10 ways to reduce your carbon footprint when you travel

Cutting your carbon emissions while you travel won’t just reduce your impact on the planet, it’ll also save you money.

Sept. 10, 2020, noon by Anna Prendergast

Cutting your carbon emissions while you travel isn't just about switching your commute from car to bike: air travel is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions, and according to several studies is the largest industrial polluter in the world. Here, C Free outlines 10 ways in which you can reduce the carbon footprint you leave behind when you travel.

1) Fly less. If you can, cut down on your flights: travel has become an integral part of life – holidays provide much-needed down time and exploring a new place is a precious experience like no other. It’s not about ruling out air travel, but reconsidering its necessity. If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that a hell of a lot of work can get done over a video call, and that the UK’s staycation scene is only just getting started. Switch the South of France for the vineyards of East Sussex (coined the ‘Bordeaux of Britain’); save on flights to the Med and get your coastal fix in Cornwall; spend a weekend in a city you’ve never visited without the stress of a Friday night airport rush.

2) Fly better. If you must fly, do your research – read up on the environmental policies of your airline, which should cover the efficiency of their engines, their commitments to cutting carbon emissions, if and how they offset and their approach to single-use plastic. Make use of SkyScanner’s ‘Greener Choices’, which highlights flights that use the least emissions, and always book economy – studies show that flying first or business class multiplies your emissions by up to nine times.

3) Travel slow. Turn the journey into a part of the trip – not just the inconvenient bit that gets you from A to B. Replace air travel with an overnight train such as the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Edinburgh (the same route by car emits approximately four times the CO2), or experience a different side of Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express. Book ferries where possible, like Brittany Ferries’ new ship, which is powered by LNG (liquified natural gas) and produces 25% fewer CO2 emissions. Taking longer, fewer holidays reduces emissions, so take your time when you get there.

4) Can’t resist a road trip? Drive smarter: rent a hybrid or electric vehicle, car pool where possible so that the emissions per person are smaller, make sure your car is properly serviced, check your tyre pressure, slow down and keep your revs around 2000 per minute (i.e. when the needle is on the number two) by shifting up a gear earlier. 

5) If you prefer booking a trip through a travel agent, have a look into those that champion environmentally friendly practises such as Steppes Travel, Original Travel, Scandinavian Travel, Responsible Travel and Intrepid Travel (which has been carbon neutral since 2010).

6) When making hotel reservations, look at their policies on energy, waste, water, food sourcing, transfers and nature conservation, and triple check their ‘eco friendly’ credentials. Greenwashing is rife in the travel industry, with many places calling themselves ‘green’ whilst doing the bare minimum to reduce their impact. Key things to look for are transparency (if they’re not telling you about their practises, it’s likely they’re hiding something); certification (e.g. LEED, EarthCheck and Green Key); resources available (e.g. learning centres and environmental experts employed at the hotel) and involvement in the community. One of the largest contributors to emissions on holiday is food waste – opt out of wasteful buffets, and self-cater using local ingredients where possible.

7) Pack light. The lighter your load, the less fuel needed to carry it on a plane. But make what you pack count: take a reusable water bottle (we like Chilly’s and S’well) so that you can swerve single-use plastics on en route and at your destination (plus save precious pounds). Bars of shampoo and conditioner will also save on liquid allowance, and many are made using natural ingredients. Invest in reef-safe sunscreen that doesn’t damage marine environments and take clothes that don’t require laundering to save on expensive and high-energy hotel services.

8) Leave no trace. Especially if you’re hiking, trekking, camping or wild swimming, it’s essential to pick up your litter, pack up your tent and not leave anything behind that will mess with the precious ecosystems that make these experiences so special. Be smart about your surroundings – if you must have a fire, use deadwood and fallen branches for fires and take bags for different kinds of rubbish.

9) Whilst a holiday feels like an appealing escape from the pandemic right now, it’s travellers’ responsibility to take the spreading of Covid-19 seriously. Wherever you go, respect the rules, pack reusable masks (disposable ones end up in landfill, creating excessive emissions), take refillable sanitiser and use biodegradable wipes to clean surfaces. 

10) Finally, offset your emissions using C Free’s calculator. As few as 1% of travellers choose to participate in voluntary offsets according to the IATA, but offsets provided by airlines have historically come under fire for failing to fulfil their goals. At C Free, all our offsets are certified by Gold Standard, and you can see exactly when your carbon credits are retired in your personal C Free account. In our REDUCE section, you can also find out more about why education is our number one priority.

Read more:

10 ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your shopping

10 ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your food

10 ways to reduce your carbon footprint at home