When we see these, we think of all the amazing adventures, memories and experiences those stats have contributed towards. And oh boy, there has been lots! But there is a dark side to travelling which we simply cannot ignore: The carbon footprint.
What does this mean for our eco travel ambitions?
This 8 digit number means that we have released thousands of kilos (in double digits!) of pure carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Just the two of us, from our plane rides alone. For anyone who is climate aware, that’s scary s***.
This sounds like very bad news for us and anyone else who have caught the travel bug. It is definitely not something that helps us in our quest to become sustainable travelers, or which goes well with our insatiable urge to experience everything this beautiful planet has to offer. Luckily there are many things we can all do to help the environment whilst still satisfying our wanderlust and exploring the great Planet Earth! So right after a little photo collage (illustrating what we are trying to protect) we will start from the beginning and work our way through this! It’s time to ditch regular travel in favor of eco travel.
What is a Carbon Footprint?
The carbon footprint is typically defined as the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to support human activities, both directly and indirectly. Examples of this are very easy to come by. Every time you turn on your car, heat your house, use electricity, or cook your dinner you will be contributing to your personal CO2 emission. In fact, the very largest source of carbon emissions is the burning of fossil fuels. Here, transport is the biggest contributor, but electricity and industry is close by. And when we say industry, remember, all production counts towards your personal quota as well because you are the one who buy all the resulting produce. Factories use a particular large amount of electricity but indirectly this is on you. We also used to buy a lot of unnecessary c*** but we are making a significant shift towards living more minimalistically. We are not going to tell you how to live your life, but if you want our planet to be a hospitable place for your own kids and grandchildren you might need to start cutting down on some of the nonessentials. Later in this post we will give you some tips on how to be a more sustainable traveler but there are tons of things you can do in your everyday life as well. Google “How can I save the planet” and you will learn that even small symbolic gestures can help our planet in the road to recovery.
The worst blocker to reaching that end is human ignorance – so please educate yourself and those around you. You have probably already seen, or heard about, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist. She has, at a very young age, managed to greatly increase focus and awareness around the immense challenges and important actions we as humans need to take now if future generations are to enjoy and explore the world as we have been fortunate to do. If she hasn’t already stolen your hearts, perhaps this speech will do the trick. It sure did for us.
Flying is an eco travel disaster
Flying is an eco travel disaster, and the Achilles heel of any would-be sustainable traveler. Whenever you take a flight, you will be emitting approximately 115g of pure carbon dioxide per kilometer. That means a single person flying the 5,570km (3,460 miles) from London to New York emits over 6 tons of CO2 – and there will be hundreds of people in that plane. Let’s be honest and up front about this: flying has a very negative impact on the environment and our beautiful planet. Studies have shown that travel-related activities account for up to 14 percent of the worldwide emission of greenhouse gasses.
At any hour of the day, a bare minimum of 1,500 flights are in the air, all at the same time. And mostly, there will be many, many more. If that does not sound insane to you, just go check out some of the flight tracking websites, which will show you a real-time overview of all flights currently in the air. Take a look at Flightradar24 if you don’t believe us, your mind will be blown.
This is terrible news for anyone who hopes to be a sustainable traveler. No other form of transportation emits as much CO2 as airplane travel. So basically, by living our travel dream and seeing the world, we are also destroying it one mile at a time. How typical.
But wait - what is this "Carbon Offsetting" everyone keeps going on about?
Carbon offsetting has become quite trendy for both individuals (mainly travelers) as well as for big corporations. It’s like this: You emit a s***load of CO2 on your 10 hour flight but you compensate for that by donating money to some landowner in the Amazon who in return promise not to sell his land for deforestation. That then saves some trees which we all know suck all that CO2 right up. That’s eco travel for ya. Okay it’s not quite that simple but for sure it is better to have those trees still standing rather than cut down.
So carbon offsetting is a way to compensate for your CO2 emissions by funding an equivalent CO2 saving elsewhere. Of course, this does not “remove” the CO2 you have already emitted, but it does compensate the environment somewhat which is definitely better than doing nothing! However, there is a very simple thing you can do that has a much greater impact. Carbon offsetting is basically paying others to cut their emissions, so you don’t have to. Clearly it’s not a perfect solution. The better solution is to fly less, drive less and avoid stupid emissions like overheating or overcooling your home. Be responsible for your own emissions first, and make conscious choices in your everyday life. This will already get you quite far. It is important that we focus on reducing our CO2 emission as much as possible before we focus on the offsetting, the other way around just doesn’t make any sense. Unfortunately, you can’t pay your way to the “sustainable traveler” badge!
