Responsible Travel: 10 Ways to Reduce and Offset Your Carbon Footprint


I am passionate about both exploring AND protecting our planet.  I revere the earth in an authentic way that honours the gifts nature bestows upon us.  Nature has the power to heal and restore human beings. Or, as Shakespeare so poetically put it, “Nature has music for those who listen.”  This deep respect for the planet in many ways motivates me to create immersive experiences in the last remaining wild corners of the world.

Travel, however, presents an interesting ethical dilemma.  How can we enjoy the raw call of the wild while also preserving the planet’s resources?  Given the substantial environmental impact of flying, driving, and using heavy vehicles to go off-road – how can we act in ways that minimize our carbon footprint, yet also enjoy the experience of ‘rewilding?’  

These 10 tips will help you learn how to travel in a more carbon neutral manner.  Or, at the very least, you will learn behaviours to offset the carbon footprint imposed by global travel.  

1. Stay at a lodge which is completely off the grid

Wolwedans Lodge Namibia

Many lodges in remote locations had to create their own infrastructure in order to minimize impact on the natural habitat and ensure delivery of basic services.  Before travelling, research the lodges using solar power banks, boreholes or rainwater tanks, vegetable gardens, composting toilets, minimal waste, locally manufactured furniture, etc.  Some lodges have created completely self-sufficient villages supporting the needs of their visitors, and these projects are incredibly inspiring as well as having less environmental impact than even the typical family home.  

2.  Stay at a lodge using electric boats and off-road vehicles

At a recent We Are Africa conference, a clever group of engineers announced that they are successfully running electric 4×4 vehicles and boats on safaris in Africa.  These vehicles are recharged at a battery station run on solar energy. A few savvy lodges have adopted the practice of using electric vehicles, greatly minimizing the impact of traditional diesel machinery.  Support these lodges so that other African safari camps are encouraged to do the same.

3. Plant trees to partly offset the carbon impact of flying

Global flights are a significant contributor to carbon emissions.  Even as a travel designer, I highly recommend that people consider travelling close to home as much as possible and minimizing global travel to once per year or once every two years.  Imagine the reduction in carbon emissions if we saw global travel as an extravagant treat, no matter what our budget?  

For the flights you do take, plant as many trees as you can.  If you have a garden, plant and nurture small trees. There are also tree planting events offered worldwide where individuals and families go to dig in the ground and help with reforestation.  The trees are our planet’s lungs, absorbing carbon and restoring the quality of the air. Planting will go a long way to restoring the balance.

4. Travel with a plastic-free kit

Plastic free kit

Plastic pollution is a major problem in the modern era.  In the context of travel, plastic is everywhere. For every plane journey, each of hundreds of clients uses several plastic cups, straws, bottles, etc.  Plastic use on airplanes is existing on a shocking scale, but takeaway foods are also a major contributor to plastic polution. Recycling is not sufficient alone, as it takes up a great deal of energy (usually carbon-based) to recycle plastic.

I avoid this plastic overload by travelling with a “plastic-free kit” – a stainless steel water bottle, bamboo takeaway coffee cups, bamboo straws/forks/spoons, and nylon shopping bags that fold into a tiny little pocket.  I ask the flight attendants not to give anyone in the family any plastic cups and rather to fill our water bottles with drinking water, and our coffee cups with coffee. The kiddies are only allowed juices from boxes (with no plastic straws) or tins.  It works, and even my toddlers understand the negative impact of plastic.

5. Travel slowly 

Consider travelling slowly on your next journey.  Rather than ticking off a list of several countries, why not savour one area thoroughly?  It can be so enriching to travel by foot, bike, or even horseback, reducing your carbon footprint and avoiding vehicles on your travels.  

6.   Consider alternatives to flying

Sailing slow travel

If possible, consider taking a few extra hours to travel by train instead of airplane for short hops.  Or take the bus and soak in the landscape as you travel. You could sail to your next destination, wind on your face and salt in your hair.  These alternatives make the journey part of the adventure – what could be better than that?

7.  If you need to fly, take a direct flight

Airplanes emit the most carbon on take-off and landing.  If you can take the most direct route possible on your next flight, you will be supporting the use of relatively less fuel (and the consequent carbon emissions) which would be used for multiple take-offs and landings.

8.  Pack as light as possible

Heavy luggage requires more energy to carry, and therefore more fuel.  By packing light, you support the airplane lifting off and flying with less energy consumption and consequent carbon emissions.

9.  Limit energy consumption at hotels

Energy (as in electricity) mostly requires some form of carbon emission to run – unless the lodge or hotel is run on solar or wind power.  If that is not the case, consider running the air conditioner as little as possible, watching less TV, running your devices on power saving mode, and turning out the lights.  These actions limit energy consumption, and therefore require less from the grid in terms of carbon emissions.

10.  Limit business travel 

We live in a technological era which allows us to enjoy virtual meetings with people all over the globe.  With laptop in hand, we can work anywhere with a stable wifi connection. In an era such as this, it’s worth considering how much business travel is truly necessary.  Whenever possible, consider doing business meetings via virtual hubs over several days rather than flying to one destination where everyone meets in person.  

This saves days of productive time, and allows travel experiences to rather be spent enjoying friends and family in beautiful places which will connect you to the planet in a more meaningful way.

I hope this has inspired you to adopt new responsible travel behaviours.  If it has, please let me know in the comments below which of these actions you can take this year to reduce your personal carbon footprint??