by the airlines and consequently more CO2 emissions. Clearly air travel is here to stay. But the fact remains: our climate is changing for the worst. In fact, many popular places are currently in danger or under threat by climate change today. These places include The Maldives, Rio de Janeiro (which will be the city worst affected by climate change in South America), The Dead Sea, Osaka, Miami & many more. In 2017, 4 million cubic meters of rock engulfed the small village of Bondo in the Swiss Alps, burying and killing 8 tourists. The rise in temperatures means that the top of mountain was not as cold as it should have been/used to be. Tragically, the glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro in Moshi Tanzania are expected to completely disappear between the years 2022 and 2033. That’s less than 3 years from today!!

Although the Trump administration has rolled back so many environmental policies, including opting out of the Paris Agreement, individuals, however, can still make a difference by reducing their carbon footprint in many ways. While at home, things like insulating your house, using solar panels instead of electricity, planting a tree in your backyard, or anywhere, are some of the easiest and simplest changes that we can make, and within our control. What our government does unfortunately is not within our control until the next elections roll around. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that any rise in the earth’s temperature above 1.5 degrees will lead to irreversible damage to the ecosystems that support us. So although many people cannot sail to their destinations like young activist Greta Thunberg, here are some of the things you can do while traveling to reduce your carbon footprint and be an eco-friendly traveler.

1. Avoid taking too many flights and fly direct

With Priceline flights offering things like the Express Deal or Kayak Explore, it’s hard not to choose flying over other modes of transportation, especially for longer distances.  For example, Americans can better utilize their holiday time by getting flights to Japan instead of, say a boat.  Imagine the time it will take, unless you are not in any rush.  But U.S workers know all too well the value of vacation time.  If you are lucky, you can afford to take a week or 2 off, so maximizing that time is of the utmost importance.  Since air travel is responsible for the great amount of your carbon footprint while on holiday, avoid flying as much as you can and aim for non-stop travel.  Layovers and stopover flights are great for adding more places to see especially when traveling internationally, but are not so great for the planet.  The good news is that more and more airlines are increasing the number of direct flights; United Airlines will soon be the first North American airline to fly direct to Cape Town, South Africa.  And the best way to travel Europe is by train, so take the train from London to Paris and Eurostar will help you cut carbon emissions by 90%!

2. Fly economy class (or even business)

Keep these number in mind the next time you choose which class to fly: Because of the amount of space per seat and increased luggage allotment for business and first class passengers, their average carbon footprint is much greater than those in economy class. Business class passengers have a footprint 3 times greater than economy class. And for that very long flight to Japan, if you must choose between business class vs. first class, remember that the footprint of first class passenger is a staggering 9 times more than of an economy class passenger. The new delta premium economy service is not too shabby either.

3. Fly the latest & fuel-efficient planes

This one is tough since most of the time passengers have no control over which plane the airline will use. There are many times where the airline will switch planes due to some issue, and that’s understandable, but whenever you can try to go for planes that are more fuel-efficient. The Airbus 350-900, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing 777 are all fuel efficient planes. If you are looking for cheap flights from Boston to the U.K, avoid British Airways. The airline has been ranked as having the least fuel-efficient planes for transatlantic flights. Fly Norwegian instead.

4. Travel light

Airplanes have to use more fuel during take-offs and landings. The more and heavier luggage the plane carries, the greater the airline’s fuel consumption and carbon footprint. So when you are checking off your list of must visit places in the world, find the best times to travel that includes warmer weather so your bags can be lighter. Places like Nice in the South of France typically get around 300 days of sun a year. For the ladies, things like sundresses are the perfect travel outfits and only need a smaller suitcase.

5. Don’t have your towels changed everyday at the hotel.

Most people rarely wash their towels at home every single day, so there is really no reason to have them washed daily outside of your home. The good news is that a lot of hotels have started this practice of giving guests an option to opt out of having their towels washed and changed daily. In particularly drought prone areas like Botswana in Southern Africa or even California, it is a good idea to save as much water as you can.

ps. obviously you do want to have them washed at some point because you also don’t want the person responsible for washing linens to be made redundant. Many businesses will not create a new opportunity for an employee if they discover they can cut costs by reducing their number. So this is sort of a catch-22 because most businesses are driven by numbers.

