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  • Writer's pictureDorien Scheets

How Travel Impacts Your Carbon Footprint

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

As our awareness of climate change grows, so does our desire to do something about it. Unfortunately, it can often feel like the issue is too big, too overwhelming to really grasp, let alone to change. Similarly, it can be difficult to make the connection between our actions and tangible impacts of them on climate change.

But luckily, we have some meaningful tools to help us understand how the things we do have an impact on the environment (for the good and bad). There is one measurement that can give us a very real, quantifiable way to understand the environmental impact of our actions: the carbon footprint.

Carbon footprint is defined as the total amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere due to our activities, including everything from energy use, food, the products we buy, and transport. Whether we like it or note, travel is a significant contributor to this footprint.

Travel, whether by car, plane, train, or boat, releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming and climate change. The more we travel, the more we emit, and the higher our carbon footprint becomes.

Here are some ways your carbon footprint is influenced by travel:

  1. Mode of transportation: The kind of transportation you choose to get to your destination has a significant impact on your carbon footprint. Planes, for instance, are known to be the most carbon-intensive mode of travel, followed by cars and then trains. This is because planes emit a high amount of carbon dioxide per passenger-mile traveled. On the other hand, trains are more energy-efficient, and they emit less carbon dioxide per passenger-mile traveled. Therefore, opting for more eco-friendly modes of transportation can help reduce your carbon footprint.

  2. Distance traveled: The distance you travel also influences your carbon footprint. The farther you travel, the more carbon dioxide you emit. For instance, a short-haul flight within the same country may emit less carbon dioxide compared to a long-haul flight to a different continent. Similarly, taking a train for a shorter distance may have a lower carbon footprint compared to taking a car for a longer distance. Therefore, it is essential to consider the distance you travel when planning your trips.

  3. Accommodation: Where you stay also influences your carbon footprint. For instance, staying in a hotel with a high carbon footprint, such as one that uses a lot of energy, emits more carbon dioxide compared to staying in a more eco-friendly accommodation, such as an eco-lodge or a camping site. Therefore, choosing environmentally friendly accommodation can help reduce your carbon footprint.

  4. Frequency of travel: The more you travel, the higher your carbon footprint. Frequent travelers, such as business travelers, contribute more to their carbon footprint compared to occasional travelers. Therefore, reducing the frequency of your travel can help reduce your carbon footprint.

  5. Activities during travel: The activities you engage in during travel also influence your carbon footprint. For instance, engaging in activities that require a lot of energy, such as skiing, snowboarding, or water sports, may emit more carbon dioxide (think about the energy consumed when running the ski/snowboard lifts or to run that speedy jet ski) compared to engaging in less energy-intensive activities such as hiking or biking. Choosing low-carbon activities during travel can help reduce your carbon footprint.

Reducing your carbon footprint when traveling is essential for the environment, and here are some ways you can achieve this:

  1. Opt for eco-friendly modes of transportation: Consider taking a train instead of a plane for shorter distances, or driving an electric or hybrid car instead of a gas-powered one.

  2. Consider the distance you travel: Try to avoid long-haul flights if possible and opt for shorter trips closer to home. You could also consider taking a train or driving instead of flying. Heck, maybe even pull a Greta Thunberg and just sail around the world on a zero-carbon yacht.

  3. Choose environmentally friendly accommodations: Look for accommodations that are eco-friendly, such as eco-lodges or camping sites that use renewable energy sources.

  4. Reduce the frequency of your travel: Yes, I know this is a painful idea. This is a travel blog, after all, and you and I are both here because the thing we love most in the world (maybe besides potato chips) is travel! But either way, it may be helpful to consider reducing the number of trips you take or finding alternative ways to conduct business or connect with loved ones, or even condensing multiple trips into one single trip.

  5. Engage in low-carbon activities: Choose activities that require less energy and emit fewer greenhouse gases, such as hiking, biking, or just strutting around the gorgeous new landscape you find yourself in--soak in the details and reconnect with your sense of wonder.

Its no question that travel contributes significantly to your carbon footprint. I was shocked, in fact by how huge my carbon footprint ballooned simply because of my travel. My normal day-to-day activities, for example, accounted for approximately 4 tons of carbon/year. With my travel included, my carbon footprint last year skyrocketed to 14.9 tons!

When you consider that the average annual carbon footprint is 9-10 tons, you can see that I'm severely over target. This emphasizes how important considering your carbon footprint when you travel really is! You can calculate your carbon footprint here.

By considering the mode of transportation, distance traveled, accommodation, frequency of travel, and activities during travel, you can reduce your carbon footprint and help protect the environment.

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