How to reduce your carbon footprint when you travel

We are passionate about travelling with our children, and sharing as much as we can with them whilst they are young. But, we are really conscious of the impact travel can have and as a family are trying to be aware of what we can do to reduce that impact on the environment and to offset our carbon emissions. But how? Here are some top tips:

Travel and all it brings is very special to us. How can we limit or offset our carbon emissions though?

1. Seek alternative transportation (especially for closer destinations)

Did you know that the major bulk of a plane’s emissions occur during take-off and landing? That means that mile for mile, shorter flights have a greater carbon footprint. While avoiding flying can mean some serious research and planning – and perhaps looking at things a bit differently – bypassing flying when there are convenient routes by coach, train or car will definitely reduce your environmental impact. And although it might feel like the added travel time is a pain, many alternatives to flying can actually land you closer to the city centre, and are often great choices for city breaks. The research we have done suggests at least considering alternatives to any flights under three hours.

We have travelled by car (via the Euro Tunnel) a number of times, to both France and Spain and loved the sense of adventure and freedom it offered us. We have also travelled by train to France and Belgium and love this as an option; it means you are taken straight to the destination and able to explore immediately. For city breaks in Europe this is a brilliant option. The kids love train travel too so it works for them; especially with a table for activities and opportunities to charge the screens!!!

2. Fly direct

I am totally aware that, often, in-direct flights save serious money, and sometimes that is the way it has to be. But flying direct really does have an impact. By flying direct you are only taking off and landing once, as opposed to multiple fuel-guzzling trips. It also saves lots of time and avoids the horribly long, sometimes painful, lay over with fractious kids (and husbands). Non stop flights are the most direct and as such consume less fuel, so they are definitely a good way of minimising your carbon footprint.

3. Pack light

Essentially the heavier your luggage, the more fuel used. So packing light (especially if we all do it!) could make a significant difference.

Choose a lightweight case and pack carefully. Try to pack clothes you can wear multiple times or wash easily when away. Transferring heavy toiletries in to smaller reusable containers reduces weight too. There are lots of things that you can rent locally as opposed to taking heavy items with you; sports and camping items for example.

Research suggests that reducing your luggage by 15 pounds, would decrease your CO2 emissions buy about 80 pounds on a 10 hour flight. If 100 or 200 people on a flight did that, imagine the difference.

4. Fly economy

A good reason to fly economy? They have the least impact in terms of your carbon footprint. This is because an air passenger’s emissions are determined by the amount of space they take up on the plane. On average, business class seats are two times larger than those in economy. As such, a business class passenger’s carbon footprint is typically double that of a passenger in economy. First class seats occupy even more space and therefore have a larger carbon footprint. Booking economy means saving money and helping to minimise carbon emissions.

5. Find the airlines doing more

While you’re comparing airline prices, think about comparing the company’s eco-credentials too. Look for transparency about their emissions and what they are doing to tackle their environmental impact. Airlines are now making efforts to reduce their carbon emissions and replace aircraft with more efficient ones. Virgin is working to replace older planes with new aircraft that are, on average, 30% more efficient. Air France has decreased CO2 emissions per passenger by 20% since 2011; has committed to eliminating single-use plastics from flights; and allows travellers to donate to a reforestation programme.

6. Choose your tour operator carefully

In addition to considering your airline, researching the right tour operator can make a difference in terms of more sustainable travel. These are the companies that, while showing you the sights, and helping you to plan an ultimate holiday, are also ensuring that local communities benefit from tourism in the region. They are committed to ensuring that cultural and environmental conservation are prioritised. So doing your homework before you book can help limit the impact you have on the environment.

7. Eat local cuisine

I don’t know about you but food is generally one of our major highlights on any trip (to be fair my son doesn’t stop talking about food full stop). The good news is that eating local dishes can really help in terms of your environmental impact. By being adventurous and eating local ingredients and dishes you avoid food which has travelled long distances, and needs lots of packaging and refrigeration along the way. You will also be helping to support local farmers and the local economy.

Eating local traditional cuisine and shopping at local markets will reduce your carbon footprint and – bonus – you get to sample some new and exciting food!

8. Reduce food waste

Food production is responsible for roughly one-quarter of the world’s emissions. As forests are cleared to graze cows and grow crops, the carbon they store is released into the air. It is also true that food produces carbon when it’s processed, packaged, transported, and refrigerated. So food that has travelled long distances has more an impact. When we throw our uneaten food away, it creates harmful methane emissions as it rots in a landfill.

So eating local and fresh is great as it minimises some of these things. It is worth bearing in mind food waste when travelling – sample small portions to start with so you don’t waste lots, and avoid huge piles of food at all-you-can-eat buffets. Reducing food waste is a good way to limit the impact you have on the local environment.

9. Stay at eco-friendly hotels

Check out hotel websites before you book to see what they are doing to limit and reduce their carbon emissions. Most hotels that are doing something about their carbon footprint will be talking about it on their website so it is a good place to start.

They might be installing energy efficient fixtures and appliances, utilizing renewable energy, automating temperature control, sourcing products and food locally, or buying carbon offsets. You can always ask a hotel to explain their approach if you want to find out more.

10. Offset carbon emissions

The ideas above are all great in terms of limiting your carbon footprint. They won’t eliminate it totally, and some of the emissions are unavoidable. Purchasing carbon offsets allows you to compensate for the emissions that you can’t reduce. 

When you buy carbon offsets, you are contributing to projects that reduce emissions in another part of the world. So, for example, a project might absorb existing carbon emissions by restoring an area of degraded rainforest. Other projects might might generate clean energy by constructing wind turbines.

These projects have a dual impact too; they help to reduce carbon, whilst also supporting community development and protecting important habitats. 

Did you know that tourism is responsible for roughly 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, making it a significant contributor to climate change. 

A return flight from London to San Francisco can produce about 2 metric tons of carbon emissions per passenger. Offsetting that is a really positive way to combat the impact of your flight.

There is always more we can do, but hopefully some small steps can at least help, and the more we research and consider our impact, the better.

Emma and the wild ones x
About the author

Hi I'm Emma, mum to two boys, ex-teacher, now on a new career path running my own business. I have always loved to travel and as a big history nerd, love a good city break. We try to travel and spend as much time outdoors as we can with our two little ones, and are passionate about exploring new places with them. Living in Devon provides lots of opportunity to explore, and we are keen to share tips and experiences of travel, days out and good eats. We are a bit obsessed with photography too so will probably have a few of those to share along the way...

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