6. Bring an eco-friendly bag

Instead of getting a plastic bag or any bag every time you buy something, get an eco-friendly bag and bring it with you on holiday. A travel tote made from recycled materials is the most sustainable option not only because it saves existing materials from going to waste, but no new material is created to make it. AAKS bags from Ghana are made from natural materials and hand-woven by local artisans, so the company has a sustainability aspect to it. The bags can be shipped internationally for FREE!

7. Bring a water bottle.

Since you are not allowed to pass through security with a full water bottle, bring your own water bottle to the airport, and fill it up after security. If you are traveling to places where tap/fountain water is safe to drink, such as Switzerland or the U.K, instead of buying bottled water every time, why not fill up your water bottle as you go. There are plenty of fountains in Rome where you can do just that. Not only will you be environmentally conscious, you save a lot of money because water can be quite expensive in some of those places. For example, in Lyon, France, a glass of water can cost more than a glass of wine! But if you do buy water, don’t forget to recycle the bottle.

8. Don’t buy trendy fashion

We all know fashion moves extremely fast; one minute something is in-style, the next it’s something else. And if you buy with the trend, those clothes that go out of style get dumped in landfills where they produce methane as they decompose. Currently, the average American throws away about 80 pounds of clothing PER YEAR. Every year 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated in the US. According to the EPA, only 2.6 million was recycled, 3.14 million tons sent for combustible energy, and 10.46 made it to landfills. Compare this to 1960, where only 1.67 million made it to the landfill. ?And not only is this wasteful, it’s very very costly. The cost to cities to dispose of any clothing: $45 per ton.

Just remember: Nearly 100 percent of textiles and clothing are recyclable.

9. Compost your food waste

We have all been there; you go to check out an exciting new restaurant in town, order more food than you can eat but decide you will take it back to the hotel and eat it again later because it was sooo good. Well, come later, the same food doesn’t look appetizing anymore or worse, you forget about it. Instead of throwing it away, leave it a compost drop-off site. A number of cities now have these compost drop-off/ waste reduction sites that act like recycle centers for food. Cities like New York, Minneapolis, Philadelphia & many more.

10. Offset your carbon emissions

What’s a carbon offset? Basically just a way to compensate the planet for your bad behavior by paying for something that reduces greenhouse gases somewhere else. You can use this carbon footprint calculator to estimate how much emissions you contributed to during your travels and will give you options on how you can offset your flight footprint. For example, my flight this summer from Johannesburg to London emitted 5.41 metric tons of CO2. To offset my flight footprint, I can either pay $100 that will go towards planting trees in the UK or $73.55 to go towards reforestation in Kenya.


Great tips! I plan flights according to where I can go with a direct flight, and I always fly economy and take only hand luggage. And carbon offsetting is such a good thing! I still have to do that for my last flight actually!

Thanks. I always try to include carbon offsetting on the plane ticket. I too have some offsetting to do!

So many informations, thanks so much. That’s why I love road trips but sometimes you cannot avoid..

exactly, sometimes travel is unavoidable ie. business trips, so it’s best to try to do as much as we can.

SO many good tips!! I love it 🙂

These are great tips! The first tip I have never thought about! Also I cant believe people through out that much clothing. That’s crazy! Snyways, thanks for the tips!

well the first one is just to minimize the quantity of flights. takeoffs and landings do a number on the environment. thanks for reading.

wow, I wouldn’t have thought about a few of these! Every little thing counts, right? Thanks for sharing.

exactly ?. thanks for reading.

So many great tips here. It’s tough when all you want to do is travel, but yeah there are definitely things you can do to help counter it a little!

Aah thanks so much Katie. Yeah I thought I was eco-friendly, but I realized there are so many more things I can do! it’s a learning process. the important thing is to do some-thing, anything.