Happy Earth Week, Passion Passport community! In honor of Earth Day 2019, we’re bringing you new sustainable travel content every day this week, with each story aiming to celebrate eco-travelers, low-impact ways of living, and explorations that honor both people and places. We hope we inspire you to travel with the environment in mind.

Global tourism accounts for a total of eight percent of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact,  there have been approximately nine million airplane take-offs around the world this year alone (and counting). A single flight from New York to Los Angeles generates a little more than 65 tons of carbon dioxide, and one transcontinental flight could equate to just as much of your carbon footprint as a whole year’s worth of driving. Sound scary?

As 2019 rolls out, more and more people are beginning to understand the true impact that our global excursions have on the environment, local populations, and ourselves. As fast travel and mass tourism propel our never-ending hunt for the latest and greatest, global travel continues to grow exponentially, and evidently, so does our carbon footprint.

It’s time we opened our eyes to the true effects that travel and tourism have on our planet.
Ultimately, mass change comes only from altering behaviors — and when broken down, the steps we can take to travel with a smaller carbon footprint become relatively simple. Here’s how.

Get your walking shoes on

Person strolls across a pedestrian crossing on a palm tree-lined boulevard
Photo by Tyler Nix

Tie up those laces and make walking or biking a priority whenever possible during your travels. Getting out in the fresh air and avoiding vehicular transportation drastically cuts your carbon emissions. (We should also mention that you’ll have those endorphins flowing in no time from all of the added exercise.) Save your money, help the planet, and take your time really getting to know your surroundings.

Of course, walking and biking aren’t viable possibilities for longer distances, so when necessary, carpooling or choosing public transport are better alternatives to taking a cab or hiring a car, as the share of carbon emissions is spread between multiple passengers, making the overall impact much lower.

Avoid flying

The global aviation industry produces around two percent of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. That may not sound like much, but to put that into perspective, air travel accounted for 859 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 alone. What’s more, the current percentage of greenhouse gas emissions is only set to increase. Though newer aircraft models are more fuel-efficient than their earlier counterparts, there are no immediate solutions to alternative fuel, and we may still be decades away from inventing an aircraft powered by sustainable energy.

With upwards of a whopping eight million people flying every day, it pays to keep this in mind when you’re booking trips and planning your upcoming travel. The less often we fly, the less significantly we contribute to the emission of harmful gases, and the bigger the step we take toward achieving a smaller carbon footprint.

When flying is an absolute must, stick to economy class, as the carbon emissions are split between more individuals. And when choosing airlines, be sure to fly with those that allow you to offset your carbon emissions. Carbon offsetting helps to balance out the emissions we expel into the atmosphere, by funding projects designed to make equivalent reductions to carbon dioxide emissions. By putting money toward these projects, you can help fund the protection or restoration of forests, develop renewable energy, or aid local communities — it’s simply up to you to choose airlines that support initiatives you align with.

A train cuts through the jungle
Photo by Marc Llewellyn

Finally, for a substitute for overland travel, consider taking the scenic route by way of bus or train, as both are among the lowest carbon-emitting modes. And — bear with us here — perhaps you could even aim to forgo all overseas trips this year and plan a staycation or a nearby getaway instead.

Support sustainable projects and local communities

Supporting sustainable projects such as aforementioned reforestation initiatives can help reduce the negative environmental effects created by the travel industry, as donated funds directly aid vital programs that are taking practical action against climate change. Additionally, you can consider supporting global nonprofits, such as Sustainable Travel International, which use tourism dollars to advance conservation efforts and combat human welfare issues.

A tree grows on a leafy mountainside
Photo by Niklas Siemens
Women stand with their baby in an African village
Photo by Anes Sabitovic

By supporting local communities, you can give aid to areas that would otherwise bear the brunt of tourism’s carbon footprint with no benefit to their society. According to a case study in Zimbabwe, out of $187 USD spent by tourists per day, only $24 USD remain within host communities. This economic problem is known as “tourism leakage” and negatively affects developing nations globally. You can choose to combat this by aiding in the funding of local nonprofits and charities.

Stay in eco-friendly accommodations

High rise building covered in living gardens
Photo by Chris Barbalis

Staying in eco-friendly accommodations is easier when you know exactly what to look for: businesses that are carbon neutral, value the local community and environment, utilize green energy sources, and implement recycling and linen reuse initiatives (just to name a few). There are numerous websites dedicated to helping travelers find green hotels — such as BookDifferent, Eco BnB, and Lonely Planet. While it may seem easier to simply check into a large-scale, offshore-owned hotel, be sure to keep in mind the smaller establishments — such as a locally owned Airbnb — that will not only benefit from your dollar but will also put it to good use.

Remember to also be conscious of the foods you eat along your travels. Dine at locally owned restaurants, and favor those that use locally grown, organic produce. Where you can, you might want to consider adopting a plant-based diet (or at least opting for a few plant-based meals!). We’ve no doubt all heard discussions as to why the world needs more vegans — the proof is in the pudding!

Leave no trace

Finally, continuing to reuse and recycle is paramount to reducing your carbon footprint, and though these are concepts most commonplace at home, there’s no reason we can’t take them with us wherever we go. Remain mindful of water usage, be conscious of energy consumption, and even put stops to waste in the first place by simply refusing single-use products. Think twice before unwrapping those plastic-covered earphones when you’ve got your own stashed in your bag, and consider declining the plastic cup of water that you don’t really need.

A few small actions can go a long way.

Man walks over sand dunes leaving footprints behind him
Photo by Nathan McBride

Pack that reusable water bottle, say no to plastic cutlery, shop with reusable bags, and above all else, leave no trace behind. As long as we remain cognizant of our impactful actions, we as travelers have the ability to make waves in reducing our global carbon footprints. All we have to do is simply try.

Looking for more inspiration on how to live and travel sustainably? Check out our guide to 12 Ways to Live Sustainably in 2019 and our thought piece on Why You Should Travel Less in 2019.

Cover Photo by Aniket Deole

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Tara Worthington
Tara is a writer at heart and a traveler by nature, recently making the move from her hometown of Auckland, New Zealand, to Melbourne, Australia. When she isn't thinking up new stories, she's dreaming of faraway places — and potentially adding them to a wanderlust list as long as her arm.