10 ways you can reduce carbon emissions when you travel

When you next travel, how can you do it in a more environmentally conscious way? And are there easy ways to lower your carbon emissions?

By Aviva Insurance
Published 26 May 2021, 12:40 BST
Cutting our carbon emissions when travelling can seem like a daunting task, but there are simple ways you can clean up your act.
Photograph by Getty Images

For many of us, adopting travel practices that have a lower impact on the environment has almost become second nature. Almost. While many of us know to take our own bottle and cutlery, reuse hotel towels and turn off the air-con when going out, cutting our carbon emissions even further can seem like a significantly more daunting task. If you’re looking to make cleaner choices on your next adventure, whether this year or next, these 10 simple travel tips will help you on your way.

1. Pack light

Standing over your open suitcase, deciding what stays and what goes, has an effect on more than just your wardrobe options. The more you pack, the heavier the aircraft — and the heavier the aircraft, the more fuel required. Consider this: just a few years ago, researchers at MIT estimated that each passenger carrying a phone on Southwest Airlines cost the company $1.2m (£927,000) annually in weight-related fuel expenses. Swap the phones for laptops and that figure jumps to $US21.6m (£16.7m). Now, do you really need that extra pair of shoes 'just in case'? Rent bulky gear at your destination instead of packing it, use miniature refillable containers for toiletries and pack versatile items that can be reworn. Plus, with many airlines charging to check luggage, packing only hand luggage makes economic sense, too.

2. Opt for economy

Cheap air travel can come at a cost. Many airlines tend to find they balance the books with passengers flying business or first class, but all of that extra stretch room in business class does come at a substantial premium — both for you and for the environment. Business- and first-class seating take up more space and weight, so more fuel is required per passenger (first-class tickets account for, on average, four times the emissions of an economy seat) and, ultimately, the number of flights increases. There’s no need to forego every luxury though: you can still choose add-on perks like kicking back in the airport lounge or priority boarding.

3. Don’t wing it

The bulk of a plane’s emissions occur during take-off and landing, meaning that mile for mile, shorter flights have a greater carbon footprint. It can take additional planning, budgeting and perhaps a few extra travel hours, but bypassing flying when there are convenient routes by coach, train or car — particularly if driving a hybrid or travelling with other passengers — will reduce your environmental impact. Furthermore, these alternatives to flying can often land you closer to the city centre and swap out security queues for scenery. For flights under three hours, always consider the alternatives.

Navigating the public transport system doesn't have to be taxing; Google Maps is a great on-the-go resource.
Photograph by Getty Images

4. Go public

Rather than hiring a car, take the stress out of driving in a potentially unfamiliar place — and take some pressure off the environment — by using public transport to and from the airport and at your destination. If you’re able to, walk or cycle as much as possible; there’s no better or more impact-free way to enjoy the sights at your own pace. Google Maps is a great on-the-go resource for public transport information or you can try other specialised apps such as Citymapper or Moovit.

5. Fly direct

We’ve all gone out of our way to keep a trip within budget — sometimes quite literally, by choosing routes with multiple stopovers to save money. However, with just one fuel-guzzling take-off and one landing, flying direct is another way to ensure you’re minimising your impact. Don’t forget that your time is a precious resource, too; no one’s favourite part of a getaway has ever been the hours spent in transit.

6. Find the airlines doing more

While you’re comparing airline prices, compare the company’s eco-credentials too. What you want is transparency about their emissions and initiatives designed to reduce their environmental impact. Air France, for example, 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 (remember, though, it takes trees years to reach maturity, so not generating carbon emissions in the first place must remain a priority). Airlines with newer fleets are generally more fuel efficient too. Virgin is working to replace its older planes with new aircraft that are, on average, 30% more efficient.

8. Get picky about your tour operator

Finding the right tour operator can make the difference between negotiating the tricky terrain of sustainable travel on your own and having someone with the right credentials to do the legwork for you. These are the companies that, while showing you the sights, are also ensuring that local communities benefit from tourism in the region and that cultural and environmental conservation are prioritised. Intrepid Travel, for example, is the world’s largest B Corp — a business that meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance.

Food miles can quickly add up. Choose to eat local fare to lower your carbon emissions, and help local businesses.
Photograph by Getty Images

9. Eat like a local

Part of the joy of discovering a new destination is tucking into fresh regional fare and enjoying flavours and ingredients that may feel — and taste — worlds apart from your standard dishes at home. Eating local foods while travelling is more than a sumptuous sensory experience, it’s an opportunity to tread more lightly by eliminating the distance food has to travel and to support the local farmers and economy.

7. Be greener in your search

Some third-party flight booking sites are now taking the guesswork out of making your trip more eco-friendly by displaying less-harmful flight options. For example, Skyscanner looks at the aircraft, flight distance, seating capacity and cruising time of flights — all aspects that influence their impact — and marks those that are more eco-friendly with a green leaf. Then there’s Glooby, the travel search engine that enables users to compare flights and hotels for more sustainable trips — you can even filter your search results by carbon emissions.

10. Travel for the better

Recreational travel and responsible travel aren’t mutually exclusive. When choosing your destination and itinerary, consider travelling ‘for the better’ and taking active steps to give back. Research community-based tourism initiatives that are fighting climate change — volunteering for a reforestation programme is one way of getting your hands dirty while still cleaning up your act, for example.

Brought to you by Aviva Insurance. Always check the Foreign & Commonwealth Office guidelines before you travel, and follow NHS advice for staying safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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