How to Travel Green & Zero Waste – 16 Tips for Reducing Your Travel Carbon Footprint

by Apr 9, 2019

Do you say no to single-use plastic, turn off all electronics whenever you leave the house, just to realize that all your effort to reduce carbon footprint is outweighed by your calendar filled with travel plans? frown

If you love to travel, or have family and friends around the world, traveling across cities and countries is unavoidable.  

This blog shares practical tips that can help reduce your travel carbon footprint including zero waste and cost-efficient tips.

getting to the destination

1. Fly Nonstop, economy class, whenever possible

Because landing and take-off account for 25 percent of emissions of the airplane, flying nonstop will help reduce your air travel carbon footprint.

And by flying economy, your share of carbon footprint among passengers will be smaller compared to flying business class.

2. choose airlines with better sustainability initiatives

Similar to how we as individuals strive to reduce our carbon footprint, companies do the same through their sustainability initiatives.

Do research to get to know how the airlines you frequently use are making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. For example, Delta Airlines has a dedicated website elaborating on their efforts to reducing carbon emissions.

Third party studies are also great resources to evaluate the sustainability strategy of your favorite airlines. For example, the airline carbon management research by the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute ranks the top 20 airlines on their carbon management

3. go zero waste by PACKing Your own food and utentils 

Short and medium-haul travels do not provide complimentary meals.

Bringing your own food and snacks will make sure you are not famished at the end of the trip. It is also more cost-efficient because you save money from not purchasing overpriced in-flight or airport snacks.

Packing your own food and utensils also prevents the use of disposable plastic during your flight. 

And if your flight ends up getting delayed and you are stuck sitting for hours on the airplane (this actually happened to me recently), the food you packed will come in handy.

I like to pack myself some simple and high nutrient dishes such as baked sweet potatoes, banana, nuts, or salad with plenty of legumes. I also always carry an empty thermos, and ask to be filled up with water or hot water during the flight (There was only one time a flight attendant rejected my request for pouring the water into my thermos).

Travel zero waste and cost-efficient by bringing your own food and utensils on your flight

4. use airport shuttles, whenever possible 

Reduce your transportation carbon footprint by taking an airport shuttle or carpooling. 

I have traveled to many countries, both developed and developing, and this really depends on the country or city you are going to. For some places, it could be cheaper and safer to take a taxi from the airport.

On the other hand, some countries do offer excellent airport shuttle buses or trains that are very affordable. In South Korea, airport limousine buses are the best way to get from Incheon international airport to Seoul city center. These buses are comfortable, and only cost about $15 one-way. On the other hand, a taxi can range from $70-$150.

Visit your destination country or city’s airport website before your travel, and to find out the type of airport transportations are offered.

5. consider long-term gifts to environmental nonprofits than purchasing one-time carbon offsets

Carbon offsets compensate for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are generated by reducing the same amount elsewhere. 

Some airlines offer an option to purchase carbon offset for your flight. This is definitely one option to compensate for your air travel emission. For example, Delta Airlines offers a way to calculate your air travel carbon footprint and provides a link to purchase offsets by giving to the Nature Conservancy.

However, purchasing carbon offset is a solution for the short-term. In the long run, we must foster innovation that allows for more efficient, zero emissions aircrafts. 

And as individuals, one way to advocate for this change, is through your support for environmental nonprofits that tackle our gravest environmental challenges.

For example, the Environmental Defense Fund has been working for two decades to offer long-term solutions that encourage airlines to take action in reducing their carbon footprint.

And thanks to the efforts of environmental nonprofits and other advocates, in 2021, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) will be implemented, in which airlines will have offset any extra CO2emissions above 2020 levels. This means the voluntary option for passengers to purchase carbon offsets would no longer be necessary. 

Therefore, if you are a frequent traveler, consider a monthly gift to your favorite environmental nonprofits, and help them advocate for long-term changes that are better for our environment.

