Carbon emissions from flying: The Greta Thunberg effect - fly less, travel more

We can't all be Greta Thunberg. Not all of us has the time or the support crew to sail a solar-powered yacht across an ocean to get to our next holiday destination.

For most people the reality is that if you want to go somewhere far away, you'll have to fly. You'll have to take the skies and contribute to the massive carbon emissions that planes are responsible for.

That's pretty much a given when you live on a huge island and you want to go somewhere different every now and again. And even if you stay in Australia, the distances are huge, and our long-distance train network is terrible.

We have to fly – but the truth is we don't have to fly so much. And in fact, we can't fly so much. So if you're keen on cutting down your impact on the world while still having amazing holidays (and you don't own a solar-powered yacht), these are the steps to take.

Slow down

The slow travel movement is great for so many reasons: it encourages understanding of the places you visit; it allows time for relationships with other people and other places to flourish; it concentrates your tourist dollar on particular locations rather than spreading tiny bits here and there; and it stops everyone from moving around so much. Next holiday, don't try to do multiple countries or even multiple cities. Pick one destination, and stay there. Get to know it. Relax and enjoy it.

Keep it to two flights

Flights these days are cheap. They're easy. They make it possible to quickly hit four or five destinations in a couple of weeks. But you should try to resist that temptation. If you're going to fly somewhere for your next holiday, make sure you just take one flight to get there, and one flight to get back. The rest of the time, travel overland: by car, by bus, by boat or by train, all of which are modes of transport with lower emissions than aeroplanes.

Don't connect

Tha Chomphu railway bridge, old white bridge in Lamphun Province. State Railway of Thailand. iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted. tra8-online-greta Ben Groundwater ways to fly less and still travel

Take a train to Chiang Mai. Photo: iStock

Let's say you're going to Chiang Mai, in Thailand, on your next holiday. The temptation would be to book flights all the way through, to fly to Bangkok and then connect straight up to Chiang Mai. Easy. But there's no need to do that. It will be far better if you spend a few days in Bangkok, and then take the train up north. That's at least one flight fewer, which may seem small, but it makes a difference if we all do it. And this sort of thing is possible in so many parts of the world: just take one flight in, one flight out.

Get in training

Wiesbaden, Germany - April 19, 2011: Approaching german highspeed train (ICE) on the Frankfurt-Cologne line. ICE, formerly known as InterCityExpress is a highspeed train system in Germany. The pictured train is an ICE of the third generation, its maximum speed is around 320km/h. The photo has been taken near Wiesbaden where the speed of the trains reaches app. 250km/h. Some motion blur iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted. tra8-online-greta Ben Groundwater ways to fly less and still travel

Germany has an excellent rail network. Photo: iStock


The real secret to avoiding too much air travel is to go somewhere with an excellent train network. That way you can move quickly and easily around your destination with the lowest emissions possible. Europe is the obvious and ideal option here, given countries such as Germany and the Netherlands run much of their train networks on renewable energy, and the journey times can often be less than if you'd elected to fly.

Travel overnight

Sitting on a bus for 10 hours is no one's idea of a good time. Even long train journeys can seem like a hassle. But if you're serious about cutting down on air travel, then this is the sort of thing you're going to have to do. The secret? Travel overnight. Get on a comfortable bus with big, lie-back seats (plenty of them in Latin America), or book yourself on a sleeper train, and snooze the boredom away. You'll save money on accommodation, and have a great, social experience at the same time.

Hitch a ride

Even better than driving your own car rather than flying is hitching a ride in someone else's car who is already going your way. I don't mean sticking your thumb out on the highway, but instead plan to share holidays with friends or family. If you've got a car, fill it up for your next road trip. If you don't know anyone heading in your direction, try something like BlaBlaCar, a company that facilitates long-distance car-pooling. And if you're really serious about cutting out flying, take your next overseas journey as a passenger on a cargo ship: it's going anyway, you might as well get on board.

Go local

This is, obviously, the simplest solution. Maybe you won't cut flying out entirely, but you can at least bring yourself down to just a few short hops per holiday. Australia is a big, amazing place – it's time we saw more of it. Fly interstate and then hire a car. Or better yet, fly interstate and then don't hire a car. Stay where you are. Or even better than that, holiday even closer to home; take journeys that don't require air travel at all. We can all make a difference here. It's time to start.

Are you conscious of the amount of air travel you do? Are you trying to cut it down? What are your tips for staying on the ground?



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