5 Ways to Reduce Your Environmental Impact While Traveling

  • Post by Nomadic Method
  • Oct 02, 2019

The luxury of travel is becoming more available. Flights are getting cheaper, rideshare apps compete for your attention, and transportation alternatives are plentiful. With all the options, we tend to look at the price first and our impact second. Our choices do make a difference in what happens to the world. Whether it’s the local family you choose to help out or choosing sustainable travel alternatives, makes a difference for the bigger picture.

Our planet is getting warmer. Doesn’t matter if you’re a denier shouting angry slogans, it’s a fact. It’s our decision on what to do about it. As nomads and travelers, we can make an impact based on our travel decisions. From choosing land transportation to helping a community install solar panels, every effort to reduce our carbon footprint not only helps the planet but also teaches by example. We can be indirect teachers if we choose to be. By you taking action helps other’s spark the motivation to make a difference.

Let’s break down the 5 best options that continue to maximize your travel experience while reducing your impact on the world.

1. Choose Land Travel over Flying

Airplanes currently generate 11% of carbon emissions in the United States alone. At the current rate of growth, airplanes could generate 43 gigatonnes of pollution by 2050 consuming almost 5% of the world’s remaining carbon budget. The more people who choose to fly, the more planes there are. There’s prospect of fully electric airplanes already under production but until they reach commercial airways, pollution continues to climb — literally.

Choosing land transportation is a great option not only for the environment but also for your experience. Yes, it takes a bit longer to get from point A to point B but if you’re traveling for long-term, time is only relevant to your experience. The best experiences can come from those long-haul sleeper bus trips down Vietnam, the insane Indian Railways system, or even multi-day trips on the Trans Siberian Railroad. Some of my most memorable travel experiences stem from taking land transportation. Flying is convenient but long-haul land transport is unforgettable.

Sleeper Bus down Vietnam

Riding the sleeper bus down Vietnam

Need to get over the ocean? No problem, take a freighter or a repositioning cruise! Yup, you read that right. You can charter a cabin on a freighter for about the same cost as a flight or less. The freighter can take up to a week or more but the serene ocean and tranquility of living on a boat can’t be matched by the inside of a cramped airplane cabin. Freighters not your thing? Repositioning cruises are cruise ships ending the season on one side of the hemisphere and relocating to begin another season on the other side. They offer one-way deals for up to half the cost if not more. Wine and dine in luxury while you travel the seven seas!

2. Rideshares and Carpooling

Hitchhiking is taboo in America, however considered normal in certain parts of Europe and the rest of the world. I’m not suggesting sticking out a thumb and getting in the first car that puts by but there are reliable and safe ways to share a ride. BlaBlaCar in Europe, for example, is a great way to snag a ride and only pay your portion of gas. Build a profile and see what routes people are posting. You can view the driver’s profile and read a few reviews before making a decision, making the experience feel a bit safer. I’ve taken a 7 hour BlaBlaCar from Seville, Spain to Porto, Portugal with a monolingual Spaniard. I didn’t speak Spanish but we could still rock out to metal for 7 hours straight.

Other countries have their own alternatives. Whether it’s meeting other travelers in hostels or getting on craigslist in SE Asia, there are ways of finding rides not only cheaper but also reducing your impact by sharing a ride.

3. Volunteer Aborad

There are several organizations abroad you can dedicate time to. You don’t have to be in the Peace Corps to devote time to helping those in need. Depending on what your skills and interests are, you can choose a wide variety of volunteer opportunities. Even if you’re not setting up solar panels or replanting forest groves, you’re making an impact on a community. Your efforts can be infectious. By offering your expertise and interests, you can help spread knowledge and impact our planet on a larger scale.

Organizations like Workaway.info offers travelers opportunities to work for room, board, and sometimes cash while on the road. Work experiences range from teaching english to kids to working on a permaculture farm. Wanna give more time to someone in need? There are several volunteer organizations to choose from, just find one that fits you best.

4. Stay Put

Simple but probably one of the best pieces of advice I can give. Staying put offers some of the best experiences and possibilities of integrating with a foreign community vacationers will never be able to accomplish. By staying put, the air travel is put off, the bus ride canceled, and the train has left the station. You get the opportunity to be with another culture while reducing your footprint on the world. This is a no-brainer win-win situation.

5. Trek and Bikepack

Bikepack the Annapurna Circuit

Bikepacking the Annapurna Circuit

Maybe you’re more adventurous or want to become more adventurous. Now is a great time to get lost! Find a multi-day trek through the Himalayas, take a pilgrimage on the world renown Camino de Santiago, or bushwhack the island of Borneo. There are several opportunities waiting to be walked. Some of the most remote places can only be reached by foot. Finding an untouched piece of culture or nature adds a bit of ecstasy to the experience. Best of all, the only thing you leave behind are footprints.

In May of 2019 I met one of the most inspirational travelers while rock climbing the backside of the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A young french woman who traveled with her faithful bike for over 3 years throughout SE Asia. Her full load weighed around 50kg but she had everything she needed. When she needed to stop, she found a piece of property to pitch her tent or found gratitude from strangers who offered a floor to sleep on. She never paid for transportation and never paid to sleep. She only paid for food and experiences. Most of all, she didn’t skip over countries. She’s seen more of SE Asia than most SE Asians. By slowing down and riding from point to point, she truly experienced the countries and cultures she visited.

This list just the beginning. Let's hear from you! Have more suggestions? Send us an email, we'd love to hear it!