According to the University of Innsbruck, a recent study shows that we are helping to melt nearly 6 400 kilograms of glacier ice when travelling by plane. We need to pay more attention to our carbon footprint.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really much we can do about it this point, other than staying at home and never setting foot out of our front door ever again. The same study explained:
“The further melting of glaciers cannot be prevented in the current century – even if all emissions were stopped now. However, due to the slow reaction of glaciers to climate change, our behaviour has a massive impact beyond the 21st century.”
That said, there are ways we can reduce our carbon footprint while travelling. Paloma Zapata, CEO of Sustainable Travel International, explains that it’s not about “closing ourselves in and building a wall”. Zapata adds:
“We need to create bridges, and we need people to find solutions for the issues that we’re creating. Just because you’re sitting at home does not mean that you’re not producing carbon emissions.”
So what to do? For starters, change your habits and make practical choices to promote sustainability. It’s all about the mindset. Let’s look a few ways to reduce your carbon footprint while travelling.
Ways to reduce your carbon footprint while travelling
Choose your mode of transport carefully
Transport generates the most greenhouse gas. When you have the option of travelling by plane, car, train or bus, choose wisely.
The International Council on Clean Transportation has calculated the passenger miles per gallon (pmpg) of planes and trains at a consistent 45 pmpg and 51 pmpg, respectively. Greyhounds and other inter-urban busses clock in at 152 pmpg.
If you have no other option other than travelling by plane – the worst offender of them all – there are still a few ways you could minimise your carbon footprint.
Choose direct flights where possible and skip the layovers. By buying carbon offsets through Climate Action Reserve, you can ensure that a tree is planted or a stretch of ocean is cleaned up.
Once you’ve reached your destination, limit the amount of time you travel by car as much as possible. When travelling, hire a bicycle instead or explore on foot.
Pack light, fly light
By carrying lightweight equipment and supplies, you exert less force, especially when travelling by vehicle. The lighter, the better.
When on an airplane – or any other mode of transport – carries heavy luggage, it uses more fuel. If you can travel with only a carry-on, do consider it. Not only will it save you time at the check-in counter, but it’s also easier to move around once you get to your destination.
Yours truly is a firm believer in the one-bag-travel mantra, and I’m constantly looking for ways to travel even lighter. I can fit two weeks worth of supplies into a 30L duffle backpack with room to spare.
A few suggestions for travelling light:
- Don’t pack an outfit for every day and don’t be lazy. Pack 2 or 3 shirts, 2 or 3 pants and wash as you need. Polyester dries a lot faster than cotton and should be dry again by morning.
- Downscale your gadgets. Why travel with a 15 or 17″ laptop when you can get the same amount of work done a 10″ tablet with keyboard? It’s lighter, smaller and easier to haul around.
- Collapsible and compact. Buy soap and shampoo sheets, they’re tiny and 50 x 2 cm sheets will last you quite a while. Get a travel towel. It’s under a R100 at most places and folds to the size of your fist.
Reduce your carbon footprint by generating less trash
If you haven’t heard about the Great Pacific garbage patch, prepare to be shocked. The mass of waste floating around the Pacific gyre spans about 1.6m square kilometres. It’s three times the size of France. No jokes.
We have no other option but to refrain from using single-use plastics such as straws, takeaway coffee cups and plastic bags. Transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle takes some work but it’s easy enough to get the hang of.
When travelling, carry your own water bottle; a collapsible water bottle if you’re a one-bagger with limited space. Carry your own reusable shopping bag; they can usually be folded into a tiny ball and won’t take up too much space.
Carrying a small cutlery set with you will reduce the amount of plastic cutlery when ordering takeout. There’s a nifty little thing called a spork – spoon, knife and fork all in one – which is the perfect option for travelling foodies.
And, you know, when you’re out on your travels and you see a plastic bottle or a plastic bag lying around, it’s not going to kill you to pick up and recycle it properly. Most cities have recycling bins, we’re just too lazy to use it.
Save energy throughout your trip
Regardless of where you’re staying, don’t leave the lights and air conditioning on. Don’t think because you’re staying at a fancy hotel, it’s in order to leave the air conditioning on.
Central air conditioning units use 3.5 kilowatts per hour. If you were to turn it off for eight hours while you were out exploring, you would save 28 kilowatts. That’s the equivalent of more than 7.5 litres of fuel or charging 2 525 smartphones.
If you can, book through eco-friendly hotels as they save massive amounts of energy on everything from lighting to doing the laundry. Laundry accounts for 16% of an average hotel’s water usage.
By cutting down on the laundry load, you’ll save water and other resources. Many big-chain hotels are switching to eco-friendly alternatives such as LED lights and high-efficiency thermal insulation.
You can also practice eco-friendly habits by limiting the amount of towels you use and how often you need the sheets washed.