Stay with us – plenty of actionable eco friendly travel trips coming up right after this next image reminder of what we are trying to protect!
What else can we all do to become more sustainable travelers?
If you are just realising all of this, the obvious answer might be to just completely boykot flying all together. You can in fact travel without emitting (almost) any CO2 at all, e.g. by walking, biking or even going by electrical transportation. But, even though we love hiking and biking, it would be near impossible for us to see and experience must of the things on our bucket list without boarding a single flight.
So here are some alternative eco travel tips & tricks. Click on any of the headings to expand the text!
People living in Europe generally have around 5 weeks of annual vacation, and whilst we don’t think that is anywhere near enough, that number is significantly lower in most other places. So of course you are always trying to make the very most of your precious time.
In regards to travelling sustainably, when we say make the most of your trip, we mean you should stay as long as possible in one area. An epic three-week adventure is just much more environmentally friendly than a short weekend-trip. Why? Because transportation is the biggest carbon culprit and flying on countless weekend trips will emit a s***load of it. If, and when, you are going to transport yourself over long distances, you simply owe the environment to get the most possible benefits out of it. One way of doing that is to stay for longer, taking it slow, which has the added benefit that you will enjoy your holiday more. Nothing is worse than rushing around, seeing only the usual tourist sights in a stupid hop-on-hop-off bus before rushing off to the next destination.
To achieve that, you can maximise your consecutive vacation days by carefully considering national holidays. If that is not possible, consider your reasons for going somewhere. Meaning, you go for wine tasting in France, but you are able to combine that with some family event or perhaps just visiting a long-lost friend. In that way you are hitting more birds with one stone, which actually helps justify your emissions a bit more. A small eco travel win, but a win nonetheless!
We have already established that planes are basically an environmental disaster. And they can often be bypassed altogether. Consider whether there is somewhere closer to home for your next adventure – it is easy to start dreaming about exotic far-away lands, while forgetting the more local destinations. We tend to do that ourselves.
We have for example lived in Denmark for the most part of our lives, but there is still so many places that we have never even seen! Nick has never been to Bornholm, and until this year we had no idea that there is wild horses on Fyn (Kia lived here for years and years). Obviously both places are going on our itineraries! And don’t even get us started on our neglect of the rest of Scandinavia.
Sometimes there is no way around flying. That’s completely okay and you shouldn’t let that hit your conscience too much. Especially if you are clever about it and take care to try and mitigate the impact. One example of that is flying direct instead of taking a stopover.
Planes emit the most CO2 during takeoff – when those big Rolls Royce engines are on full throttle. Flying direct saves a surprising amount of it and it is a much nicer experience of course. It might be impossible to fly direct on certain routes, or more expensive, otherwise why would anyone choose not to do so? If there are no direct routes from your home country to your destination, consider whether another destination might be just as interesting? Or, at least combine your stop-over with a few sightseeing days instead of just changing planes. That will really help you make the most of your trip!
In the point above we argued that it might be good to spend a bit more on flight tickets, in the name of the environment. However, luckily the opposite is true when it comes to the choice between Economy and Business class (we probably don’t have any First class flying readers). Here choosing the cheapest Economy tickets will help your personal emission number a lot! This is quite simply because you can cramp a lot more seats into Economy class thereby transporting a lot more people in a single aircraft. Business and First class on the other hand takes up a lot of space for only a few individuals. The difference can be massive: It is in fact possible to stuff the Airbus A380 with 840 Economy seats, however to make space for First and Business class as well as extra legroom Economy seats most A380 transport somewhere between 400-500 people. You can’t fly business class and be a sustainable traveler at the same time, simple as that. Full disclosure: Yes, we’ve flown business class on a few upgrades, but we would never do so on purpose again!
Travel is expensive. We are particularly aware of that at the moment, because we have pretty much no income. Even if you are on top of your finances, it can be very tough not to pick the cheapest flight. Most people are ready to sacrifice a little, or a lot, of comfort for some of their hard-earned vacation cash. So budget airlines have soared in popularity over recent years. It is of course more fun to spend your money at your destination instead of on getting there. And yet, we have the audacity to tell you that you should be choosing your airline with the environment in mind, not your wallet.
