The #1 Thing You Can Do To Become a More Sustainable Traveler

Pop quiz, vagabond:

You’ve got a choice between a 90-minute flight or a 12 hour bus ride. What do you choose?

Probably the flight, right? 90 minutes vs 720 minutes. Seems like a no brainer.

Even if you factor in the fact that it’s 90 minutes PLUS going through security, getting your bags, etc. etc. etc., it’s STILL way faster and likely more comfortable than the bus. It’s not even close. 12 hours on a bus? I’ve done it multiple times. It’s not fun.

But what about when you compare the carbon footprint? $20 bucks says that didn’t even cross your mind. And that’s perfectly fair, because as budget travellers we are taught to value time and money and (occasionally, at least for me) our comfort. A short flight may be a bit more money than a bus (in my case, it’s about triple the price, for the record) but for the time you save and the unpleasantness you endure, it’s likely a worthwhile investment.

But what happens when you factor in the carbon footprint? I asked that very question and thought I would investigate.

Turns out a 90-minute flight will have DOUBLE the carbon emissions as a 12-hour bus ride.

Let me say that again for the people in the back:

A 90-minute flight will have DOUBLE the carbon emissions as a 12-hour bus ride.

Comparing several online calculators, my 12-hour bus ride would create about 0.2 metric tons of emissions. My flight from Toronto to NYC would be double that: 0.4 metric tons.

For reference, that’s the equivalent of 438lbs of coal being burned.

Just that short hop would take 10 trees 10 years to re-capture those emissions. Ten years! That’s insane. I don’t even want to think about my flight home from NYC to Sweden, but let’s take a look:

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It’s hard to get precise data here because every carbon calculator is different, but the general trend is clear. In layman's terms, flying is super shitty for the environment. 

That means the #1 things you can to do become a more sustainable traveler is to fly less.

Now, I'm a relatively environmentally-minded person. I'm vegan, I don't own a vehicle or have kids, I avoid buying single-use plastics as often as possible, and I walk pretty much every where I can. Yet even with those factors in mind, because i fly often (and far) my carbon footprint is WAY bigger than I hoped it would be. 

 This calculator can't track all my flights each year, but I would wager my flying footprints is well over 50% of my total footprint.

This calculator can't track all my flights each year, but I would wager my flying footprints is well over 50% of my total footprint.

As travelers, we travel to see and connect and explore. We travel to learn, to have adventures, and to collect stories. We travel for all sorts of wonderful and amazing reasons. Travel bridges cultures and waters friendships. It’s awesome.

But travel today is not sustainable.

The more we rely on flying, the greater damage we do to the planet.

And that is selfish. There is just no two ways about it. By flying — even when using offsets — we are causing far more harm to the planet than the average person. And those of us who fly regularly are severely crippling the climate for future generations.

I’m guilty of this. And that’s a shitty feeling, to know that the thing that brings me joy, the thing that I have designed my life around, is killing the planet.

So that’s why I’m taking a twelve-hour bus ride instead of a 90-minute flight. And that’s why, moving forward, if I have the option of a bus or train I’m going to take it. It’s going to involve a lot more time sitting in crappy bus seats but it’s the absolute very least I can do.

As an “ethical travel blogger” I need to put my money where my mouth is. And I need to put pressure on others to do the same.

It's abundantly clear that the #1 thing we can all do to make travel more sustainable is to fly less. So, the next time you’re heading out on an adventure, please don’t just factor in the time, the money, and the comfort. Factor in the carbon footprint. It’s the least we can do.

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Here are some helpful resources for finding your carbon footprint and purchasing offsets for when you fly:

 

What do you think? Will you consider flying less or purchasing offsets, or is this all bogus?