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The year is 2017, the year of sustainable travel. This meant a lot of things for the travel industry, most of which were good. We saw a lot of hotels, travel companies, and bloggers move their focus to a more sustainable and responsible one. It also meant a lot of information on the negative impacts of travel came to light, causing a lot of us to rethink the way we travel, including myself. The solution is not to boycott flying altogether, because that ignores the environmental, economic, and social benefits brought about by a sustainable travel industry and the dangers of under-tourism. Instead, we need to think critically about how often we fly, why we fly, how we travel, and travel with purpose. Once you’ve thought critically about your reasons for flying and come to the conclusion to book that flight, there are 15 small changes you can make will help offset your next flight.
So, here we are at a crossroads, grappling with our love and passion for travel with our even greater love for the environment. I mean can you blame us? The airline industry contributes to 2% of the human-induced carbon dioxide emissions and according to the European Parliament, this number could increase to a whopping 22% in the next 40 years. I know, we’re all asking is there even a way to fly sustainably? To be honest the answer is no. But I get a lot of us wanderlusters aren’t ready to cut out air travel entirely, and there are certain destinations that rely on tourism, there are however a few ways you, yes you can offset the carbon footprint of air travel and fly more sustainably.
This is the hard reality we have to face as travelers. If you really care about the planet you will work on culling your wanderlust just a bit and reduce the amount of cross-country or international flights you take. The best way to reduce your imprint is to fly less and nothing you can do will ever top that. Don’t come at me with your selfie sticks and pitchforks just yet, I am not asking you to stop flying, I know you’re not ready for that- I literally just said that above- but just start with one less per year and see how it goes. I’ll get real with you for a minute In 2015 I took 7 international flights and almost 30 domestic flights. This year, 2017, I reduced my international number to 4. I know, 4 is still a lot, but it’s 3 less than my average and I am celebrating that. It’s hard living in Germany with my parents in Alaska and my husband’s in Australia. We want to see them as much as we can as they get older, so we’ve begun prioritizing our trips and choosing wisely. ONe of our international trips this year, was an entire month in Alaska, giving back to the local economy and going on eco-tours.
So, how do you bite the bullet and book fewer trips? Well for starters, that great deal you just found online to Barcelona for the weekend, for only 99 Euro? Stop, think. Where else can you go by train or bus for that amount? How can you help your local tourism economy for that amount? I bet there are a lot of amazing places around you, you can choose instead. Save those flights for when you really need them, or have time to give back. Your weekend trip is doing more damage than you think it is. The rise of city breaks simply increases the number of tourists to popular cheap destinations, but does not increase their spread. We’re putting hot spots under pressure with these city breaks. Saving that flight for a time when you can slow travel and really give back to your destination, responsibly is a better option than hopping in a plane and back for a weekend romp.
2. Pay That Carbon Offset Fee When You Book.
“But Susanna, I am booking this ticket because it’s cheap and I am a budget traveler. I don’t want to pay extra fees!” I hear you, I hear you, but this is something I do every time, when given the option. It can have a huge impact. Did you know that while a HUGE amount of travelers say they are environmentally friendly a 2008 study reflected that only 1% of Quantas and Virgin passengers paid for this carbon offset. Why are so many people reluctant to pay this tax? Well, people are cheap. Simple enough. So where, does this extra money go? It varies from airline to airline, but it can go toward anything from planting trees, to funding research to find better and more sustainable ways to travel, to finding better lighting on your plane and aiding manufacturers to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Some airlines, such as United allow you to calculate your carbon impact and choose a Sustainable Travel International program to donate to. It’s not much, so pay up!
3. Take A Non-Stop Flight.
Non-stop flights can be more expensive, and for some of us it’s hard to sit still that long. However, this can have a huge impact. Most fuel is consumed during takeoff and landing, so the fewer stops planes make the less fuel they use. It might be worth the extra cash to fly non-stop. Additionally, the more short trips airlines take, the more fuel they use. Skip the short hop to the next city over and choose a train or carpool.
