Until recently, I’d never really experienced much wanderlust. When I was a child my parents took my sister and I on some truly amazing adventures, so travelling was less a far-out goal than a commonplace every summer. Naturally, as kids, we didn’t appreciate this for what it was. When I moved out at 18 my life went all sorts of strange directions, and for a long time I felt lost. For years, my main goal was actually the opposite of travelling; finding a home. Whilst so many of my friends were wandering, Interrailing and going on adventures I was in Sheffield, unhappy, seeking a calm I couldn’t find.
Fast-forward four years and I think I’m more content than I have ever been. I’m stressed a lot and busy all of the time, but I’ve somehow found peace. Not in a hippie-voodoo kind of way, but simply in the way that I’ve finally settled down into a life-routine. Now with a terrible case of ‘I want what I can’t have’ syndrome, the wanderlust is finally kicking in. I have my own home, a long-term partner and I’m able to work just 25 hours a week in order to focus on finishing my degree and writing this blog. I’m a very lucky woman, but we always want more, don’t we?
Enough exposition; in short, I’ve been thinking a lot about travelling recently but it’s severely clashing with my morals. How can someone who claims to be an advocate for environmentally friendly living go jet-setting around the world? What about all those carbon emissions? I’ve been clawing my hair out! As a result I’ve been doing a lot of research (you know me) and I’ve found a tonne of ways you can reduce your carbon footprint whilst travelling. There’s too much for one blog post, so I’ve broken it down into categories! Woo! (You have no idea how much this type of organisation thrills me.)
The first one is hefty: air travel. Living in the UK, there aren’t many places you can go without taking a plane. Most of the articles out there say ‘drive or take the train rather than flying’, and whilst that’s all good and well when you’re off to France on the Eurostar, if you want to explore Asia or America it simply can’t be done. Instead, I’m going to focus on the ways you can reduce your carbon footprint once you have made the decision to fly. Before I’d even started looking into this Joe and I booked flights to visit my sister in Italy in two weeks time, and it’ll be our first time flying in a few years – I’ll have to report back on how well these methods actually work once we’ve put them into practise!
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Take a Non-Stop Flight
There are many benefits to taking a non-stop flight; there’s less chance of your luggage going missing, it’s quicker, you don’t have to fumble your way through a foreign airport whilst trying to figure out where the next gate is and, after all that, it’s much more eco-friendly. A huge portion of fuel is guzzled up during takeoff and landing because the air is so much thicker down here than it is up there. As well as, you know, the whole trying to go 36,000ft upwards thing. So if you only takeoff and land once, you’ll be using up way less fuel than doing it two or even three times to get to your destination! The same goes for the length of your journeys. It’s much better for the environment to take one three-week vacation than three week-long vacations, simply because that’s two flights rather than six.
There are lots of reasons somebody might choose to fly first-class rather than economy, and sometimes they’re extremely valid. If you have arthritis those extra few inches of leg room could spare you from agony, or if you’re flying with a baby a more comfortable seat could be a life-saver. For young and spritely twenty-something’s like Joe and I, however, flying economy reduces emissions by fitting more people onto each plane, thus reducing the total number of planes flying. If you want to take this one step further, you can compare the age of the aircraft and how many seats they take on seatguru.com. Newer aircrafts are generally more fuel efficient, though it’s nothing you can’t make sure of with a good ol’ Google search, and the more economy seats the better!
Take an Empty Water Bottle
This might seem like common sense, but as you generally can’t take bottles of liquid over 100ml on a plane this is something I’d probably forget. Aside from the fact that I’m one of the most forgetful people on the planet, it doesn’t make sense to carry a water bottle without water. That is, until you remember that there’ll be at least three Starbucks on the other side of security. As well as inevitable water fountains, there are usually plenty of food and drink outlets willing to fill up your bottle which will save you from buying *the enemy* single-use plastic. Eating before you set off or get to the airport will also save you from buying the classic Boots meal deal, another terrible S-U-P culprit.
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Lower the Blinds
What? Yeah, you heard me. I was confused when I read this, too, but it actually makes perfect sense. (I’ll just add, before I continue, that usually you’ll be asked to raise your blinds for takeoff and landing for increased visibility in case of an emergency. Like, if one of the wings was on fire, you’d be able to see it. That sort of thing. I’m totally not terrified of flying.) Anyway, you know when you get into a car on a hot summers’ day and it’s absolutely scorching from being sat in the sun? The same thing happens on a plane, only they can’t roll the windows down. Preventing the sunlight from greenhouse-ing (that’s not a word, is it?) the plane can save tonnes of energy on cooling systems.
Again, this is pretty obvious but worth reminding you of! The less luggage you take, the less fuel the plane will need to take off. I’m pretty good at packing light (it’s the perfect excuse to buy miniature versions of everything) and Joe and I are planning on a major minimalist purge in the near future to take ourselves down to the bare essentials before we start doing any serious travelling. I don’t know about you, but keeping it toned-down and having a smaller amount of key items makes me feel more organised and less flustered, so it’s a win-win; the “I’ll pack it just in case” spiral is a long one for me!
Choose a Carbon-Neutral Program
Now, I’m pretty skeptical about the efficacy of these programs, but for sure they can’t do any harm and they’re unbelievably cheap. I used the Delta Carbon Calculator to give you an example, which said it would cost just £5.98 ($8.12) to offset a flight from Heathrow to JFK. Where the flight itself would cost anywhere from £500-£2000, it’s a no-brainer. The proceeds of this ‘offsetting’ usually contributes towards the re-planting or the conservation of trees and woodland areas that consume carbon dioxide emissions. There’s a great post here by the NRDC about choosing the right carbon offset programs, which explains things much more coherently than I could without copying them word for word!
All in all, there’s never going to be anything as good as not flying but, as I’m always harping on about, there’s also a lot to be said for balance in a lifestyle. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!