Thinking about travel

I’ve just returned from a short trip up to the southern Gold Coast to spend the Easter break with my family. It’s a trip I make about once a year to hug my parents, play with my niece and spend some quality time with the kind of old friends who have become family.

I missed out on a window seat this trip, so instead of spending the flight more-or-less glued to the window, watching the landscape unfolding below, I got to thinking about my travels in the context of sustainability


Easter sunset on the southern Gold Coast

Travel: it broadens the mind, feeds the soul and strengthens the bonds of family and friendship. What’s not to love about it? Well, environmentally-speaking not a lot!

Air travel is the single biggest contributor to my carbon footprint. This trip alone generated roughly 306 kg of CO2 (source: International Civil Aviation Organisation carbon offset calculator). I also make one or two trips to Melbourne each year to catch up with friends and to dip my toe back into the rushing current of modern life: a much-needed perspective check when you live in a beautiful but isolated backwater like Tasmania. That’s around 172 kg CO2 per trip.

This year I’m also heading off overseas for the first time in 6 years. I’m heading off to South America for a few weeks to experience new cultures and explore remarkable environments like Machu Picchu and the Atacama Desert. Getting there and back again? A whopping 1 994 kg of CO2!

For flights booked so far this year I’m clocking up a total of 2 563 kg of CO2 (and that’s without any business travel).


Losing myself in Melbourne’s marvellous alleyways

My annual carbon footprint without flights comes in at around 5 tonnes (source:, so my flights add another 50% to my impact, bumping it up to 7.6 tonnes CO2 p.a. – that’s not a good number. So flying is definitely bad from the carbon emissions perspective, putting a big black mark in the environmental component of my sustainability score. Does that mean I shouldn’t fly? What about all the benefits of my travels?

Living a sustainable life means making choices that also look after my mental and physical health, build strong social networks and interpersonal relationships and live a life that inspires, challenges and enriches me. Travel provides an excellent way to meet many of my personal objectives. My social and personal benefits of travel include:

  • Maintaining family relationships
  • Building and strengthening my friendships and support networks
  • Growing my awareness and understanding of other cultures and ways of doing things
  • Inspiring personal change and global thinking
  • Learning from others and from the experiences travel provides
  • Developing a greater appreciation of the world, its environments and cultures

These are all good things, for sure, but are they enough to balance out the environmental costs? Are there other ways I could gain the benefits of travel without the CO2 emissions? I really don’t know.


What I do know is that I enjoy travel and everything it brings, and that means I’m probably going to find ways to justify keeping on flying, but perhaps I can travel a little smarter…

Better ways to travel:

  • Flying less often (and making more use of Skype)
  • Choosing closer destinations and non-stop flights
  • Travelling by bus or train where possible and reasonably practical
  • Paying extra for airline carbon offsets – does this accomplish anything? Perhaps a blog topic for another day!
  • Tying overseas trips to environmental or social volunteer work

How do you reconcile your ideals with your impacts? What are your ideas for managing the impacts of travel?

One Comment on “Thinking about travel

  1. Pingback: Hello 2013! « Shape of Things to Come

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