Three Simple Ways to Go Green While Flying (And Offset the Negative Impact of Air Travel)

by - Wednesday, May 09, 2018

flying above Shanghai - Everything you need to know to go green while flying

Many of us love to travel, and many of us fly a lot to have inspiring, challenging, and life-changing adventures.

Investing in adventures instead of stuff is a powerful and positive way to be better stewards and take care of the environment. If you are saving up for trips, you might buy less, and that is always a good thing for the Earth. You can create way lest waste by just shifting your focus and how you spend your money.
flight over kenya

On the other hand, flying still comes at a huge environmental cost. It is one of the most carbon-producing things we do as individual consumers. If you are a big flyer, even if you are a nonconsumer, eco-nerd in other ways, you may still be having more impact than someone who doesn't fly at all.

That is the bad news. The good news is that once we know we are part of the problem, we can be part of the solution. Flying does have a high impact, so how can we shift our approach to flying to lessen that effect? I have ideas.

This blog has affiliate links for Amazon and Etsy, but don't shop on Amazon when you can help it. Check your local stores first! 

travel itinerary map

1. Just Fly Less

I know, it hurts my heart too, but flying comes at a huge environmental cost. I did a carbon calculator for our family, and we actually did pretty great (not buying things really helps), except for one thing... Once I put in the number of miles we flew last year, our impact doubled.

Can you hear my heart breaking right now? My life depends on airplanes! DAMN YOU, JET FUEL!!

Like anything we talk about here, you are better off moderating than going cold turkey. So we are doing fewer trips across the country to go home, and the goal is to get to a few long visits a year instead of 6-7 short ones. This one really hurts me, but slimming down feels attainable if we strategize.

There are a couple of ways to make flying less a realistic goal (step one, don't live thousands of miles from any and all family members):

First, get more bang out of your travel buck by traveling less often for longer trips. If you travel for work, try to combine trips where you can. If you have a family vacation spot, think about going half as often but for longer trips (I promise, Disneyworld will still be there if you wait six months longer). It's not easy, but once you start shifting the paradigm, it can help.

Second, consider other travel options. Yes, we all want to fly off to totally new places, but if you don't have enough time for a truly epic getaway, think about what you could take the train to. Yes, the train. It can still get you somewhere new in less time, and it has a smaller impact.Even driving has a smaller impact per mile, so when you can drive do it. Make driving or trains a part of your trip plans even if it can't be the whole thing.

Third, have adventures by exploring what is nearby. When you chat about your next set of travel goals, think about the cities, sites, and monuments that are nearby. Set your adventures closer and be amazed by what already surrounds you. Look what is in that 6 hour driving distance, and get going!

Fourth, splurge for direct flights. The worst CO2 output is in takeoff and landing, so if you do direct flights, you lessen your impact that much more.

Like I said, this has to be the hardest change I have tried to figure out. My general logic for skipping all consumerism is that I would rather have plane tickets than new furniture or a new car or an ever changing wardrobe. So I am trying to figure out how to maintain that focus on our trips not treasures while also paring down our trips.

baby getting ready to fly

2. Travel with What you Need... And Nothing Else

I am also terrified of flying (no really, I am), so when I used to travel, I bought myself one chocolate bar, one pop, and a load of trashy magazines. As a trashy reward with bravery.

Now, if we have properly prepared for the trip, we buy nothing at the airport. Milk for bottles. Maybe a meal (if we are at Cleveland and want some Sammy Hagar-brand tropical food straight from Ohio). How do we skip it, even with oodles of child-related nonsense? Here's our list:

- Reusable Water Bottles. Bring an empty bottle and refill it for free all day. My favorite reusables are Lifefactory and Liberty Bottleworks. Most places have those sweet refill counters, which make my day. Disposable water bottles are always a terrible idea. Even in countries with sketchier water, you can have a bottle with a pretty effective filter- try Gosoit, LifeStraw, or Water-to-go.

- Snacks. Tomatoes, fruit, whatever we need is already packed in our reusable containers in our bags. We use containers from RePlay and Kids Konserve (neither will get crushed, but use what works for you).

- Screens. Mostly we are a pretty screen-free household, but all bets are off on a plane. There is an energy cost, but we don't buy disposable reading material like magazines anymore.

- A Silverware Set. These can come in handy when you want to turn down the plasticware at most of those airport restaurants. We use these bamboo sets.

- Solar Battery Chargers- We have one of these, and it obviously depends where you are going, but it might be great.

- Reusable and/or biodegradable zip loc bags- Your shampoo can't go bad in there, so just have a toiletries bag you reuse every time. Use the same ziplock you used last time. Even better? Pick something like biobags that can be composted when you are done with it.

Reusable travel bottles. NEVER buy those little bottles on Pantene again. Try these ones from goToob, or something similar instead.

This stuff is all great, but really challenge yourself to travel lighter overall. Every pound not put on these planes is less fuel used. We usually travel with 4 days worth of stuff and find laundry everywhere we go. 2 pairs of shoes tops. These things add up over the thousands of people flying at the same time you are.

family in the chicago airport

3. Buy Local... Even in the Airport

If you have a layover in Denver and you buy a Hershey candy bar, both you and the chocolate have traveled many miles to unite at that exact spot. Romantic, but also not so much since that candy bar wasted all sorts of fuel getting there. Especially since Colorado has Chocolove, a totally amazing chocolate company based there.

In other words, stop shopping giant corporations and buy local. Always and anywhere, even in an airport terminal. Most airports have local businesses/ restaurants inside, eat there instead.

If traveling comes at a high environmental cost, then you want to be the one that gets to travel, not your chocolate bar.

This is a good way to approach life if you do love to travel. YOU should travel. Stuff doesn't really need to move that far. Make the goal that you travel more because your purchases travel WAY less.

Did you know that our food tends to travel thousands of miles between the farm and our plate? That's because it has to go first to processing (sometimes in multiple places) then to packaging then to distributors and then to stores. If we all bought more of our food locally grown or from local food companies, we could offset our travel. Secondhand stores' clothing and anything else generally has traveled shorter distances. Stop buying Made in China, stop buying packaged food you can't find real info from, and stop buying everything brand new, and you can cut down on a lot of travel in your life (travel you don't even get to enjoy)!

Everything you need to know to go green while flying

What do you do to make your flying more sustainable? What are your go to travel tricks?

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  1. We usually pack water bottles and snacks when we travel, but I always end up buying crappy airport food anyway. Something to work on! And my family is moving back to PA from CA next month, so we'll no longer have to fly across the country to visit family. I'm looking forward to making some fun road trips instead :)

  2. Oh, I love this quote "Make the goal that you travel more because your purchases travel WAY less." I also struggle with the impact of flying... It completely struck me when I found out that all my sustainable lifestyle choices were "erased" with a long-distance flight. Although, if I would still consume without much consideration of the impact, it would be way worse, right? So I will think ybout all your tips for my next flight :) Thank you!

  3. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I quit air traveling in Europe and I'm planning to do only 1 long distance flight a year. My first on the ground trip was in the Balkans and it was amazing



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