How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint By Giving Up Air Travel

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint By Giving Up Air Travel

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint By Giving Up Air Travel

Why Give Up Air Travel?

Air travel has a huge environmental impact. Commercial aviation accounts for about 2-3% of global carbon emissions. This may not seem like a lot, but considering how few people actually fly regularly, it’s a disproportionately high amount.

Here are some key facts about the carbon footprint of aviation:

  • A single round-trip flight from New York to London emits around 1 ton of CO2 per economy class passenger. That’s more than the average person in some countries emits in a whole year.

  • Airlines emitted 905 million tons of CO2 in 2019 from passenger travel alone. This is projected to triple by 2050 if left unchecked.

  • Non-CO2 impacts like contrails and nitrogen oxides also contribute to aviation’s climate impact, though these are harder to quantify.

The point is, air travel is carbon-intensive. As an individual, reducing or avoiding flights is one of the most impactful steps you can take to shrink your carbon footprint.

How Much Could I Reduce My Footprint?

Let’s say you typically take two round-trip domestic flights per year and one round-trip transatlantic flight. For a rough estimate, here’s how going flight-free could reduce your carbon footprint:

  • Domestic round-trip: 0.5 tons CO2 per flight x 2 flights = 1 ton CO2

  • Transatlantic round-trip: 1 ton CO2 per flight x 1 flight = 1 ton CO2

Total avoided emissions: 2 tons CO2 per year

For context, the average American has a carbon footprint of 16 tons CO2 per year. So by avoiding air travel, you could potentially reduce your footprint by over 10%!

Of course, the exact reduction depends on your specific flight habits. But in most cases for regular flyers, avoiding air travel is one of the top ways to shrink your carbon footprint.

Tips for Traveling Without Flying

Opt for ground transportation

  • Trains – These are low carbon if electrified. Europe and some parts of Asia have excellent high speed rail networks. In the US, Amtrak has broad coverage but can be slow.

  • Buses – Cheap and usually less emissions per passenger than car. Best for shorter distances.

  • Cars – Road trips are a go-to. Just be sure to calculating fuel usage and emissions. Carpooling helps split the impact.

  • Ride sharing – Services like BlaBlaCar let you carpool long distances. Apps like Wunder help find even more eco rideshares.

Consider slower travel

  • Try biking or walking for shorter trips under 100 miles. Use apps like Strava to plan routes.

  • Electric vehicles like e-bikes, scooters and cars also enable low carbon road trips. Rental options are expanding.

  • For water travel, opt for ships over planes. Ocean liners and ferries take longer but have a smaller footprint.

Rethink destination choices

  • Vacation closer to home – explore your own state/region or neighboring ones you can reach overland.

  • If going further, choose direct ground/water routes – ex. train from Paris to Rome over flying.

  • Stay longer at each destination to make overland travel more worthwhile. Slow travel lets you experience places more in-depth anyway.

Use alternative accommodations

  • House swapping services like Love Home Swap let you trade homes with others to avoid flights.

  • Apartment shares through Airbnb and similar platforms offer homestays without hotels.

  • Try WWOOFing – working on organic farms in exchange for room and board. Or volunteer at hostels.

Carbon offset if you must fly

  • Carbon offsets don’t eliminate emissions, but invest in environmental projects to balance them out.

  • Credible offset programs include Cool Effect, Terrapass, and the UN Carbon Offset Platform.

  • Be selective – analyze projects for impact and look for third party verification.

  • Only offset as a last step after trying to reduce flights and emissions as much as possible.

Other Benefits of Flight-Free Travel

Aside from shrinking your carbon footprint, avoiding air travel offers many other benefits:

  • See more of the journey – Trains, road trips, and ocean passages let you watch landscapes gradually change and unfold

  • Save money – Flights are expensive; ground transport and alternative accommodation often costs much less

  • Less stressful – No security lines, luggage limits, delays, cramped seats, jet lag, or ear pain from flying

  • More adventure – Overland travel often leads to unexpected discoveries, people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, and memorable stories

  • Time to reflect – The slower pace fosters mindfulness and appreciation for the little moments

Giving up air travel isn’t always easy or possible. But even reducing flights can make a big difference. And ground-based adventures provide enriching experiences in their own right. The journey becomes part of the destination.