Sustainable Travel: 7 Actionable Steps to Lower Your Carbon Footprint

A few weeks ago, students from all around the world held a climate strike, a global protest against the inaction of governments in the face of a rapidly degrading climate.

More and more, people are starting to talk about sustainability with more seriousness.

And rightly so.

As superstorms become the norm, as the oceans warm and sea levels rise, the issue of climate change has forced itself to the forefront of the global conversation.

It’s an issue unlike no other, an existential threat to the very foundations of our existence as a species.

I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s an issue I’ve spent a long time reading about and learning about…and things are not looking good. 

As travelers, we have an impact on the climate that is larger than most others. I don’t eat meat, I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t have kids or a vehicle, and I live in a solar-powered home. Yet my climate impact is still equal to or above the average footprint from someone living in North America or Western Europe

Pretty much all because of flying. (Want to check out your own carbon footprint? Use this calculator. It’s for the UK but you can extrapolate. Another option is this one.)

But there is more to lowering your carbon footprint than just flights.

In this post, I wanted to share some tips to help you live a more sustainable life — both at home and abroad. 

7 Actionable Steps to Lower Your Carbon Footprint

1. Fly Less

This should be obvious by now, but it’s worth stating: flying is terrible for the environment.

Really terrible.

If there is ONE thing you should try to minimize, it’s you’re flying.

I know, it’s super inconvenient. But the onus is on us to be better, more sustainable travelers. So when it comes to sustainable travel, take more buses. Or trains. Or hitchhike. Whatever works for you. Just try to fly less.

 

2. Purchase Carbon Offsets

If you do have to fly, make sure you purchase carbon offsets. Not only will this repair some of the damage done by your flight but it will remind you of the true cost of flying.  

All too often we are alienated from the consequences of our actions. We buy phones and computers but never have to worry about the toxic waste they create; we purchase cheap clothing made in factories a world away that pay workers pennies while polluted the local environment; we eat tasty food from the grocery store that is responsible for rainforest deforestation.

All too often, we get the benefits without the consequences.

It’s time we start considering the consequences.

Purchasing carbon offsets when you travel is one simple way to mitigate the damage flying does. If you can’t afford offsets than you really can’t afford to fly.

 

3. Eat Less Meat

I know I ramble on about this a lot, but meat consumption is HUGE when it comes to personal carbon impact. We’re seeing unprecedented deforestation all around the world so that we can grow more crops to feed cattle. Forests not only consume the carbon we produce but they act as carbon sinks, preventing even more carbon from escaping. When we cut down these forests, we not only lose our ability to capture more carbon but we let loose all the carbon stored in the forest itself — which is a lot! 

A plant-based diet can cut your carbon impact by as much as 50%. Of course, you don’t need to go vegan right this minute…but you do need to be aware of the effects of your diet on the climate.

Gorgeous places like the Maldives and the Pacific Islands are going to be utterly overwhelmed by the impacts of climate change. As travelers, we have a responsibility to make sure the places we are visiting are not being harmed by our lifestyle. Cutting back our meat consumption is a simple way to do your part.


4. Buy More Local/Organic Foods

When you’re on the road, it can be tempting to want to eat familiar foods. After weeks (or months) of travel, sometimes you crave a taste of home. I get it. But on a day to day basis, consider ensuring that the food you buy is both local and organic. This will not only help support the local economy, but it will cut down on the carbon footprint of your meal. Transportation is a huge cause of pollution, so the closer to home you can get your food the better. Plus, local and organic food just tastes better and supports the local economy.

Buying organic food will also keep pollutants from contaminating local water sources (as well as your body). This is a great habit to embrace at home too! Having spent over a decade working on an organic farm, this is one I feel particularly strong about.

5. Drink Less Alcohol

Booze isn’t going to be the biggest contributor to your sustainable travel carbon footprint, but it certainly adds up. All the cans and glass (that might not get recycled in certain countries) as well as the transportation and refrigeration costs can do a number on your footprint. Regularly drinking imported beer can add up to a TONNE of CO2 emissions to your yearly footprint.

Local beer will have a much lower footprint (almost 70% lower) so if you are going to drink, drink local. I’ve been sober for almost 15 years, and I still manage to have plenty of fun. Plus, no hangovers. Double win!

 

6. Stop Using Single-Use Plastic

This one has been in the news more and more recently, which I think is a good thing. Recent studies show that the ocean will have more plastic than fish by 2050 — an incredibly disturbing thought.

I’ve seen tons of plastic waste of my years of travel. From beaches in Japan littered with debris to the thousands of plastic bags and bottles that dot the polluted plains of East Africa. 

Single-use plastic is everywhere. Do your part to limit your consumption by avoiding things like single-use water bottles, plastic grocery bags, and straws. If you plan ahead, you can easily reduce your single-use plastic footprint. Yes, it’s not as convenient, but we all need to start making some concessions. 

I always travel with a reusable water bottle and a simple day bag that I can use for groceries. I also carry a Steripen for sterilizing tap water. That way I can avoid palstic bottles without worrying about getting sick. It has saved me tons of plastic waste (literally!) . I can’t recommend it enough.

  

7. Travel Light

How does this help? It means you’re not buying unnecessary stuff. It means you’re keeping your purchases to a minimum and not creating new waste. The less you own/buy, the smaller your carbon footprint will be. There’s no need to buy tons of new gear or items for your travels.

Cutting back on what you buy — including souvenirs — as well as what you bring on trips will not only lower your carbon footprint but it will make your travels easier and cheaper. You won’t need to pay to check your luggage and you won’t have to worry about your luggage getting lost or stolen. A single travel backpack of 40 litres and day bag should be more than enough for most trips. Less is more! 

***

 The climate crisis is real and travel can do a lot to exacerbate the issue.

But it doesn’t have to.  

As long as we all start making lifestyle changes while demanding changes from the industry itself, things will slowly start to improve. 

Will the changes happen in time?

That depends on us and how quickly we are to embrace sustainable travel and the habits that make it possible.

P.S. - Want to hear more about sustainable travel? Check out this interview I did with Josh from The All-Around Adventure Podcast!