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Low impact travel (reduce / avoid flying)

Train, to represent eco-friendly travel
Low impact travel (reduce / avoid flying) is one of the twelve EcoTracker Top Actions, and so typically one most impactful things you can do to reduce your environmental impact in terms of CO2 emissions and ecological footprint and thus help address the Climate and ecological emergency and promote Climate justice. Click or tap here for a page overview and general tips.

See below the Low impact travel (reduce / avoid flying) Sub-Actions. Click or tap the sections further below to reveal a summary of the benefits of low impact travel, future-gazing to help visualise how this would work for you, a thought-provoking video, a step-by-step guide outlining how to achieve this Top Action, expert tips, and useful links and references.

It is recommended that you pick one or two of the Sub-Actions to progress at a time rather than try and complete them all at once. Visit our Approach page for other tips on how to set yourself up to minimise your environmental impact and get to net zero carbon.

Want to progress this Top Action? Start by making your commitment using the button below, which will help to motivate you to keep progressing.

Have you completed this Top Action already? Select the appropriate button below to update your progress. You would need to complete:

  • all the Halfway (0.5) Sub-Actions to complete half of the Top Action.
  • all the Halfway (0.5) and Full (1.0) Sub-Actions to fully complete the Top Action.

Low impact travel (reduce / avoid flying) Halfway (0.5) Sub-Actions:

  • Fly less than 2,000 miles (3,200 km) per year on average (e.g. approximately one return flight across your continent, such as from London to Rome)
  • Use the same towels and bedding throughout a holiday

Low impact travel (reduce / avoid flying) Full (1.0) Sub-Actions:

  • Pick eco-friendly holiday locations and accommodation
  • No flying (until low carbon flight has developed)

Top Tips:

  • Focus on a small number of actions at a time.
  • Allocate time for actions in your schedule
  • Share your “personal eco-progress-story” to help yourself and others
  • Track your progress to build motivation
Benefits of low impact travel

An increase in flying has helped connect the world in past decades for those that can afford it, but this has come at a high environmental cost. A conventional plane converts fossil fuel to motion, but also generates CO2 and other greenhouse gases as well as air pollutants such as NOx, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and ozone. The climate impact of emitting some of these gases at high altitude is much higher than the impact of the CO2 emissions alone, as outlined by Carbon Brief. The extraction of fuel also has an environmental impact, whilst the use of fossil fuels can also, in some cases, help to fund wars and social injustices. Furthermore, our flying creates noise pollution which negatively impacts wildlife and also ourselves. Unfortunately, unlike with driving where electric cars are a low emissions alternative, no options for low emissions flying are currently available as we do not have the technology. This leaves our options as reducing flying and avoiding it where possible, which will reduce our environmental impact across all of these categories. Carbon offsetting is recommended if we fly or create other CO2 emissions, but is not capable of fully addressing our emissions because there is insufficient land in the world to maintain our current approach to living and also to simply offset this by creating more habitats.

Remember during the Covid-19 pandemic when our travel was restricted? One silver lining was that air pollution and noise pollution were much reduced, allowing us to enjoy a relatively pollution free local environment in which we could hear the sounds of wildlife, which flourished.

By reducing our flying and using travel options with lower emissions, we reduce the health impacts on the community, including our self and others, and we reduce our impact on wildlife, allowing it to flourish. By using public transport, we support its development as a low carbon transport option; the more people that use public transport, the more the authorities should invest in improving the service.

Reducing our flying has no upfront cost and will save a lot of money for those simply staying closer to home as well as avoiding those long security queues. Avoiding flying can give us a prompt to explore amazing new areas closer to home that we may not have known existed, and it can also help to boost the local economy. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people were restricted to holidays in their home country, and discovered places they would not otherwise have visited.

For many short haul flight destinations there are excellent alternatives to flying. By contrast to flying, train travel can be more relaxing and allows us to be close to the scenery as it rolls by. It also allows us greater flexibility, such as the ease of making intermediate stops at interesting places, the ability to keep all of our possessions with us, and increased opportunities for entertaining ourselves.

In Sweden, the flygskam (flight shame) movement, which encourages people to avoid flying, has developed in recent years, as outlined by the Independent.

This not to say we should never fly ever again, but that we should reduce and preferably avoid flying until low emissions flight options are readily available. Travelling to visit foreign cultures can be enriching in many ways, both for ourselves and for the local inhabitants. Many people will need to fly from time to time, for instance, if they are living outside of their homeland and need to visit family.

Wherever we travel to, choosing a low impact or eco-friendly hotel or destination can have massive benefits, both in reducing the environmental impact of our holidays or trips, but also potentially supporting local sustainable economies and wildlife conservation.

