4 inexpensive ways to be an eco-conscious traveler | Travel

Sam Kemis

There is no getting around it: travel has a significant environmental impact. If commercial aviation were its own country, it would rank sixth in total carbon dioxide emissions (between Japan and Germany), according to a 2019 Environmental and Energy fact sheet. Study Institute.

The responsibility for reducing the carbon impact of travel rests on many shoulders, from companies to countries. But the fact remains that the decisions of individual travelers also matter. So what can eco-conscious travelers do to reduce their impact?

Flying less frequently or farther is an option, but not attractive or feasible for many travelers. And buying carbon offsets or other price-intensive measures can help (in theory), but not everyone can afford it.

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Fortunately, there are plenty of inexpensive or free ways to reduce the environmental impact of travel. In fact, some of them can even save you money.

1. Avoid premium cabins

Yes, flying at the front of the plane is the dream. And the use of points and miles makes that dream a possibility for many. But it’s expensive, both in terms of cost and carbon impact.

An analysis by the World Bank’s Environment and Energy team, Development Research Group, estimates that first class fares can cause up to nine times more emissions than economy fares due to the space that they require on airplanes.

Thus, taking a single flight in first class could be the equivalent of nine flights of the same distance in economy class.

This one is a win-win for budget-conscious and eco-conscious travelers. Avoiding the markup on premium seats can reduce both the cost and the carbon impact of air travel. Your knees might not thank you for cramming into an economy seat, but the climate might.

2. Use Google Flights’ New Carbon Feature

Google’s flight search tool is a great choice for travel experts and beginners alike. And it recently added a carbon-emissions feature that makes it invaluable for eco-conscious travellers.

The best part about this feature is that you don’t have to do anything to use it: it’s automatically integrated into the flight search results. Google displays the estimated carbon dioxide emissions for each flight and highlights the option with the lowest emissions.

This acts as a behavioral nudge that allows you to choose the most environmentally friendly option, all other variables being the same. In the example shown, the Qatar Airways flight costs slightly more and has slightly lower emissions than the Singapore Airlines flight.

However, in many cases, the cheapest flight is also the least carbon-emitting. This makes it easy to make a small difference to the impact of your flight without spending much (or little) more.

3. Don’t accept a rental car upgrade

Have you ever booked the cheapest (and smallest) rental car available, only to receive a much larger vehicle at the counter? It may look like a small win – similar to an upgrade on a flight – but it comes at a carbon cost. As well as being less expensive, economy cars are also generally more fuel efficient. So switching to an SUV isn’t always a good thing.

Just ask the car rental agent if smaller cars are available. You might get arched eyebrows in response, but there’s no problem taking the “downgrade.” Sometimes there are no toy cars available, which is the reason for upgrading, but it’s worth asking.

This carbon-conscious tip isn’t just free, it can save you money.

4. Turn down the air conditioning and heating in the hotel when you leave

Overall, hotel rooms are quite efficient. They are much smaller and easier to heat, cool and light than a typical house. And they’re usually built with energy conservation in mind (since hotel companies foot the bill).

Yet, for the most part, hotel rooms are under constant climate control, even when unoccupied. That means you’re still entering a perfectly room-temperature environment when you return, but it’s also a waste of energy.

This one is easy: just turn down your heating or air conditioning when you leave the hotel room for the day. The minor inconvenience of a cold or warm room is easily outweighed by energy savings.

You might even take your eco-consciousness a step further and consider booking hotels that are committed to protecting the environment.

The bottom line

Being an eco-responsible traveler is not a zero-sum game. You don’t have to travel less or buy a bunch of carbon offsets to make a difference. Small behavioral nudges like turning down the air conditioning or upgrading a rental car can make a significant difference.

In fact, you can have it both ways: save money and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.

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