Luckily for all of us, that’s actually easier than it seems. Because guess what? Budget airlines are generally the most environmentally friendly.
We are not proud of this, but back when we were young and stupid, Kia had moved to London and Nick was commuting almost each weekend from Copenhagen. For 6 months… That’s not a particularly environmentally friendly solution. And do you think he went with Ryanair (10 USD – yes really) or with Scandinavian Airlines (more like 100 USD)?
He of course went with the budget airline of all budget airlines. A student at the time, he did it solely because of the insanely low prices. He wasn’t afraid to skimp on comfort, but forgot to consider what the environment thought about that.
Lucky for his climate conscience Ryanair has one of the lowest CO2 emission rates per passenger of all airlines. According to themselves they are the greenest and cleanest airline in Europe. Yet it is not quite as simple as that. Even though Ryanair pollutes very little per passenger, they have A LOT of passengers. So many in fact, that for 2019 they have been included in the not so flattering list of the top 10 carbon emitters in all of Europe. Above them you will find only coal plants.
As you can see, it is not quite so simple to choose the greenest airline. Eco travel is hard work, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your best!
Generally you are better off with a budget airline because they optimise costs at, well, all cost. The highest cost that an airline has, is fuel. Burning that fuel is hell for the environment and the airline both. So when Ryanair cramps their planes full of people and force everyone to carry very little luggage with them, the environment sends its thanks. They do not have any business or first class customers to take up valuable space, they use the most environmentally friendly planes because they care so much about the fuel spending, they use the lightest materials for seats, they don’t serve meals etc. All the things you hate about them is good for the environment.
On the other hand, they fly mainly short haul. Many of those flights could easily be substituted with bus or train travel. Again it is not a simple thing to choose your airline. But where possible, the choice between an airline and another form of public transport is very easy. Which brings us to our next point.
Public transportation will always be the most sustainable transportation form, well except for walking and biking. Even though carpooling, like sharing an Uber, is definitely better than driving on your own, public transportation wins.
In most places it is also the cheapest solution, and if you take the train, instead of a short flight, you will also get to experience much more of your destination. It is definitely a win-win.
You might be a bit annoyed by the strict luggage restrictions of most airlines. Sure, it sucks not being able to carry a new set of clothes for each day, and evening out, as well as all your favourite electronics, 5-6 books, your complete arsenal of full-size personal care products and that hair dryer which is a bit better than the one at the hotel. In fact, people tend to fill up their bags to as close to the luggage limit as possible. Maybe those are not so bad after all? Especially because every kilo counts when it comes to the CO2 emission of a plane. The heavier it is, the more it emits. And this weight does matter. Many people will carry almost half their body weight in luggage.
Packing lightly really helps the environment. Take whatever you need, nothing more. Your back will thank you, as will your wallet when you avoid those steep excessive luggage charges. Get rid of unnecessary weight by bringing a kindle or an iPad instead of paper-books, that might shave a few kilos right off. Don’t bring a new set of clothes for every day, that’s just unnecessary. The hair dryer at the hotel will dry your hair a little slower, but eventually it will get the job done. As soon as you start thinking about it, saving weight is very, very easy.
Instead of complaining about “only” being able to bring 23kg or so on your flight, see it as a great opportunity (or challenge if you are the competitive type) for you to actually do your part in decreasing the greenhouse emission of your flight.
Yes in the previous point we mentioned to shave off all unnecessary weight in your baggage. Do consider the size of your shampoo, conditioner and the like but bringing moderately sized personal care products might actually be better than relying on those supplied by the hotel. Or better yet, buy the appropriately sized ones at your destination instead of bringing them on the flight. Most importantly, avoid those tiny bottles of shampoo, balsam, and lotion that the hotel provides. These are often used only once and the plastic is hardly ever recycled.
In the previous point, we mentioned the plastic on the little hotel shampoo bottles. You have probably already considered the insane amounts of single-use plastic we are all facing in our daily lives. There seems to be a lot of hype about quitting plastic at the moment, and that is great! You wouldn’t believe how much of that junk ends up in the ocean wreaking all sorts of havoc. And if you think about it, there is so much single-use plastic you could easily ditch right now.
