Comparison of the Carbon Footprints of Flying and Train Travel 

Bella Dippenaar
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It is more important than ever to consider how your actions will impact the environment. Sadly, even though most of us are attempting to reduce the amount of plastic we use or the amount of meat we eat, one of the unintended consequences of travel is that it can be harmful to the environment. Should we even be traveling at all, given all of the recent reports about climate change? 

The obvious answer is “yes,” and the reason is that there is much to learn about environmental protection through travel, and there is no better way to appreciate what the earth has to offer than to see it all.

Environmentally conscious vacationers, on the other hand, are constantly looking for new ways to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions they produce while on their trips. Your mode of transportation is usually the most influential factor in the size of your carbon footprint while traveling. If you are planning a trip to different parts of the world, your options for getting there in a way that is both good for the environment and good for you may be limited. 

Trains and airplanes are the two most common modes of long-distance travel, and both have advantages and disadvantages, not only for your journey but also for the environment. Continue reading this article if you want to learn about the environmental differences between traveling by train and flying. 

The effect of train travel on your annual carbon footprint 

Although it may appear obvious that traveling by train is the more environmentally friendly mode of transportation, there are several factors that passengers should consider before purchasing a train ticket. 

Even though a train emits fewer carbon emissions than an airplane over its lifetime, the infrastructure required for a rail system, such as parking lots, train stations, and the rails themselves, can cause severe damage to the environments in which they operate.

This includes the surroundings in which the train operates. When traveling shorter distances on an established rail line, such as the Eurostar or Japan’s high-speed rail network, passengers can typically reduce their CO2 emissions by up to 90%. This is true when comparing the same distance traveled by plane to the same distance traveled by train. 

Train travel allows you to reduce your overall carbon footprint in several ways

Make certain that the train company with which you are traveling has a good reputation. Many train companies are aware of the environmental impact of their operations and encourage passengers to change their travel plans to reduce their overall carbon footprint. Some businesses, on the other hand, go even further; for example, Amtrack in the United States has managed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 17% since 2010. 

You might want to consider carbon offsetting

Contributing a small sum, usually up to about $20 in US currency, to an organization that uses the funds for activities such as reforestation and research into environmentally friendly technology. 

Your carbon footprint as a result of air travel 

Most experts agree that air travel is the most dangerous mode of transportation; however, there are frequently very few other options for travelers to reach their destination besides flying. A single long-haul flight can emit as much carbon dioxide as the average person in many countries emits in an entire year. If there are alternatives to flying, such as taking a bus, train, or even a boat, or some other creative approach, it may be more cost-effective to investigate those alternatives rather than flying. 

Nonetheless, it is reasonable to anticipate that some air travel will be required! Even if you have to fly from New York to Bali, there are always ways to reduce the environmental impact of your trip. Do not be concerned if you are unable to travel by boat. 

Options for reducing the environmental impact of air travel 

Increase the length of your vacations

Rather than taking several shorter flights, consider taking longer vacations so that you can spend as much time as possible at your destination. This ensures that your carbon emissions are better utilized. 

Take advantage of public transportation

Once you arrive at your destination, there are numerous ways to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide you emit during your journey. In comparison to taxis or rental cars, public transportation is one of the best ways to get around and achieve this goal. 

Fly with discretion

When traveling, direct flights in economy class are preferable. This is because fewer people sit in more space in first-class and business-class seating, resulting in a larger carbon footprint for each person. 

Reduce your carbon footprint

Similarly to taking a train ride, there are always opportunities to donate to causes that support environmentally conscious initiatives. 

Travel with the least amount of environmental impact 

There are steps you can take to reduce the impact of your carbon footprint even before you leave for your trip. Consider the items you bring on your trip carefully; for example, rather than purchasing bottled water once you arrive at your destination, bring a reusable bottle (or if you’re going to a region where the tap water is unsafe to drink, consider purchasing a portable water purifier). 

Participating in a tour as part of a group is an excellent way to reduce the environmental impact of your travels. It is common for tour operators to take extra precautions to ensure that the itineraries and excursions they provide are environmentally friendly, serve and support the local community, and have no negative impact on the local environment. Always think twice before reusing hotel towels, and always leave your campsites as clean as possible; leave nothing but footprints, and take nothing but photos! 

Recognizing that you do leave a carbon footprint when you travel is the first step toward reducing the environmental impact of your travel. Even though corporations, not individuals, are the primary cause of climate change, the fight against it can begin with you. It only takes a little thought and consideration on your part to make a significant difference. 

Whether you’re planning a cross-country road trip or an epic journey around the world, there are always ways to reduce your carbon footprint and leave the world a little better than you found it. You can do both if you plan ahead of time.