How YOU Can Offset Air Travel & Fly Sustainably

The year 2017, is/was -depending on when you read this- the year of sustainable travel. This meant a lot of things for the travel industry, most of which were good. We saw a lot of hotels, travel companies and bloggers move their focus to a more sustainable and responsible one. It also meant a lot of information on the negative impacts of travel came to light, causing a lot of us to rethink the way we travel, including myself. While the best option is to not partake in air travel, sometimes that just can not be done. So, for those times you just have to fly, how can you do your part to offset air travel and fly sustainably? These 15 small changes you can make will help offset your next flight.

How you can offset air travel and fly sustainably

So, here we are at a crossroads, grappling with our love and passion for travel with our even greater love for the environment. I mean can you blame us? The airline industry contributes to 2% of the human-induced carbon dioxide emissions and according to the European Parliament this number could increase to a whopping 22% in the next 40 years. I know, we’re all asking is there even a way to fly sustainably? To be honest the answer is no. But I get a lot of us wanderlusters aren’t ready to cut out air travel entirely, and there are certain destinations that rely on tourism, there are however a few ways you, yes you can offset the carbon footprint of air travel and fly more sustainably.

Offset air travel and fly sustainably

1. Take Less International Flights- Fly Less.

International departure board Wandering Chocobo

This is the hard reality we have to face as travelers. If you really care about the planet you will work on culling your wanderlust just a bit and reduce the amount of cross-country or international flights you take. The best way to reduce your imprint is to fly less and nothing you can do will ever top that. Don’t come at me with your selfie sticks and pitchforks just yet, I am not asking you to stop flying, I know you’re not ready for that- I literally just said that above- but just start with one less per year and see how it goes. I’ll get real with you for a minute In 2015 I took 7 international flights and almost 30 domestic flights. This year, 2017, I reduced my international number to 4. I know, 4 is still a lot, but it’s 3 less than my average and I am celebrating that. It’s hard living in Germany with my parents in Alaska and my husband’s in Australia. We want to see them as much as we can as they get older, so we’ve begun prioritizing our trips and choosing wisely. ONe of our international trips this year, was an entire month in Alaska, giving back to the local economy and going on eco-tours.

So, how do you bite the bullet and book fewer trips? Well for starters, that great deal you just found online to Barcelona for the weekend, for only 99 Euro? Stop, think. Where else can you go by train or bus for that amount? How can you help your local tourism economy for that amount? I bet there are a lot of amazing places around you, you can choose instead. Save those flights for when you really need them, or have time to give back. Your weekend trip is doing more damage than you think it is. The rise of city breaks simply increases the number of tourists to popular cheap destinations, but does not increase their spread. We’re putting hot spots under pressure with these city breaks. Saving that flight for a time when you can slow travel and really give back to your destination, responsibly is a better option than hopping in a plane and back for a weekend romp.

2. Pay That Carbon Offset Fee When You Book.

Pay a carbon offset fee and give back to the planet. Wandering Chocobo

“But Susanna, I am booking this ticket because it’s cheap and I am a budget traveler. I don’t want to pay extra fees!” I hear you, I hear you, but this is something I do every time, when given the option. It can have a huge impact. Did you know that while a HUGE amount of travelers say they are environmentally friendly a 2008 study reflected that only 1% of Quantas and Virgin passengers paid for this carbon offset. Why are so many people reluctant to pay this tax? Well, people are cheap. Simple enough. So where, does this extra money go? It varies from airline to airline, but it can go toward anything from planting trees, to funding research to find better and more sustainable ways to travel, to finding better lighting on your plane and aiding manufacturers to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Some airlines, such as United allow you to calculate your carbon impact and choose a Sustainable Travel International program to donate to. It’s not much, so pay up!

3. Take A Non-Stop Flight.

Non-stop flights can be more expensive, and for some of us it’s hard to sit still that long. However, this can have a huge impact. Most fuel is consumed during takeoff and landing, so the fewer stops planes make the less fuel they use. It might be worth the extra cash to fly non-stop. Additionally, the more short trips airlines take, the more fuel they use. Skip the short hop to the next city over and choose a train or carpool.

4. Check Yo Flight Stats!

Boeing Dreamliner air craft.  Offset air travel and travel sustainably.

Are you flyig on an ancient gas guzzling fossil? Or the ultra new, green, long-haul choice, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. I was able to fly in a Dreamliner this year and let me tell you, it’s AMAZING. Not only is it constructed out of cutting edge material to make it more efficient, you have smart window shades that help you adjust to jetlag and it’s not as dry the Sahara desert. It’s probably the first long haul I didn’t get a nosebleed on. Other great options are, Airbus A350 new 737s, A320s and A321. Also, research your company. Is the company committed to paying a carbon tax and finding ways to cut emissions, or are they just out to take your money and rape the planet?