4. Check Yo Flight Stats!
Are you flyig on an ancient gas guzzling fossil? Or the ultra new, green, long-haul choice, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. I was able to fly in a Dreamliner this year and let me tell you, it’s AMAZING. Not only is it constructed out of cutting edge material to make it more efficient, you have smart window shades that help you adjust to jetlag and it’s not as dry the Sahara desert. It’s probably the first long haul I didn’t get a nosebleed on. Other great options are, Airbus A350 new 737s, A320s and A321. Also, research your company. Is the company committed to paying a carbon tax and finding ways to cut emissions, or are they just out to take your money and rape the planet?
5. Use a Carbon Calculator.
Find out how much your flight is costing and use that knowledge to shop for a less detrimental flight. Trackers such as Carbon Footprint Calculator can help you determine this, along with finding ways to offset your flight.
6. Book the Vegetarian Meal.
Number 7, covers something even BETTER than booking the vegetarian meal, but it’s not for everyone and before we move on from your booking and decision process, I want to highlight this step that needs to be done at booking.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, (I assume you are, if you’re willing to go as far as reading this post,) book the vegetarian option. It’s 2 meals on a plane, you’ll survive, trust me I’ve done it. Going vegetarian has more impact than giving up your car according to some studies. Even if you can’t commit to going vegetarian, the simple sacrifice on your flight, will tell airline carriers that the demand for meat is declining. Therefore, due to economics and shit, the demand will decrease and these huge carriers will buy less meat, which means fewer animals are killed, which means fewer cows fart 😛 and less land is taken for farming. Plus, I don’t have any research to back up this theory, but I would bet money that the place these airlines get their meat from is on par with Mc. Donalds. A.K.A. cheap meat, harvested unethically and not in a sustainable manner.
Now that you’ve gone through the process of carefully deciding if this flight is right for you, paying your fee and booking the vegetarian meal, let’s be the best passengers we can be.
7. Pack Your Own food.
I had you hooked, I know, and now you’re dying to know what is even better than booking the vegetarian meal. Well, the answer is simple, but it’s a hard decision for many of us to make. Pack your own food. Gasp! But you paid all this money, PLUS a carbon offset fee and you deserve that crappy meal anyway, right? Wrong. No one said living environmentally conscious was easy. Think about a typical airline meal. It comes in plastic holders, it comes with utensils in a plastic bag, it was heated in a microwave, the food wasn’t sourced locally to support local economies and it probably contains palm oil. Plus, let’s be honest it can’t be healthy.
When packing your lunch, go vegetarian, it helps you prepare for the day you too will convert, if you haven’t already. 🙂 Also, remember that every snack you buy from the airport doesn’t count as a packed lunch, when it’s wrapped in plastic… The point of packing your own meal is to pack items that don’t have containers and pack it in something like beeswax reusable wraps to avoid using plastic. Buy your food locally and give yourself a healthy meal!
The photos depict my tasty veggie sandwich and nuts. The nuts came from a no packaging store and they are both being wrapped in beeswax reusable wrappers. If you haven’t heard of this amazing product they are a game changer! I can buy them at my local sustainable and alternative supermarket and I am sure you can as well. I love traveling with them because I can keep food fresh while traveling and it has eliminated my need for bulky containers or sandwich bags.
8. Bring Your Reusable Water Bottle & Cup
I know, I know I am taking all the simple pleasures of air travel, and quickly increasing the size of your carry on luggage. Shame shame. But just think how many plastic bottles airlines just hand out and just think how many times they give you a cup of water only to return and snatch your cup, toss and it and then give you another plastic cup later. It is honestly ridiculous. This is possibly the easiest way to offset your air travel and fly sustainably.The plastic you’re using is literally killing the planet.
I always use a camelback or water bladder compatible backpack, since I guzzle water like there is no tomorrow. Anyone else an aisle seat, due to a well-hydrated bladder? /Raiseshand. If you happened to forget your reusable bottle, be aggressive with the flight attendants, tell them you would like one cup and you would like to keep that cup for your entire flight.
Well, what about all those free dranksss? Here is where your personal cup comes in handy. I have recently stopped getting drinks on most flights to only drink from my camelback and I am happy with that, but to be honest have this dorky collapsible cup that if I get a hankering for wine I can whip it out and drink up. A quick rinse in the bathroom sink before I leave and it goes right back in my bag.