6. don’t print your e-ticket or travel itinerary

Thanks to wonderful technology, all we need now for any travel is our passport and travel information stored somewhere on our phones.

I also like to take a screen capture of my itinerary, so that I have my airline info handy when I don’t have access to the internet.

7. consider train or bus for short-haul travels

If you are going from one neighboring city to another, opt for the train or bus.

It’s a smaller carbon footprint, but it can also save you money and time of going in and out of the busy airport. 

accommodation

8. select LEED certified hotels and lodgings

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a globally recognized green building rating system.

LEED-certified hotels and lodgings are more energy and resource efficient, and have a lower impact on our environment.

Large hospitality groups such as the Marriott, conveniently share their LEED-certified hotels on its website. For smaller hotels, airbnb, and other lodgings, check their individual website or call to ask whether the building is LEED-certified.

Choose green building certified hotels (e.g. LEED-Certified) that use less energy and resources

9. bring your own toiletries

Another way to travel zero waste is to help hotels save resources and reduce waste by bringing your own toiletries.

I’m on the road often, and I do always carry my personal shampoo, conditioner and lotion in my small reusable containers (You can find great, affordable reusable containers at Daiso or Muji). 

Another reason I carry my own toiletries is that I have very sensitive skin. And by bringing my own, I don’t have to worry about becoming irritated with toiletries provided in hotels.

10. say yes to reusing towels and sheets at hotels

Do you reuse your towels and sheets at home? If yes, also say yes when this option is offered at a hotel.

You are helping the hotel reduce their energy and water consumption.

11. on business trips, stay close to meeting sites

Staying at a walking distance of 5-20 minutes to meeting sites during a business trips not only reduce your travel carbon footprint, it also saves on local transportation costs, and provides an opportunity to walk and explore the surrounding area. 

at destination

12. always carry your own reusable bottle and bag

Plastic does not only ruin our marine life and contaminate the soil when discarded, the production of plastic also requires the use of fossil fuels.

By carrying a reusable bottle and bag on your travels, you are also helping the destination city reduce their waste and carbon footprint.

Travel zero waste with small, easy to carry reusable bag and bottle

13. walk or use public transportation, whenever possible

If you are traveling in a safe city, you can reduce your carbon footprint by walking or taking the public transportation. 

Moreover, by walking, you may find hidden gems of the city, you may not have seen if you took a taxi from one location to another.

14. eat from local restaurants and markets

After a long day traveling, there could be no better remedy than your hometown food or the hotel buffet.

However, similar to buying from the farmer’s market at home, eating from local restaurants and markets helps reduce carbon footprint and also may be cheaper.

You wouldn’t eat just McDonald’s and hotel food at home, so why do that traveling?

15. don’t make impulse purchases

I have to admit that I have the tendency to spend a lot on my travels because I don’t want to limit myself from fully exploring my travel destination.

On the other hand, I do spend wisely. This includes not purchasing unnecessary souvenirs such as keychains or “I love NYC” t-shirts because they will most likely end up in my trash can.

Instead of purchasing items, spend on eco-tourisms, experiencing the culture, and making memories.

16. treat your travel destination like you would your own neighborhood 

Nowadays, we can easily find out about the local traditions, regulations, etiquettes, and the natural environment, through the internet or friends who have visited before.

Spend couple of hours researching your travel destination before you leave (I do this on my way to the airport or waiting on those long lines at the airport). With this research, you will be prepared to interact sustainably and be in harmony with the local environment.

 

Final Thoughts:

My journey of living more sustainable and environmentally conscious, have taught me that, there is always an option that is better for the environment.

Moreover, when we choose the better option, we still enjoy life and do what we love, but just with less impact on our environment.

What are some tips you have for those that love to travel? Please do share with us in the comments smile.

Minnie Bio Photo

Sustainability strategy and climate policy consultant, Minnie, shares how we can together “keep it simply sustainable” and live in harmony with our natural environment. Learn more →