The obvious example is plastic drinking straws. Just say “no thanks” whenever you are in a bar. It is that simple. Even if you really do like a straw in your drink, bring a reusable one. It is not that big of a deal. It’s good to learn to say no once in a while anyway – we all say yes way too often. An alternative is paper straws, and while not ideal, going for that is way better than plastic. A final alternative that we only just discovered ourselves is wheat straws. Made out of hay, these are just a byproduct of wheat production and therefore quite sustainable! They might not be so widespread yet, but we’re sure you’ll start seeing more of these around.
Then we have takeaway coffee lids. If you are not having your drink in the car, then there is absolutely no need for the single-use plastic lid. Say “no thanks” or just don’t put it on. We promise the drink will taste the same. And even if you are driving, we encourage you to stop for a rest, enjoy your drink and your surroundings, and before you know it, you are off again. Voila, no need for the lid in any circumstance. Easy right?
Toothbrushes. Yes, when you are in the grocery store, you will see about 20 different sizes or brands. We almost guarantee you they are all made of plastic. That’s just ridiculous. Since you should be changing it quite often, that’s a lot of wasted plastic. Instead, go find one made out of wood/bamboo, and you are good to go. In most cases, it isn’t even more expensive, it just looks less fancy (or more depending on who you are). Don’t be the person who cares how his or her toothbrush looks.
Buffets are one of the biggest waste generators in restaurants and hotels. We have never really been big buffet fans and have actually always preferred a-la-carte. Well now we have a good reason for choosing the menu over the buffet; it saves the planet, one meal at a time. This is one of the simplest steps to take, on your road to becoming a sustainable traveler.
The biggest issue with buffets are the fact that the hotel or restaurant doesn’t want to seem cheap. They want the customer to get the feeling that there is plenty. But, sadly this just adds to the incredible food waste we see across the globe. It’s a small thing, but we will definitely pledge to avoid buffets on our travels.
As an added bonus, by ordering a la carte you should be reducing your risk of getting sick as well. In a very nasty way. Just think about the fact that much of this food has been standing in 20+ degrees for 3-4 hours or that several 100 people have touched the same cutlery? Thanks but no thanks!
Some destinations are better at managing their environmental impact than others. To name just a few countries that are at the frontline of the climate war, we have Equador (the Galapagos Islands), Tanzania, Nepal, Portugal and Slovenia. Check out why that is and the rest of the green destinations in the Sustainable Top 100 Destinations Awards.
It is sometimes quite easy to create a positive impact on the environment. An example of a country with a, seemingly symbolic, gesture that can have a large impact is the Republic of Palau. They made history, as they have been the first to introduce an environmental oath that all visitors needs to take during immigration. Palau is doing so much for the environment, and after we did some more research, they flew straight into our itinerary for next year. Paying attention to the climate pays off it seems! Other countries have followed their example. Iceland has for example introduced the Icelandic Pledge which you can take before visiting the country. We were happy to sign of course and you should too. Awareness is so important in the fight against global warming and these pledges help a lot with that.
We have already mentioned the benefit of e-books and the weight you save on the airplanes. But electronic solutions also save paper, which in the end save trees. And trees help the environment. So go for e-books and keep your boarding passes, itineraries, tickets, and anything else, electronically. Avoid printing unless absolutely necessary. It not only saves the environment, but it also makes it way easier for you to keep track of all of your important documents. A no-brainer really in the digitalised world of today.
When travelling, it is important to treat your accommodation as you would your own home. Turn off the lights when you are not home, don’t leave the air condition on while you are not there, reuse your towels and don’t ask for new ones every day. Show respect for your destination and treat it properly. It does have an impact. Yes, we know that hotels probably only ask you to save water in order to help their balance sheet, but fact is it helps the environment as well, so please oblige.
At your destination, the most sustainable way to live and eat is copying the locals. Not only do you support the local communities, but getting local produce helps the environment as well. Local products are better simply because they did not have to fly half way around the globe to reach your plate. The environment doesn’t like that. So instead of buying a Snickers bar, consider trying some local snacks. We had some locally produced chocolate in Nepal and was really positively surprised by the taste and quality! One item you can almost be certain to find is a locally produced beer. Every country seems to have their own brand!