5. Use a Carbon Calculator.

Find out how much your flight is costing and use that knowledge to shop for a less detrimental flight. Trackers such as Carbon Footprint Calculator can help you determine this, along with finding ways to offset your flight.

6. Book the Vegetarian Meal.

Number 7, covers something even BETTER than booking the vegetarian meal, but it’s not for everyone and before we move on from your booking and decision process, I want to highlight this step that needs to be done at booking.

Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, (I assume you are, if you’re willing to go as far as reading this post,) book the vegetarian option. It’s 2 meals on a plane, you’ll survive, trust me I’ve done it. Going vegetarian has more impact than giving up your car according to some studies. Even if you can’t commit to going vegetarian, the simple sacrifice on your flight, will tell airline carriers that the demand for meat is declining. Therefore, due to economics and shit, the demand will decrease and these huge carriers will buy less meat, which means fewer animals are killed, which means fewer cows fart 😛 and less land is taken for farming. Plus, I don’t have any research to back up this theory, but I would bet money that the place these airlines get their meat from is on par with Mc. Donalds. A.K.A. cheap meat, harvested unethically and not in a sustainable manner.

Now that you’ve gone through the process of carefully deciding if this flight is right for you, paying your fee and booking the vegetarian meal, let’s be the best passengers we can be.

7. Pack Your Own food.

Pack your own food on a flight. Fly sustainably and vegetarian. Wandering Chocobo

I had you hooked, I know, and now you’re dying to know what is even better than booking the vegetarian meal. Well, the answer is simple, but it’s a hard decision for many of us to make. Pack your own food. Gasp! But you paid all this money, PLUS a carbon offset fee and you deserve that crappy meal anyway, right? Wrong. No one said living environmentally conscious was easy. Think about a typical airline meal. It comes in plastic holders, it comes with utensils in a plastic bag, it was heated in a microwave, the food wasn’t sourced locally to support local economies and it probably contains palm oil. Plus, let’s be honest it can’t be healthy.

When packing your lunch, go vegetarian, it helps you prepare for the day you too will convert, if you haven’t already. 🙂 Also, remember that every snack you buy from the airport doesn’t count as a packed lunch, when it’s wrapped in plastic… The point of packing your own meal is to pack items that don’t have containers and pack it in something like beeswax reusable wraps to avoid using plastic. Buy your food locally and give yourself a healthy meal!

Fly sustainably, pack your own food when flying.

The photos depict my tasty veggie sandwich and nuts. The nuts came from a no packaging store and they are both being wrapped in beeswax reusable wrappers. If you haven’t heard of this amazing product they are a game changer! I can buy them at my local sustainable and alternative supermarket and I am sure you can as well. I love traveling with them because I can keep food fresh while traveling and it has eliminated my need for bulky containers or sandwich bags.

8. Bring Your Reusable Water Bottle & Cup

Offset air travel. Fly sustainably, bring your own water

I know, I know I am taking all the simple pleasures of air travel, and quickly increasing the size of your carry on luggage. Shame shame. But just think how many plastic bottles airlines just hand out and just think how many times they give you a cup of water only to return and snatch your cup, toss and it and then give you another plastic cup later. It is honestly ridiculous. This is possibly the easiest way to offset your air travel and fly sustainably.The plastic you’re using is literally killing the planet.

I always use a camelback or water bladder compatible backpack, since I guzzle water like there is no tomorrow. Anyone else an aisle seat, due to a well-hydrated bladder? /Raiseshand. If you happened to forget your reusable bottle, be aggressive with the flight attendants, tell them you would like one cup and you would like to keep that cup for your entire flight.

Well, what about all those free dranksss? Here is where your personal cup comes in handy. I have recently stopped getting drinks on most flights to only drink from my camelback and I am happy with that, but to be honest have this dorky collapsible cup that if I get a hankering for wine I can whip it out and drink up. A quick rinse in the bathroom sink before I leave and it goes right back in my bag.

If you’re feeling bold, mention to the flight attendant why you want to save your cup, or why you don’t want bottled water. I start the conversation and always say, “No thank you I have my own reusable bottle.” or “I would like to keep this cup to reuse because I want to reduce my plastic consumption.” A little part of me thinks that if more people do this and talk about it, flight attendants may notice a trend and they might tell their boss and maybe less plastic will be used overall. Wishful thinking, right?

