After spending the last 18 months or so indoors, we’ve all had time to stop and look at the impact pollution has had on the environment. A huge part which contributes to this pollution is travel, with flying being the biggest emitter. With COVID-19 restrictions easing, many of us are eager to book our next holiday – whether it’s a family getaway abroad or a local adventure. Whilst air travel may be the only option for some, are there any eco-friendlier alternatives to it?

Understanding the amount of CO2 that is emitted during a flight can help us understand the impact a short flight can have on our environment. In 2018, it was estimated that global aviation – including both passenger and freight planes – emitted 1.04 billion tonnes of CO2. This made up 2.5% of total CO2 emissions in 2018. Road travel accounts for three-quarters of transport emissions. Most of this comes from passenger vehicles such as cars and buses, which contribute 45.1%. Rail travel and freight emits very little – only 1% of transport emissions. This means taking the train to your holiday destination may be the most eco-friendly option if you are travelling far or carrying lots of luggage. If not, cycling may be the best option available for the environment. Another possible way could be splitting your journey into two – e.g. cycling to a train station or airport instead of getting a taxi.

An analysis carried out by freight firm 1st Move International found an 826-mile return flight between Edinburgh and Amsterdam would require one tree to offset the carbon emissions, and a 12,400-mile round trip to Ko Samui or Phuket in Thailand would require 19 trees. They also said it would cost between around £6 and £15 to plant each tree.  Greenpeace have said most tree-planting charity schemes lack credibility and believe people should just fly less and travel alternatively. To put the scale into perspective, the UK in total ‘owes’ 3,017 football fields’ worth of trees to cover the 15 million visitors we send to Spain annually.

In 2016, AirBnB conducted a study which revealed that staying in a flat or ‘home sharing’ (such as with a family member) was more ecological than staying in a hotel. Perhaps if you have family abroad this could be your best option for your next holiday. The rise of eco-hotels make them a good option if you prefer to stay in a hotel, although they are generally more expensive. These hotels aim to have as little impact on the environment as possible. This can be via the use of local, sustainably produced products, or using renewable energy, and so on.

With the limited amount of holiday time that we get each year, flying does suit the fast-paced lives that we are used to. However, where possible, the best alternative is to take the train. For example, a journey from London to Madrid would release 43Kg CO2 emissions by train, whilst a flight would release over 118kg. Not having been able to travel abroad for a while has allowed a lot of us to visit sites closer to home and appreciate the nature on our doorstep. But while the UK can be a great destination, if we want some proper sun, we want to explore a little further afield. Finding destinations that are easy to get to by train are a great idea if you are wanting to cut down on your carbon emissions. Websites like Interrail and MyInterrail are great to find good routes around Europe by train. 

However you plan to spend your holidays, whether it is choosing an eco-hotel, or taking the train to your destination, being more aware of your carbon footprint in each of these activities will be beneficial to the environment. We shouldn’t be stopped from seeing the world, but we should take a step back to think about how we can do this in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

With special thanks to Alisha Gutierrez for research to create this article.