Whatever you bring into nature, or a city for that matter, please take it away, dispose of it properly and make sure you do not leave anything behind. It really isn’t that difficult in most situations, although it can be hard to get into the habit. We understand that you cannot carry all of your waste around on a 3 week hike – but you will come a long way by simply being considerate around how you expose of it and making sure you follow the local guidelines.
Tracks or paths are made for a reason. This is not only for your safety, although that can certainly be important as well (have you heard about the woman who got bit by a crocodile, while taking a selfie in Thailand?) More generally, it is to protect the nearby nature and, often very fragile, ecosystems. So please stay on the tracks, you don’t want to be one of them…
Be the postive and sustainable impact you want to see from others. Teach others without belittling them – every little step counts and we are all responsible for encouraging the small steps. They really have a huge effect if you combine them and zoom out to look at the big picture. Small step for man, giant leap for mankind and all that.
Pick up the plastic you see on the beach, recycle your waste, make the clever choices (such as the ones we are mentioning here – but there are many, many more) and stay informed. That last point is always the most important.
We love to walk, and always prefer to explore our destination on foot. Firstly, you don’t miss a thing, and secondly, it saves you a trip to the gym.
It does not always have to be on foot though. In a lot of places, you can rent bikes and explore the city or area from another perspective. We did this in Bangkok and in Tokyo and it was absolutely amazing! Even in places that seem to have crazy traffic there is usually a safe bike tour to be found.
Easier said than done. We know. To most people animal products are a big part of their diet. And if you are a foodie, like we are, any kind of restriction in your diet is a nightmare.
Obviously, the most sustainable solution for the environment is to quit eating animal products all together and go vegan. However, for many people this is not a realistic option. Instead, do as much as possible to decrease your intake. And when you eat animal products try to keep them organic and locally produced. This is the sustainable way and will help the environment in the longterm.
Buy only what you need and aim for multipurpose things, clothes and accessories.
When we quit our jobs and started selling all our belongings, it was like a revelation. We had no choice but to get rid of EVERYTHING and afterwards we felt more free than ever before. And more stupid – because why did we buy all this c*** in the first place?
As we went through this detox we really started to realize how many hours and how much money we spent on this we absolutely didn’t need. We will miss almost none of it! It made us feel so ridiculous. And we weren’t even completely ignorant to the fact before this, as Kia had gone a bit Marie Kondo-crazy whilst living in her tiny studio flat in London.
Living minimalistically sustains the environment, as you do not use or acquire more than you need. Do yourself a favour and look into that. It feels so good to be rid of those chains… Now, as full-time travellers, we don’t really have a choice – we need all our stuff to fit in a bag pack and have to carry it ourselves. Perfect!
Although not an optimal tool, offsetting your carbon footprint is better than doing nothing. You can offset in many different ways. Previously on this page we mentioned projects fighting deforestation in the Amazon, but there are almost endless possibilities. You can find some worthy projects via ClimatePartner, you can plant trees through apps, or you can in fact go all the way and plant trees yourself.
Sunscreen often contains oxybenzone and octinoxate. You can almost tell from the long words alone that these are bad for the environment. This is particular true for coral reefs, which may bleach due to increasing levels of these chemicals in the ocean. If you have no idea what we are talking about when we say coral bleaching, you should watch the latest series narrated by David Attenborough “Our Planet”. A fantastic series, currently on Netflix, walking us through some of the majestical wonders of this world, how we as humans have affected it, and what we need to do now to stop it. Highly recommend it.
Together we can make a change
Don’t be hitting yourself in the head, focusing on all the things you are not doing. Think about the things that you are already doing and carefully consider the additional changes you can make in your everyday life. Start small and build from there. If we all make a positive impact, no matter the size, it will have a tremendous effect on the climate. The fact is that most people are doing very little, so at this point, even small improvements count. If you are reading this page, that is a good sign. You’ll be alright! Just by having the right eco travel mindset, you are well on your way to becoming a more sustainable traveler.
As one last point, if you haven’t already, we encourage you to watch the recent series with David Attenborough and supported by the WWF “Our Planet”. That man is a legend! We have raised our voice for the planet, perhaps you will do the same?
Throw us a comment
Please reach out to us with any questions or comments you might have. We would love if you could give us any extra tips & tricks to up our eco travel game! You can submit a comment below, or get in touch via social media. We promise to reply!