9. Pack Your Own Utensils.

Offset air travel. Fly sustainably, pack your own utensils

If you forgot to make a sandwich to travel with, don’t panic. If you travel with your own utensils you don’t have to open the plastic bag and the airline can reuse them. I also carry this set in my hand purse wherever I go. It contains a fork, knife, straw, spoon and chopsticks. Once I land, if I find myself in a situation where I need to use plastic utensils I can opt out. Plus I never have to get a straw at the bar, I am carrying my own!

Yes, you can carry this knife through security, but you’ll get flagged, if you don’t give them a heads up. I always pull it out and inform someone I have it and there have been no issues so far. The blade is dull and carry on compatible, but if you’re worried, ditch the knife, you usually only need a fork anyway.

10. Don’t Buy or Use Carry on Size Items.

Lush sustainable bath products.

Thoe cute little shampoos and conditioners that seem so convenient are not only held in plastic containers, but the amount of plastic used on minnies is much worse than buying in bulk. Instead, buy cute REUSABLE carry on size containers and refill from your bulk product, or go plasticless altogether. In the picture listed in 11, you can see I have to travel with contact solution, but I always refill the one carry on from my large container.

To reduce my plastic I fly with Lush products– bar shampoo, conditioner and bar soap. They are cruelty-free and organic. I wrap them, in… you guessed it, beeswax wraps!

Fun fact, did you know the cosmetic and fashion industry are more detrimental to the environment than air travel?? Crazy huh? So, in addition to skipping the carry on size product, you can also consider not buying nail polish in every color, 30 different types of hair product or cheap factory fashion. Find a product that doesn’t test on animals, recycle and repair your clothing and don’t use glitter.

11. Use a Reusable Plastic Bag for Liquids

Offset air travel. Fly sustainably, reusable container for carry on liquid

Instead of going for a sandwich bag every time you go through security, invest in a hardy clear plastic zip bag that you can use again and again.

12. Don’t Use Pillows/Blankets.

Travel Neck Pillow

Don’t worry I am almost done taking the joy out of air travel. It wasn’t miserable enough if you ask me. Don’t open the pillow and blankets. Not only are the wrapped in plastic bags, they also involve laundry, and transportation to and from said laundry… etc. These seem harmless, but the waste, water, energy and plastic really adds to the carbon footprint of airline companies. Invest in a nice travel pillow and a light jacket that stuffs down.

13. Don’t Accept the Gift Bags.

I am heartless, I know! It never ends. Those cute little bags with toothbrushes, and earbuds in them, guess what? More plastic, more product made in factories that probably do more harm to the locals than good. Pack your own items and don’t rely on these cheap trinkets from the airlines to enjoy your flight.

14. Lower Your Window Shade.

Offset air travel. Fly sustainably, lower your window shade

Don’t you hate those that control the window seat and abuse their power? Now you have a reason to tell them off. If you’re miles high, and it is sunny out, that sun is heating up the cabin and therefore the airlines have to use more energy to cool the festering sweat pool down. Keep the shades down, especially during day flights and when it is sunny out. This can keep the cabin much cooler, up to 10 degrees F.

15. Travel Responsibly.

Last and certainly not least, once you arrive at your destination, travel responsibly. Don’t stay at mega-chain hotels, even if they brand themselves are green they’re really not. Support your local economy, stay at a small locally owned hotel that employes locals. Shop local. Eat local. Give back to the community you’re visiting.

Educate Your Friends- Share

I hope you can implement some of these during your next flight. Not all of them are easy I know. I still struggle with some of them, to be honest. I have to work at this every single time I travel. While we all know the best solution is to not fly, but sometimes we just have to, for work, to visit family or even to take a holiday, but each and every small decision you make can offset air travel just a bit and help you fly more sustainably. Don’t forget to pin and share this to your favorite Facebook groups to pass along the knowledge! What tips can you add?

When you gotta fly, fly responsibly with these airline and travel tips to be a more ethical traveler

How can you fly sustainably? Offset your air travel by following these 15 airline and travel tips to be a responsible traveler

Follow these 15 tips for flying to be a responsible traveler and offset your air travel

17 thoughts on “How YOU Can Offset Air Travel & Fly Sustainably

  1. Megan Jerrard

    I’ve loved seeing companies shift their focus this past year towards sustainable tourism. And these are great tips for the everyday traveler – ultimately, if we all change small things about our travel habits, we can make a huge impact. I always pay the carbon offset when I’m booking flights, though we’ve been prioritizing more road trips and overland travel to try and cut down on our international flights.

    Thanks for these wonderful ideas.

