6 Simple Ways to Reduce Your CARBON FOOTPRINT While Traveling
Updated: Feb 25, 2020
Climate change is a global issue that goes beyond political lines drawn on maps. There is no denying that as travellers, we are generating massive amounts of carbon emissions just from air travel alone. Traveling can be excessively indulgent, and sadly, we have seen the ugly impact this has had on our planet.
FULL DISCLOSURE: We don't claim to be anywhere close to zero waste, carbon neutral travellers. We admit that we often opt for comfort and convenience, especially when traveling with kids. We TRY when we can, but we also know we can do better! It isn't easy, and it may not always be possible to make earth-friendly choices when you are on the go, but every bit of diligence and effort counts.
1) USE EFFICIENT TRANSPORTATION
Take the train or bus instead of flying. We often struggle with this as it is generally cheaper and faster to fly, not to mention safer in developing countries. Our goal is to incorporate train and bus travel as much as it is safely available, and find other ways to reduce our carbon footprint when flying.
Use the local bus and subway system instead of taxis or renting a car. Most major cities have a decent transit system. In developing countries or small towns, however, your choices are more limited to tuk tuks, ride shares like GRAB (the South-East Asian equivalent of Uber), and local buses like the one below. If local transit is inadequate, consider renting a hybrid or electric vehicle if that's an option. It is nice to see that more and more electric taxis are now being offered at airports globally.
Above photo: Electric tuk tuks available in Luang Prabang, Laos
Walk and bike to get around shorter distances. This is an obvious one, but it isn't always easy with kids, or with the heat and humidity in some of these countries. Also, lack of sidewalks and bike paths can make it unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists. We always TRY to find conveniently located accommodation and research the area carefully before booking so ideally most things are either walkable or near transit.
2) AVOID BOTTLED WATER (as much as possible)
It is worth investigating whether the local water supply is even safe to drink. Many countries have the same standards as those in North America. For instance, despite the fact that Koreans buy a lot of bottled water and water purifiers, we did our research and discovered water in Busan and Seoul is considered safe to drink right out of the tap. We drank Busan tap water for a month with no issues.
In Thailand, they have large REVERSE OSMOSIS WATER PURIFIER machines that dispense clean water in every city neighbourhood for very little cost. You can fill a 7 litre bottle for 3 baht (10 cents US).
From our experience, a lot countries offer free drinking water at local restaurants. When it is not visibly available, if you can get past the idea that all non-bottled water is presumably contaminated, it doesn't hurt to ASK FOR NON-BOTTLED DRINKING WATER. Yes, sometimes they don't offer anything but bottled water to make more money, but some tourist restaurants, especially the more upscale ones, assume that tourists will only drink out of bottled water. Again, it doesn't hurt to ask! We also noticed in places like Koh Lanta, Thailand, a lot of businesses in tourist zones have signs offering WATER REFILLS FOR FREE or for a small charge. Hopefully this trend continues to spread! (Check out TRASH HERO's Bottle Refill Programme, and the Refill My Bottle app)
Also, there are many ways you can treat water to make it safe to drink. There are water filters of various types and sizes and UV filters like the STERI-PEN or GRAYL. We travel with a LARQ water bottle with a built-in UV filter. Keep in mind, the LARQ doesn't remove chemicals, lead or mercury but they do remove bacteria, parasites and viruses. (For a detailed review of the LARQ CLICK HERE)
When you are dripping sweat and uncomfortably hot, you are more likely to cave in and buy a cold beverage to quench your thirst. Carrying a quality INSULATED BOTTLE that can keep cold drinks for a long time can be very helpful. Our LARQ water purifying bottle happens to be insulated, so we usually fill it up with ice water and take it for outings.
3) BE MINDFUL OF WHAT YOU EAT AND HOW YOU EAT
Eat local, more fruit and veggies, less meat. We are not vegan or vegetarian, but we fill up on fresh produce at local markets and enjoy going to vegetarian restaurants when they are available.
At one of the best vegetarian restaurants we have tried, AUM, in Chiang Mai (above).
Limit take-out or delivery. With food delivery apps being used widely, it is ever so convenient to order in rather than walking to the restaurant down the street. Food usually gets delivered via a motor vehicle, less commonly on bikes. Good to see, at least, that take-out containers nowadays are compostable and plant-based in places like Thailand, but styrofoam and plastic bags are still the norm in most places.
Bring a reusable bag. Packable, reusable bags are very handy for groceries, beach days, etc. We purchased a couple of bags in Japan that were great souvenirs as well. Win win.
Travel with reusable utensils, cups, plates, straws, bowls, and a food container. Especially for street or market food, these items come in very handy. Because we are traveling light, we chose to bring our FOZZILS plate and bowls which fold flat and weigh very little.
4) LEARN ABOUT THE LOCAL GARBAGE DISPOSAL PROGRAMS
Especially if you are staying at a place for longer than a few days, and you will be self-catering, it is worth finding out how the locals dispose of their garbage. You might be surprised. Thanks to their excellent recycling and food waste program, we were able to throw away just a single bag of garbage during our one month stay in Busan, Korea.
5) SAVE ENERGY
This can begin before you take off on your trip. Consider unplugging electronics and appliances, and switching off your water heater before leaving your home. It is also a good idea to adjust your thermostat settings, and use programmable lighting instead of leaving a light constantly on for security. (We sold our home, so this step was entirely avoided!)
Turn off lights, fans and air con before leaving your accomodation for the day. Hang that "DO NOT DISTURB" sign outside and avoid getting your sheets and towels washed daily, if you are staying at hotels or resorts.
Use less air con. This is a tough one for hot climate destinations. It is a vicious cycle as the earth heats up and the increase use of air con perpetuates over time. If it's an option, consider switching to "fan mode" which will consume about 150 watts of energy, compared to 1000-3000w on cool mode depending on type of air con. Even better, a regular fan consumes as little as 30w of energy.
6) TRAVEL LIGHT and BUY LESS
Reconsider buying all those cheap little knick knacks and souvenirs. Also, less weight on the airplane means better fuel efficiency and less carbon emissions. On our last round-the-world trip, we bought souvenirs, clothes, accessories and gifts, sending parcels back home every few months to lighten our load. What happened when we got home? We barely used any of it. QUALITY OVER QUANTITY has become our family motto, not just in terms of what we buy but even in how many places we visit. In other words, it's better to buy something you love that will last you a very long time, than buying a bunch of the same cheap stuff that won't even last more than a few months before inevitably ending up in the landfills.
Developing an eco-conscious mindset takes effort and time. It's also OKAY to slip once in a while. Rather than shaming, blaming and judging, there needs to be more positive and supportive ways to bring awareness and create lasting change in the way people travel.
We will be updating this post regularly as we find more or better ways to reduce our carbon footprint while traveling. Feel free to comment or send us a message for any ideas you would like to share. We would LOVE to learn from YOU!