Traveling is one of the most beautiful experiences you can have, it is a way to interact with the world and to see and understand the hows, whys and wherefores of other places. Travel, in turn, is hardly sustainable. The very movement from one place to another greatly increases your carbon footprint, that is, the total volume of greenhouse gases associated with your activities, with what you do.
Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce your carbon footprint on your travels, habits that can help you make your travel more sustainable:
The biggest impact on your carbon footprint during a trip will be caused by the mode of transportation you choose to travel by. In general, from an environmental impact point of view, it is better to travel by car than by plane, better by bus than by car, and better by train than by bus (the latter, in most cases).
A round-trip flight from Barcelona to London, for example, causes an approximate emission of 450 kg of CO2 per passenger (the average emission of a European citizen is 8 tons of CO2 per year).
Although traveling by land is not always possible, it is important to at least take into consideration the environmental impact of our choices and choose the most optimal means of transport to reduce our carbon footprint. If there is no other option but to fly, for example, it would be best to look for direct (non-stop) flights.
Every ingredient and every plate of food has its own carbon footprint. This includes all the energy consumed to produce them (machinery, technology, etc.), to transport them (gasoline) and to cook them (gas and electricity).
In your travels, you have the possibility of choosing local foods and ingredients, products that have had to travel much shorter distances and whose carbon footprint is, therefore, much lower. Eating local is also one of the best ways to connect with local culture when traveling.
Finally, if you are going to cook your own food during your trip, it is best to buy local ingredients from local stores, grocery stores and pantries, avoiding large supermarket chains.
By now you may realize that virtually everything produced by humans has a carbon footprint associated with it. So it is with any product you might buy when you travel, from personal hygiene products to souvenirs. Especially with the latter, it's important to choose local products and handicrafts, not only because their carbon footprint is intrinsically smaller than that of mass-produced products in factories far from the point of sale, but also because you'll be supporting the local economy and encouraging its growth.
Find sustainable accommodation
In general, the larger a hotel is, the less sustainable it is. It stands to reason: large breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets are synonymous with huge amounts of leftover food going straight into the garbage; industrial washing machines work practically all day long to keep the industrial load of linens clean; and so on.
The solution is to look for local or eco-friendly accommodations: small or family-run hotels, hostels or family-run hostels. Finding this type of accommodation can be difficult, but there are sites on the internet, such as ecobnb.com for example, that facilitate this type of search. Another option is to look for the accommodation you are interested in to have a sustainability certification, such as the EU Ecolabel (European Ecolabel).
You can also look for alternatives for your stay on sites such as AirBNB (for apartments and houses of locals) or even Couchsurfing (to meet and stay with local people).
Avoid single-use plastics
When you travel, you walk. You travel through cities and towns and along trails, spending days at a time without going back to your accommodation except to sleep. You consume, above all, water in large quantities, and you may also buy packaged meals as a matter of economy and convenience, or you may choose to have your food prepared for you in a restaurant rather than sit down to eat there. Every piece of single-use plastic you use and discard adds to the approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic we humans produce and discard into the oceans each year.
The solution: avoid single-use plastics. Bring your own reusable bottle and be sure to refill it whenever you can (in Europe, most large cities have drinking fountains in squares, parks and shopping malls); if you're ordering food at a restaurant, choose to eat there or ask that they don't use plastic to package your order. You can also bring reusable cutlery and even reusable straws (e.g. bamboo).
Offset your carbon footprint
Despite all your efforts, despite the fact that you have made every choice during your trip taking into account the environmental impact, energy expenditure and use of plastics, you will not be able to avoid generating a carbon footprint larger than the one you would have generated if you had not traveled. But there is a solution.
Offsetting your carbon footprint is the action of neutralizing your emissions through investments in projects focused on improving the environment. A great example of this are organizations that plant trees. There are plenty of them and a Google search is enough to find this type of projects that accept donations specifically oriented to offset the carbon footprint produced by traveling. One organization that offers this possibility is the World Land Trust, whose website allows you to calculate the carbon emissions of your trip and the same system will recommend an amount to donate to offset those emissions.
Reducing your carbon footprint when traveling can be as easy as making more conscious decisions focused on reducing the environmental impact of your trip. The best part is that most of these habits are transferable to your everyday life. You can continue to reduce your carbon footprint when you return home by following the same tips: eat local, buy local, avoid the most polluting modes of transportation, avoid single-use plastics, offset your carbon footprint.
In the end, every habit becomes a habit, and every habit that helps the world helps us all.