If you’re feeling bold, mention to the flight attendant why you want to save your cup, or why you don’t want bottled water. I start the conversation and always say, “No thank you I have my own reusable bottle.” or “I would like to keep this cup to reuse because I want to reduce my plastic consumption.” A little part of me thinks that if more people do this and talk about it, flight attendants may notice a trend and they might tell their boss and maybe less plastic will be used overall. Wishful thinking, right?
9. Pack Your Own Utensils.
If you forgot to make a sandwich to travel with, don’t panic. If you travel with your own utensils you don’t have to open the plastic bag and the airline can reuse them. I also carry this set in my hand purse wherever I go. It contains a fork, knife, straw, spoon and chopsticks. Once I land, if I find myself in a situation where I need to use plastic utensils I can opt out. Plus I never have to get a straw at the bar, I am carrying my own!
Yes, you can carry this knife through security, but you’ll get flagged, if you don’t give them a heads up. I always pull it out and inform someone I have it and there have been no issues so far. The blade is dull and carry on compatible, but if you’re worried, ditch the knife, you usually only need a fork anyway.
10. Don’t Buy or Use Carry on Size Items.
Thoe cute little shampoos and conditioners that seem so convenient are not only held in plastic containers, but the amount of plastic used on minnies is much worse than buying in bulk. Instead, buy cute REUSABLE carry on size containers and refill from your bulk product, or go plasticless altogether. In the picture listed in 11, you can see I have to travel with contact solution, but I always refill the one carry on from my large container.
To reduce my plastic I fly with Lush products– bar shampoo, conditioner and bar soap. They are cruelty-free and organic. I wrap them, in… you guessed it, beeswax wraps!
Instead of going for a sandwich bag every time you go through security, invest in a hardy clear plastic zip bag that you can use again and again.
12. Don’t Use Pillows/Blankets.
Don’t worry I am almost done taking the joy out of air travel. It wasn’t miserable enough if you ask me. Don’t open the pillow and blankets. Not only are the wrapped in plastic bags, they also involve laundry, and transportation to and from said laundry… etc. These seem harmless, but the waste, water, energy and plastic really adds to the carbon footprint of airline companies. Invest in a nice travel pillow and a light jacket that stuffs down.
13. Don’t Accept the Gift Bags.
I am heartless, I know! It never ends. Those cute little bags with toothbrushes, and earbuds in them, guess what? More plastic, more product made in factories that probably do more harm to the locals than good. Pack your own items and don’t rely on these cheap trinkets from the airlines to enjoy your flight.
14. Lower Your Window Shade.
Don’t you hate those that control the window seat and abuse their power? Now you have a reason to tell them off. If you’re miles high, and it is sunny out, that sun is heating up the cabin and therefore the airlines have to use more energy to cool the festering sweat pool down. Keep the shades down, especially during day flights and when it is sunny out. This can keep the cabin much cooler, up to 10 degrees F.
15. Travel Responsibly.
Last and certainly not least, once you arrive at your destination, travel responsibly. Don’t stay at mega-chain hotels, even if they brand themselves are green they’re really not. Support your local economy, stay at a small locally owned hotel that employes locals. Shop local. Eat local. Give back to the community you’re visiting.
Educate Your Friends- Share
I hope you can implement some of these during your next flight. Not all of them are easy I know. I still struggle with some of them, to be honest. I have to work at this every single time I travel. While we all know the best solution is to not fly, but sometimes we just have to, for work, to visit family or even to take a holiday, but each and every small decision you make can offset air travel just a bit and help you fly more sustainably. Don’t forget to pin and share this to your favorite Facebook groups to pass along the knowledge! What tips can you add?
Susanna grew up in small-town Alaska where the changing climate was always on her mind. Through traveling, she gained an interest in the power of sustainable and regenerative travel. She now attends a Master's program for environmental sustainability and bridges sustainable travel with environmental science. When she's not outside playing, you'll find her drinking whiskey with her cat and partner while trying to get to level 99 in life.