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5 Easy Ways to Travel More Sustainably This Season

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Holiday travel can unleash steep increases in carbon emissions. What can you do to reduce your impact?

By Susannah Shmurak Posted Nov 14, 2016

Man with suitcase walking into a sunset

It’s that celebratory time of year when a lot of us hit the road (or the skies and rails) to enjoy holiday traditions with family and friends. More than 100 million Americans traveled during last year’s holiday season, and this year will likely be no different. But what kind of impact does all this travel have on our planet? In addition to burning a lot of fuel, which leads to climate-warming carbon emissions, other decisions we make while traveling can affect how resource-intensive our trips become. Here are some tips for trimming the footprint of your holiday travel and reducing emissions along the way.

1. Be Selective About How You Travel

Train
Choose the mode of transportation with the lowest emissions:
Although transportation fuel economy has improved in recent years, trains still use far less fuel per passenger than any other mode of transit. Buses are another option worth considering, because vehicles carrying many passengers use less fuel per person than most car trips. If you want to crunch the numbers, use a carbon calculator to see how much CO2 you’d emit using different types of transport.

Fly smarter:
A single round-trip flight across the country typically produces one ton of carbon per passenger. A few such flights can add significantly to your carbon footprint. These emissions increase by more than 25% if you switch planes for each leg of your trip, since extra take-offs and landings require more fuel. Emissions per passenger also increase if you occupy premium seats in first class cabins, since fewer people fit on planes offering extra legroom. If you still need reasons to fly smarter, consider that planes release potent climate-warming vapors into the atmosphere, which have profound effects on climate. To lessen this impact, try to fly on more efficient airplanes or better yet, look for alternate means of transportation when possible.

Rideshare when you can:
For longer distances, one person riding alone in an inefficient car may produce more CO2 than flying. Use local social media groups, email lists, or a rideshare app to team up with other travelers if you’re planning to drive. Take the most fuel-efficient car and drive to maximize fuel efficiency. Lastly, make sure your car is tuned up and the tires properly inflated so you’re burning the least amount of fuel possible.

2. Pack Sustainably

Pick eco-friendly travel gear:
OnSight Travel Center Travel Organizer
Choose durable travel bags and organizers made from low-impact, recycled materials. Travel gear manufacturer Onsight, for instance, works to “make most of our products from fully recycled textiles, which includes things like zippers and zipper pulls, in addition to the actual fabrics.” The company also aims for durability of materials and neutral colors that won’t go out of style in a year or two. See more of Onsight’s ecofriendly travel products.

Bring a reusable water bottle:
Pink LifeStraw Go Bottle with 2-Stage Filtration
It’s inevitable that you’ll need a drink at some point during your trip. Skip all those disposable cups and bottles by packing your own. You can run empty water bottles through airport security and fill them up at a water fountain on the other side. Additionally, some water bottles come with a built-in filter to ensure your water will be potable no matter where you go.

Take less:
Every extra pound of luggage requires more fuel to move it, whether by car, plane, bus or train. Try not to pack more than you need and consider taking along an easy-to-use portable washing bag to help you travel with fewer clothes. Additionally, consider skipping the hotel washing service, since most hotels wash guest laundry separately, whether your clothes make up a full load or not.

Refill your travel containers:
There’s no need to purchase tiny bottles of shampoo and lotion for each trip. Simply refill bottles and use again to cut down on plastic waste.

3. Don’t Waste Energy at Home

Save a Watt Programmable Timer
Be sure to turn off lights and unplug electronics before you leave. Turn down your thermostat and set your water heater to vacation mode. A programmable timer can turn lights on and off while you’re away and will keep your electronics from drawing energy when you’re not using them. A smart idea even when you’re not traveling!

4. Keep Up Your Green Habits

Traveling doesn’t mean you have to abandon all the eco-conscious habits you follow at home. You can still make planet-friendly food choices, give green gifts, and keep up with eco-friendly practices like recycling and taking public transit rather than driving. Some compact, lightweight reusable bags come in handy for all kinds of outings and let you skip the plastic bags when you shop. And you can conserve water and energy, modeling sustainable behaviors for others wherever you go.

Whether you stay with family or in a hotel, be mindful of how you consume resources, whether it’s keeping showers short, turning out lights, or going through towels. Many hotels allow you to choose whether you get fresh towels every day by hanging up a sign or placing your towels on the rack. If you don’t need a new daily towel at home, you probably don’t need one in a hotel. Hotels save a lot of energy and water when guests keep their towels longer.

5. Offset Your Travel

LifeStraw Family donation to Kenya
Consider purchasing carbon offsets when you travel. Offset purchases fund emission-reduction efforts that can range from renewable energy production or restoring carbon-sequestering forests to buying water filters for families in developing countries so they don’t have to burn wood to ensure the safety of their drinking water. In essence, you’re helping prevent the same amount of carbon that your trip produces from being emitted somewhere else in the world, lessening the impact of your trip.

It’s a reality of modern life that simple acts like visiting family in another part of the country will have unintended environmental consequences. But we can all take some relatively straightforward steps to minimize that impact. While you’re giving thanks for friends and family this holiday season, honor the planet that supports us all by making your travels a little greener.

susannahshmurak

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Susannah Shmurak is an enthusiastic advocate for healthier, more sustainable lifestyles. She shares practical tips about gardening, food, and low-impact living at HealthyGreenSavvy.com.
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