    Reply
  2. Kavita Favelle

    At home, we live fairly responsibly, reducing packaging waste as much as we can, recycling the rest, trying to be careful about our environmental impact. But those efforts are overwhelmed by the negative impact of our international travel. We try and take only one long haul trip a year, and make as many of the rest train or road trips instead of flying. I’m surprised to read so few people pay the carbon offset fee, I guess money talks more than environmental concerns to so many. I hadn’t thought about the impact of multi-stop flights but we nearly always choose direct anyway, with the rare exception of when we do a multi-destination trip, but that’s only happened once so far. Good to be aware that the take off and landing are the big fuel consumers. For road trips we always take a coolbox, cutlery, chopping board and water bottle, so we can avoid using takeaway cutlery. I need to consider taking a pared down version of this kit with us on all holidays.

    Reply
  3. Iuliana Marchian

    This is a very serious concern about traveling responsibly. I must admit that I’ve never had a problem with traveling too much and The Professional Hobo has confirmed this to me. The most money you spend are on transportation. If you stay for longer in the same place or country, you spend less and get a more authentic feel of that culture. I think that this is a brilliant idea.

    Reply
  4. Sonal Paladini

    Thank you for this post – it is important for each of us to evaluate our carbon footprint and make an effort to reduce it. I try my best too but this post is an eye opener. I always accept that little “comfort bag” from the airline staff while traveling. I will stop doing that because I realize that I never really use it.

    Reply
  5. Paige

    This was a really interesting read. I try to fly as little as possible. When I travel within the US I very rarely fly – maybe once a year when my in-laws pay for my husband and I to fly to visit them, but these are all really great tips for making up for that carbon footprint. I didn’t even think about the meal, but you’re right. There’s so much waste in eating those meals.

    Reply
  6. Vibeke

    Very good tips. I have taken the Norwegian Dreamliner a couple of times and love it. I wish that planes were more environmentally friendly, it hasn’t changed much the last fifty years. If I just going to travel around Europe, I definitely only take a train but I fly to and from Norway to Ecuador once a year and it is basically impossible to get there without a plane. I always reuse my water bottle. It is no point to buy a new one you can just refill it, I think 😀

    Reply
  7. Megan Indoe

    Wow these are great tips and I am so glad that there is more and more awareness about sustainable travel. We could all do better. I had no idea that you can pay a carbon offset fee to airlines, I will look into that! We are hoping to do more domestic travel this year and need to really think about the consequences of all the air travel has on the environment.

    Reply
  8. LaiAriel Samangka

    I’m so happy to read another blog post about sustainable travel, which is a rare post, but own a big impact to all of us. I truly find it helpful and interesting. Yes, I as well love to stay longer in one place to spend less, and you get to feel and delve into the rich culture of people in a certain place, which I guess is a great essence when you travel.

    Reply
  9. Tara

    Yay! I do most of these already without trying too hard. Instead of paying a carbon offset fee, I often donate money to the Nature Conservancy when I spend money on a flight. I can never be sure where those carbon taxes are going…

    Reply
    1. Wandering ChocoboWandering Chocobo Post author

      That is a great idea! I think the most important part is that you’re conscious of it and taking action. I like the idea of choosing where your money is going. Thanks for doing your part!

      Reply
  10. Rishabh & Nirali

    These are great tips and frankly should be adopted by all frequent travellers. We’ve got nothing like a carbon offset fee but we do try to make our own contributions by volunteering for sapling planting drives etc. We also try and use our own bottles to reduce plastic waste. However theres a lot more we can do as your post tells us!

    Reply
  11. Valerie Hansen

    Wow this was so informative Susanna . Some of this I never think of when I travel .. some of it I have . I def think supporting the local community better , where you ste visiting, is something we can all work on

    Valerie

    Reply
  12. Farah Nadiah

    The carbon emission is a real thing. I was frowned upon at a seminar when I mooted the idea of reducing the flight numbers and spending more time in one single trip. It is good that the awareness is going aggressively now than it used to be. We need to start the ball rolling regardless of how small our contribution would be. Great compilation!

    Reply
  13. Laureen

    An amazingly well researched and thought out article. Many of these suggestions I had never even thought of. Thank you for enlightening me.

    Reply
  14. Sarah Shumate

    So many great ideas here, Susanna! We already do about half of these, but I will definitely be implementing some of your other suggestions as well. (Love the idea about the LUSH products!) We try very hard in our daily lives to “make up for” the damage we do as regular travelers, but I still feel like it’s not enough.

    Reply
  15. Christina

    Dude these tips are AMAZING. I have to admit, I’ve definitely been feeling the guilt re: the environmental impact of air travel, so try to take alternative options as much as possible these days. Those plastic cups on board KILL me, but I never thought of bringing my own. You’re a genius! PS I had no idea beeswax wraps were a thing too. Such a gamechanger!

    Reply

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