How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint While Traveling: 14 Essential Tips

When you’re traveling, it isn’t always easy to prioritize the environment. You have to think about when and where you need to be for your business event, life event, or vacation, how many days you might be away from the office, and how much it costs to travel. With all these concerns combined, putting the environment first is a challenge—but it’s easier to tackle in the planning phase.

As we enter the 2020s, it’s no secret that we’re facing a major global climate crisis. If we don’t change our ways, our children and grandchildren will inherit a planet they have no hope of saving.

While the environment is vital, we still need to manage our every day lives to get by—that means going to work and school, and taking care of our families. The environmental crisis is massive and difficult to reconcile with daily survival.

When traveling, however, it’s possible to take care of our personal and business needs while we keep the environment in mind. Here are some things to consider while preparing for your travel and while you’re away.

               While Making Travel Plans, Reduce Your Carbon Footprint With These Environment-Saving Tips

A fair amount of carbon footprint reduction in the travel process takes place during planning. If you’re traveling for business, you can work with your employer’s travel department or planner to consider the environment in your travel plans.

If your company has a green initiative, consider leaning on that to make decisions in favor of the environment during the planning phase.

                  Determine Method of Travel

Your method of travel can mainly increase or decrease your carbon footprint or your negative environmental impact. Traveling by plane is the most detrimental mode of travel to the environment, but it is a necessary evil, especially for most business travelers. To minimize your impact on the planet, consider:

  • Nonstop flights: If you take a nonstop flight, you’re reducing the fuel it takes to take off and land.
  • No short flights: If you’re taking a short trip, it’s likely more environmentally friendly to take a train or rent a car. Plus, it might be more convenient for you and your company. Short travel is generally considered anything under 600 miles.
  • Don’t fly business or first class: Business and first-class seats are generally more spacious, so you’re taking up more room on the plane. Coach is better for the environment on fuller flights.

Many times, traveling by train or car (especially if you’re renting a car) is more expensive than flying, even though it’s better for the environment. Again, this is when you should lean on your company regarding its green policies. Expect them to invest in green air travel.

                  Split Travel (and Costs) With Coworkers

Are you renting a car? Save your company money and help the environment by coordinating your travel with your coworkers. Even if you’re just taking a car to the airport, you’ll reduce carbon emissions and save the business money by taking a car together. Additionally, it’s always safer to travel with a friend or coworker.

                  Pack Reusable Totes

Canvas and recycled material tote bags, like what you’d use at the grocery store, are ideal for taking with you when you travel. You can put your dirty laundry in them, use them if you’re shopping when you’re away, and respect local customs regarding earth-friendliness. The locals will also appreciate your commitment to eco-friendliness.

                  Invest in Collapsible Travel Ware

While it makes sense to pack your plates to help the environment, it’s a bit problematic: ceramic ware and glass are breakable and awkward to pack. However, silicone materials are durable—and can be made to be collapsible. You can get collapsible travel cups with lids, foldable electric kettles, plate ware, and even travel dog water bowls for your furry friend.

If you buy the kettle, don’t forget to pack a converter for your plug if you’re traveling internationally.

                  Use Eco-Friendly Hotels

Did you know that some hotels boast about their eco-friendliness? Internationally, some hotels even enjoy educating their guests on eco-friendly practices. Most eco-friendly hotels practice water conservation and only wash towels and linens when requested, saving on water and energy resources. They use eco-friendly lighting and take advantage of natural sunlight to light rooms. 

Additionally, eco-friendly hotels promote non-smoking behaviors, organic foods and bath products, recycling, eco-friendly kitchen practices, green vehicles on-site, water re-use policies, and use of solar panels or wind energy.

Eco-friendly hotels also frequently employ non-toxic, environmentally safe cleaning agents, which is better for your body as well as nature itself. To be considered a green, eco-friendly hotel, it has to be ecologically sustainable, dependent on the natural environment surrounding the hotel, culturally sensitive and friendly, contributing to the local economy and community, educational about environmental concerns, and active contributors to the improvement of the local environment.

Different locations have their requirements for eco-friendliness, with South America and Europe holding notoriously high standards for hotels labeling themselves green.

                  Pack Light

The more you bring on the plane, the more fuel it takes to lift off. While airlines have their luggage and weight restrictions, the general rule is this: less stuff, less fuel cost. Do your part by packing as lightly as possible to reduce your carbon footprint.

This rule also applies to car travel—a full trunk means your mileage isn’t as high. Make sure you consider that when packing for a trip by automobile.

With a bit of consideration before traveling, your preparation can help reduce your carbon footprint.

               While Traveling, Consider the Environment With These Earth-Friendly Actions

Now that you know what you can do to prepare for more environmentally friendly travel before you depart let’s take a look at what you can do to help the environment as a traveler once you arrive in a new destination. Most travelers dine out more and consume more disposable, “on the go” items, such as cartons and containers from fast food products.

