How to offset your international travel carbon emissions

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So, while you might try to do your bit for the planet by recycling and practicing greener consumption habits, flying is one of the most prevalent causes of a larger carbon footprint — even if you aren’t taking to the skies in your very own private jet. Thankfully, however, there are various changes that you can make without having to ditch the summer vacations altogether. Here are some of the top ways to offset carbon emissions produced by international travel.

Opt for destinations that promote ecotourism

The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. This kind of sustainability-focused leisure represents a growing industry supported by climate-conscious travelers looking to mitigate the environmental effects of their journey.

The market for ecotourism is supported by governments and tour operators investing in sustainable facilities, accommodation, activities and educational schemes for visitors. Ecotourism vacations are predominantly found in the countries that boast some of the most impressive and unique natural scenery around the world — such as those in Antarctica, or slightly more accessible, the Caribbean.

Dominica, for example, is considered the “Nature Island” of the Caribbean, and boasts a range of ecotourism-focused resort stays and activities across its extraordinary landscapes. According to the Dominican government’s Citizenship by Investment Unit, the country offers visitors the opportunity to “stay in sustainable ecolodges, and take part in activities like beach cleaning, responsible dolphin or whale watching tours”. These offerings preserve both the tourism industry and natural beauty of Dominica, giving guests a unique vacation experience that minimizes the environmental consequences of their visit.

Avoid air travel where possible

The most effective way to reduce travel emissions is to avoid flying — but we won’t tell you to quit your vacations altogether. Instead, you could find alternative routes to get to your destination. Ground travel is typically the more eco-friendly option — the European Environment Agency estimates that train travel, for example, generates just 15g of carbon dioxide per kilometer per average passenger, compared to a flight’s 285g.

What’s more, short-haul flights typically produce more carbon per kilometer on average than longer flights do, thanks to the energy-intensive processes of take-off and landing. Therefore, you should consider making your journey by train, car or ferry to reduce your carbon footprint, and this is an especially important consideration to make if you’re traveling a shorter distance.

It’s worth noting that these more environmentally-friendly alternatives can make the journey to your destination an exciting part of the experience. While a plane window might offer some impressive overhead sights at takeoff, you’ll no doubt be staring at your phone screen or getting some shut-eye once you’re lost in the clouds. By going by car or train instead, you’ll find plenty of new landscapes and road trip landmarks to spot — not to mention, you’ll be able to pack liquids and snacks to your heart’s content.

Support airlines with carbon neutral schemes

With the ubiquity of flying in our society, it is sometimes difficult to avoid international plane travel — and whether you’re visiting family back home, moving around for work or going to experience new cultures overseas, there are opportunities to work with your chosen airlines to offset the emissions of your journey.

Major operators such as American Airlines offer carbon offset schemes, which are often presented as a calculated fee that you can opt-in to pay atop the existing flight price, while others like Delta have committed to carbon neutrality for all passengers to the tune of a $1 billion investment. In either case, funds go toward carbon reduction and mitigation initiatives for afforestation, fleet renewal and carbon sequestering, to name a few.

But where airlines themselves are lacking in adequate offsetting practices, it’s possible to use online tools such as the ICAO Carbon Emissions Calculator to estimate your emissions, based on variables like your flight class, weather conditions and travel distance. This allows you to donate an appropriate remedial amount directly to environmental organizations, for example by funding alternative fuels, innovating in green technology, and promoting clean waste disposal.

Though it can be challenging to keep international vacations eco-friendly, there are ways to offset your carbon emissions and still take a trip to remember. Select your destinations, means of travel, and any further donations wisely — and whatever you do, don’t take a private jet.

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