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Green, Clean Travel: How to travel with a carbon-free conscience

Green, Clean Travel: How to travel with a carbon-free conscience

Written by
Sarah O'Neill
November 2016


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With the reality of climate change, how can we still enjoy a lifestyle of travel with a clean, carbon-free conscience? We examine how green travel choices can help to tackle climate change.

November 8, a date that might turn out to be one of the most important in human history – Noam Chomsky

These are the words of esteemed public intellectual and linguist Noam Chomsky. He may be an American citizen, but he wasn’t referring to the US election results. Chomsky’s comments were motivated by an environmental report presented by the World Meteorological Organization, which confirmed that 2016 is very likely to be the world’s hottest year on record.

Being clean and green is now more important than ever, as greenhouse gas emissions wrap our planet in a blanket of gases that cause temperatures to rise and polar ice to melt, expanding deserts in some places, causing flooding in others, and shrinking the available inhabitable space on our already crowded world.

The EU has committed to cutting CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, and it will take everyone working together, from big business to individuals, to make that target achievable.

Does this mean that for the next thirty years we can only holiday as far as we can cycle? That our exploration of the planet is confined to what we can see on our (solar-powered) TV screen? Or can we still enjoy a lifestyle of travel and adventure with a clean, carbon-free conscience? We examine how green travel choices can help to tackle climate change.

Getting There

Moving ourselves from A-B is sadly one of the least environmentally friendly aspects of travel. The process of getting to your holiday destination will inevitably involve releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, even if it’s just you puffing your way uphill on your bike.

However, some forms of travel will produce more emissions than others. Armed with the knowledge of how much, or little, our travel plans will affect our planet, we can make conscious, informed choices about getting to our holiday destinations.

Staying Local

Limiting the amount of 'big trips' we take in a year can put a cap on our holiday carbon footprint. Flying is becoming one of the fastest growing sources of CO2 and to complicate matters further, the greenhouse gases and vapour trails released by aeroplanes go directly into layers of our atmosphere, where scientists estimate they do double the damage.

But we can limit the impact of travel by avoiding domestic flights. Local and domestic flights are some of the worst culprits of wasteful emissions, because significantly more pollution is released during take-off and landing than whilst steadily cruising at altitude. Moreover, in many cases, our journeys can be nearly as short and produce significantly less emissions if we take the train.

Take the Train

Taking the train is a far greener option than a domestic flight. Eurostar commissioned research that calculates that travel on their trains generates up to 90% less carbon emissions than an equivalent flight. Plus, the train might get you there faster than you think. Remember that train stations are often centrally located, whereas airports tend to be situated outside of the city. What’s more, trains have more local hubs which can take you directly to your destination.

If you factor in your journey time to and from the airport, the time spent checking in your bags, standing in long queues at security and then waiting to board the plane, you may find that the time difference isn’t so great after all!

The Eurostar will whisk you between London and Paris is just over two hours. You could spend that time alone in Heathrow airport, marching from terminal to terminal with all your luggage and standing in one of the arduously long queues. High-speed train travel is also taking off within the UK, with a new high-speed rail link, the HS2, in the pipeline between London and Birmingham.

Scenic Rides & Island-Hopping

Travelling by train is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to cover large distances, and with an extensive network of railways linking up major cities, coastal towns and remote mountain villages, Interrailing is an exciting and affordable way to travel within Europe.

Your holiday starts as soon as you board the train, with breathtakingly scenic journeys, such as the Arlberg Line winding past snow-capped peaks and pristine Alpine lakes in Austria, or the Bergen Railway in Norway, taking you from sparkling fjord coastline up to the desolate, wild landscapes of one of the world’s highest railway lines.

A slower pace can be the ideal way to enjoy the scenery and see more of the countryside. What’s more, Interrailing experiences aren’t limited to train travel. Certain country passes can even be combined with significant discounts on ferry crossings. Why not combine a train journey to Athens with some idyllic island-hopping between the Greek islands?

Going Global

Flying has revolutionised the way we travel and there’s little chance of winding back the clock. But before we blacken the conscience of the frequent flyer, consider the countries and communities that commercial airlines have opened up to travellers; places that would have otherwise been cut off from the world. There is a very human argument for continuing the expansion of global travel.

When you fly away on holiday as a tourist, you are directly contributing to almost 10% of the global economy. 1 in 11 jobs on this planet exist thanks to your natural curiosity and love of travel.

What’s more, travelling abroad can be a way of protecting our planet and its ecosystems. Imagine the fate of endangered animals in Africa if wildlife tourism didn’t generate billions of dollars in revenue every year, rewarding conservation efforts. Think of how many archaeological sites, forest reserves and pristine coastlines are protected and funded through the fact that people want to visit and enjoy them.

People can be part of the problem, but we can also be part of the solution. Tourism can turn an animal once seen as a threat into part of a community’s prosperity, and can transform natural resources once exploited into an asset in their own right.

Thinking Green

When you’ve chosen a destination further afield, where flying is the only feasible option, there are a number of simple steps you can take to reduce your environmental impact:

Fly direct: Try to fly direct whenever you can, as every stop-over involves a take-off and a landing, and these produce more emissions than cruising at altitude. Plus, it cuts down your journey time, giving you more time to spend enjoying your holiday.

Fly new: Choose an airline with a young fleet of aircraft. New aircraft use modern technologies that are more efficient at reducing emissions. Some airlines are even experimenting with biofuels. Check your airline’s website to find out what they are doing for the environment.

Fly green: If you want to compensate for your carbon emissions, consider using a carbon calculator to work out your 'carbon footprint'. This calculates how many tonnes of CO2 your journey will probably produce and you can then choose to offset your environmental impact by supporting a project that helps to reduce carbon emissions elsewhere.

Make it Count

“Dealing with global warming doesn't mean we have all got to suddenly stop breathing. Dealing with global warming means that we have to stop waste, and if you travel for no reason whatsoever, that is a waste.” – David Attenborough

Take a leaf out of Sir David Attenborough’s book, who has personally flown around our planet multiple times: when you travel, make it count.

Allow yourself enough time on holiday to really make the most of being there. The further you travel, the longer you should plan to stay. Explore local parks, reserves and natural wonders. Invest in the local people with your time and your spending money.

Remember that the more time you spend enjoying and appreciating the animals that they protect, the gardens that they plant and the nature that they preserve, the more you encourage conservation work in the future.

In the words of Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of the Oscar-winning film-maker and explorer Jacques Cousteau, and an environmentalist and film-maker in her own right:

“Being mindful for the environment isn’t a sacrifice, it’s an investment – an investment in our prosperity, an investment in our health, an investment in our happiness and an investment in our future.” – Alexandra Cousteau

Written by Sarah O'Neill

A passionate traveller, linguist and writer, Sarah has visited over 20 countries around the globe. She loves immersing herself in new cultures, learning the language, and getting to know the local people.

Would you like to be an author at Moments of Inspiration?
Do you have an original idea for a guest blog post or interest to write regularly as an author for us? Send us your article or simply contact us at:

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