When we travel, some of our best habits tend to slip. Maybe you don’t brush your teeth more than once per day; perhaps you don’t keep to the same healthy diet. Our environmentally friendly practices go right along with those other good habits, but we should remain mindful of the environment when we travel. Remember: you’re in someone else’s community, state, or country, and showing respect to the local climate means showing respect to your hosts and people around you.

                  Learn Local Recycling Laws and Procedures

Every country, province/state, town, community, and even township has its specific recycling laws and procedures. In Massachusetts, for example, there’s a fee for using (purchasing) a plastic bag, and the bags provided must be made of recycled materials.

                  Buy Locally

In addition to boosting the economy of the community, you’re visiting and bettering the lives of the residents, locally buying lessens “food miles,” or the amount of travel (and gas) it takes to get a food product to you. When dining out, you can also look for “farm to table” options, which operate similarly and provide you with a more authentic local experience.

                  Ask Your Host or Hotel to Borrow a Travel Cup

Didn’t pack a travel cup? Avoid spending money on bottled water and contributing to more waste production. Ask your hotel or your host to borrow a reusable water bottle, canteen, or travel cup for the duration of your visit.

                  Purchase BPA-Free Plastic Only

Ready to buy your travel container? Look for BPA-free plastic. BPA (Bisphenol-A) is a material that can harm the environment—and your body, especially when exposed to extreme heat, like prolonged sunlight or a dishwasher. BPA is a toxic chemical that can interfere with the hormones in your body. It is linked to health issues like:

  • Reproductive problems
  • Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma (in children)
  • Neurological issues
  • Cardiovascular diseases

In addition to harming the body directly via food and drink packaging, BPA hurts the environment. It gets into the natural water supply and the soil and can affect plants and animals in similar, detrimental ways. Avoid the health and environmental costs of BPA.

                  Use Public Transportation Options

As soon as you arrive, ask your host or hotel concierge for information about public transportation. Google Maps will give you a general overview of how to get somewhere using publication (as well as the costs), but there’s nothing like a local to help you navigate public transit.

                  Use the Pool Option For Rideshare

If you’re getting around using Rideshare services like Uber or Lyft, opt for the pool option. It allows you to have a lower cost for your ride (even if it takes a little longer), and it uses less gas because the rideshare program directs the driver to pick up as many passengers as possible on a route that considers money, travel, and time.

                  Tour Natural Attractions and Go On Foot

Instead of getting on a tour bus when you have time to see the sights, consider a walking tour. If you’re able, find an eco-friendly tour of a natural attraction, such as a waterfall, river, forest, or canyon nearby. Even in a city, skip the vehicles, if you’re able, and see what you can do by bike or foot.

                  Purchase a Carbon Offset

If traveling by air is unavoidable, you can consider minimizing your environmental impact by purchasing a carbon offset (or asking your environmentally conscious company to do so). A carbon offset is a way to reduce your carbon footprint and “cancel out” the increase you caused by flying.

Most carbon offsets are focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Some cities and communities allow travelers to purchase carbon offsets locally—which is excellent, as you’re helping the very community you’re visiting when you travel.

Consider purchasing a “ticket” or carbon offset credit. You can select the type of carbon offset:

  • Help manage forests and preserve forested land: Forested land exists in multiple continents of the world, and preserving it is a high priority. Trees keep our air clean, and without that, our earth will get sick and toasty. You can purchase a carbon offset to preserve forested land.
  • Wind power carbon offset credits: This helps create and sustain wind farms, which are more environmentally friendly forms of energy production.
  • Capturing gas from landfills: When waste in landfills breaks down, it releases gases into the atmosphere. With gas control and collection, this carbon offset reduces the presence of dangerous methane. Additionally, you can purchase carbon offsets that similarly process farm waste.

               Establish Eco-Friendly Travel Standards at Your Company

As you can see, some of the eco-friendly travel tips involve additional expenses. As a business traveler, it only makes sense that your business takes care of these costs. If you’re traveling frequently and see how this could benefit the environment, you can sell it to your employer by helping them understand the many benefits of eco-friendly travel:

  • Tax benefits: There are a multitude of tax credits and deductions available to businesses serious about going green. Green buildings are the best bang for their buck, and they’re great for the environment.
  • Priceless marketing and public relations: If your company sponsors eco-friendly travel for its employees, they also have a good and positive story for marketing, which can help establish and strengthen customer trust.
  • Attracting environmentally friendly employees and business partners: Compassionate people are good for business: for treating their work and coworkers with empathy and care, and for genuinely appreciating the work that they do.

Committing to environmentally friendly travel might be something that takes personal expense—or something you have to advocate for at your company. However, it’s essential: business means nothing if there’s no planet to conduct it on. Taking some small, environmentally-conscious steps now can leave a lasting, positive impact on future generations.

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