Ecotourism is critical to the conservation of some pristine environments e.g. the Galapagos Islands or various rainforests, but also many wilder areas closer to home. Tourism gives local people a sustainable income and a reason to conserve their local environment. Without this, many may turn to farming which would require natural areas to be destroyed: the worst possible outcome for critical natural areas.

By staying in locations that undertake nature conservation, we can connect with nature in some stunning natural environments whilst supporting nature conservation efforts. Connecting with nature improves our health and wellbeing.

Whatever type of accommodation we stay in, it is simple to reduce our impact on local water and energy usage (which may be stressed in holiday destinations), by keeping the same towels and bedding throughout a holiday.

Future-gazing – imagine how your life will improve

Try and imagine how your life will be and how you will feel when you complete this EcoTracker Top Action. This may feel like a big change or a small change, but really focus on how the benefits of the change could impact and improve your life and the lives of others.

For instance try and imagine how you will feel about:

  • your reduced environmental impact which will help avoid the worst effects of climate change and ecological breakdown within your lifetime, helping to ensure you and others can live a long and full life.
  • improved long term prospects for your children and future generations, who will have a much greater opportunity to avoid climate change and ecological breakdown during their lives. They will be much safer than in the alternative future of extreme climate change and ecological breakdown and many lives will be saved. Will you be able to look your child in the eye in years to come and say that you have done everything you can to protect their future?
  • improved opportunities and social justice (climate justice) for those around the world who are currently struggling with the early impacts of climate change and ecological breakdown, with many lives and livelihoods saved.
  • discovering exciting new places closer to home.
  • saving a lot of money.
  • supporting conservation efforts.
  • supporting the local economy.
  • having less noise pollution from planes.
  • avoiding long airport queues and the associated stress.
  • going on that rare flight abroad, which will be all the more special.
  • helping to promote public transport, encouraging public authorities to invest in infrastructure and improving these options for all including those who have no other choice.
  • some of the above may be really life-changing for you.

An effective way of developing a commitment and ongoing motivation to progressing this EcoTracker Top Action is to work out which of the themes above generate the most powerful emotional responses for you personally. Then try to capture this in some way and store it for when you might need motivation later.

You might be able to create a strong image in your memory, or a link to existing memories. You might want to write down how you feel say on a post-it note or in a diary as a reminder; perhaps somewhere that you will regularly see the message or somewhere you can come back to when you want to. You might even want to share this on your ‘progress thread’ on social media. If you are feeling creative, perhaps even draw an image to represent your future. Also, consider whether you might already have an object which could trigger your motivation e.g. a picture of your children.

Watch this video from The Associated Press which follows a family who are avoiding air travel because of its large climate impact.

A step-by-step guide to completing EcoTracker Top Actions, with indicative time listed against each step

These steps are generic because this is your unique personal journey and you will need to explore the details for yourself, using this process and the Expert Tips below as a guide and support.

The time required to complete steps may vary quite a lot depending on your resources or skill level, or whether or not you do the work yourself or pay a professional to do it. It is recommended that you pick one or two of the Sub-Actions to progress at a time rather than try and do them all at once, and so you may go through steps multiple times for the different Sub-Actions before you have completed the Top Action.

  1. Build motivation from within to complete this EcoTracker Top Action, assisted by reading the Benefits and Future-gazing to imagine how your life will improve (10 minutes)
  2. Make a personal commitment and share this to social media (5 minutes)
  3. Book a time in your diary for progressing your EcoTracker actions – you may wish to set up a regular slot for taking actions (5 minutes)
  4. Research – read the guidance on this EcoTracker Top Action page such as the Expert Tips and you may wish to visit the community for support (30 minutes +)
  5. Discuss with others in your household and agree broadly what you will do (15-30 minutes)
  6. Get the resources lined up e.g. find what you need online, locate or borrow/rent/buy the materials and tools (2-3 hours)
  7. Make a final decision on exactly what you will do and book in a date (15 minutes)
  8. Complete all Sub-Actions to enable you to complete the Full Top Action (5 + hours)
  9. Visit our Tracker page, and share your progress to social media (5 minutes). You may want to share your progress as you go through the steps for each Sub-Action.
  10. Once you’ve mastered this Top Action, why not also help others in the community complete their’s, with tips and support (1 minute, periodically)

If you start your journey to net zero carbon in 2023, you would need to complete a Top Action roughly every 200 days to complete all 12 and get to net zero carbon by 2030. You can do this!

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Expert Tips

Don’t blame yourself for your past habits, but choose to focus on what you can improve. Similarly, choose not to blame others in your household or elsewhere for their current or past habits, but to point out to them the damaging impacts of flying and the benefits of local tourism and ecotourism. Encourage and support others to make changes (e.g. by using EcoTracker). See the Approach page for further suggestions on developing habits.

