March 29, 2014

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Traveling


The expansion of deserts is one of the effects of climate change.
© Marcela Torres

By Marcela Torres

While governments and industry representatives struggle to reach agreements on how to stop global warming at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa, I thought it might be useful to give some good tips on small but significant contributions we can make as travelers.

  • Choose a Responsible Company: When planning your trip, choose travel companies that employ local workers and guides or source locally grown produce and local services. This is a good way to support the local economy.
  • Unplug While Away: Before you leave home, remember to turn off the lights as well as the air conditioner/heater and unplug all household appliances that can be left unplugged while you are away.
  • Treat the Place as Your Home: Take care of the environment when on holiday as if you were at home. Always use garbage can to dispose of trash. If there are no bins in the area, take the litter with you and throw it once you find a bin.
  • Avoid Plastic Bottles: Instead of buying bottled water, carry your own refillable water bottles and use the hotel’s potable drinking water supply.
  • Save Water: Water is scarce in many destinations. Use the minimum amount of water needed for a shower/bath, don't let water run while shaving, brushing or washing, and check if the hotel has a linen reuse program - if so, reuse your towels and bed sheets by placing the card to indicate you don't wish to have them washed every day, if not, request hospitality staff not to change them every day.

  • Choose Public Transport: Use public transportation (bus, train, taxis, etc.) as much as possible. It's a more sustainable way to get around.

  • Walk Around: Instead of renting vehicles, take time to walk around. You will not only do some exercise and help the environment, but you will also get to know better the place you are visiting.
  • Avoid disposable batteries: Whenever possible, buy rechargeable batteries for your essential travel items such as cameras, razors, and flash lights.
  • Eat Local: Trying local food is a good way to learn about the culture of the place you are visiting. Visit a local farmer's market, shop at a locally owned grocery store and choose locally owned restaurants, since they usually will buy local produce and that means less fuel was consumed to transport the product.

Air Travel

Air travel is one of the big issues discussed during all climate change Conferences of Parties meetings and significant progress is never achieved. I have already talked about the impact of air travel in a previous blog, but since at present there is no adequate regulation for it and flights are sometimes unavoidable, the responsibility lies mostly on the tourists themselves to minimize their impact.

Some good tips to consider are:

  • Avoid Stops: Fly the most direct route possible and try to avoid short hops by air, because take-offs and landings use the most fuel.
  • Fly Economy: More people in a plane will result in fewer emissions per person.
  • Avoid Night Flights: Fly during the daytime, because during the night the condensation formed from jet-fuel exhaust remains in the atmosphere much longer due to the cool night air.
  • Pack Light: By reducing the weight of luggage, you will help the planes burn less fuel.
  • Longer Stays: Try to stay longer in a destination instead of making many short trips.
  • Offset the Unavoidable Footprint: Make your trips "carbon neutral" by contributing to a credible carbon offsetting program that supports conservation, renewable energy, and other environmental projects. A few airlines have these schemes in place and will offer them to you when you purchase. If yours doesn’t, some non-governmental organizations such as The International Ecotourism Society and SustainableTravel International have reliable carbon-offsetting programs.

This entry was originally posted by the author on December 6, 2011.

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