It is excellent to have a global mindset, to visit new places, cultures and natural environments. However, it is possible to do too much of a good thing and regular flyers will quickly accumulate huge CO2 emissions. Use to see just how large your flying emissions actually are. Taking a round trip in economy class from London, UK to Melbourne, Australia would generate around 5 tonnes of CO2 per person, around 50% of the average UK resident’s CO2 emissions!

Consider rationing your travel, without rationing your fun! If you are keen for long distance travel, try and take fewer trips but stay for longer and combine conveniently located destinations to reduce the miles flown.

Explore closer to home, ideally somewhere that is accessible by train. There are likely to be many great holiday locations that you can get to on the train in a similar time to flying, if not quicker.  See the Walk, cycle, use public transport and reduce driving EcoTracker Top Action.

Are you that person who is always travelling on holiday, but you get back and find yourself stressed and exhausted? Consider not travelling so much. Reduce your distance travelled or time away, and you may find that your stress levels reduce as you have more time to relax at home (and perhaps even more time to focus on completing other EcoTracker Top Actions!). When you do have that holiday it will seem like more of a treat. Try a home holiday and allocate some days to visit local attractions, new walking routes, new restaurants etc – really treat it like a holiday and it will feel like one.

If you are missing your international travel, but live in a multi-cultural country, consider exploring the multi-cultural areas of your local city.

Do monitor the progress with low impact flight (which doesn’t exist for commercial passengers at present). At some point in the future there may be truly low impact electric or biofuel or hydrogen options.

As a minimum, if you are desperate to fly or have to fly, travel in economy class as this takes up less space in the plane and so the emissions from the flight can be shared out between more people, giving you a lower contribution. Avoid taking excessive luggage, as additional weight in the plane increases CO2 emissions.

Also, choose to pay a bit extra to carbon offset your flight. Carbon offsetting is recommended if we fly or create other CO2 emissions, but is not capable of fully addressing our emissions because there is insufficient land in the world to maintain our current approach to living and also to simply offset this by creating more habitats. See the Offset page for further details. Flights powered by renewable biofuels are possible, but typically this would utilise land that could be otherwise used to grow food (or create habitats for offsetting), and so currently biofuels tend to put more pressure on the land and therefore the ecosystem, and so may not be truly low impact.

There could be some justification for flying if you are flying for an appropriate purpose.

If you will be flying a long distance, make the flight count by going to locations that provide local culture and / or wildlife conservation for a unique experience. Ecotourism is critical to the conservation of some pristine environments e.g. the Galapagos Islands or various rainforests or others closer to home, giving local people a sustainable income and a reason to conserve their local environment, without which, many may turn to farming which would degrade and destroy the ecosystems. Arguably, an occasional flight to such places for such purposes may be a worthwhile compromise.

By contrast, if you’re simply looking for a beach holiday, these are generally quite similar around the world, so why not stay more local to home in your country or continent, save money and reduce your environmental impact?

For ecotourism holidays, get inspired and read about what to look out for at Responsible Travel, Curiosity Save Travel, or Green Global Travel.

When booking accommodation or tours pick options that are owned and run by the local community rather than by foreign investors. Also, where possible pick accommodation with sustainable tourism certificates or badges (which are likely to vary between countries), and look into whether they are powered by fossil fuels or have any renewable energy generation on-site. Consider whether they support conservation efforts and how they manage their environmental impacts. If this information is not readily available, ask about it.

If you are looking for a cheap and low impact local holiday option, consider camping.

Take your eco-principles on holiday too. Do your bit to reduce local water and energy usage (which may be stressed in holiday destinations), by keeping the same towels and bedding throughout a holiday. You manage to go through a week like this at home, so why not on holiday as well? Make sure you take your key re-usable items on holiday e.g. cups, bags etc, so that you don’t create more waste than when you’re at home.

Not everyone flies simply for a holiday. If you have chosen to live abroad from family consider whether this is the best choice for you given the distance you’ll need to travel, although you may have little choice about this, for instance, if you have different family in different places. Seeing your family may be essential for your wellbeing, so you could prioritise flying to see family but reduce flights for holidays. If you are not able to complete this EcoTracker Top Action, it is suggested that you focus more on making as much progress as you can with other EcoTracker Top Actions.

If you fly for business consider whether you could avoid travelling (video conference) or whether you could take a sustainable travel option rather than flying.

Try the recommended monthly Top Action and you may progress more quickly and easily:

Buy fewer products (re-use and repair)

  • Halve your spending on new clothes
  • Halve your spending on new electricals
  • Halve your spending on new furniture and fittings
  • Do you really need that second car?
  • Buy new products only when essential. Buy second hand or borrow or rent if possible
  • Re-use, repair and up-cycle your possessions and sell or donate those you don’t need

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