The Guilty Conscience of an Avid Traveller

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I travel, and I travel a lot. Not only do I fly across Europe between Southampton and my home country every break but I’ve also been going on holidays abroad pretty much at least once a year for the past 15 years. I’ve been to five continents and about twenty different countries in my 21 years, and just in 2018, I boarded an alarming 20 flights. As for 2019, in April as I write this, I’ve already been on 6 flights, with 6 more already booked, the next one being in a mere couple of days. The planet is already dying and I sure as hell am not helping with my flying habit, so what can you do when you’re passionate about travelling in the middle of a climate crisis? 

Holidays aside, every year I board 12 flights just going back and forth to Uni for Christmas, Easter and Summer break. Each trip home amounts to 4 flights, as being from a small country means I need to travel to the capital, Stockholm, before I make it to London, from which I take a coach to Southampton. I always used to see past this as no big deal – I don’t have a choice after all, right? But recently, climate activist and fellow Swede Greta Thunberg visited London in order to attend Extinction Rebellion’s march at Marble Arch. How did she get there you may ask? By a two day train journey. This made me realise that whether I like it or not, there are better options than flying. But is that really a plausible option for a student? Honestly, no it’s not, I don’t have the time, money or energy to do that, which may seem lazy when, like Greta always says, we need to panic. We need to change. But where does one draw the line between individual responsibility and the failure of the state and big companies in caring about our world?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I love travelling. I really, really love it. My entire life I’ve saved every spare penny I ever make in order to explore new places all around the world, but this has a huge impact on the environment, something I’ve only really started thinking about recently. Last year I went on two big trips in the summer, one to Los Angeles and Mexico with my family, and another around the south of Europe with a friend. While this in no way diminishes the fact that I flew all the way from Stockholm to LAX, and later to Spain, only to fly back from Italy, we did try to travel in more environmentally friendly ways once the initial long haul movement was done. We rented a car and drove from LA to Puerto Peñasco, and made our way through Europe on a mix of trains, cars and buses.

Credit: Linnea Lagerstedt

There’s a lot to be said about environmentally friendly travelling once you get to a new country, and someone else has probably said it better than I have, but it is so important to at least be cognizant about our impact. In August I’ll be heading to Hong Kong where I’ll spend the next academic year, and while this means I won’t be going back and forth home for breaks, the 15 or so hour flights will surely have their own impact. This means that much like when I’m in the UK, when I get there, I’m making a commitment to rely on public transport as much as possible, and reduce my other emissions through things like fast fashion, animal consumption and what have you, because it’s the least I can do. We can’t have it all and if I’m going to continue travelling the way I do, I need to make up for it in other sectors of my life.

Nevertheless, even if we think about the environment when we travel, there’s no way of getting around the fact that air travel is a huge contributor to climate change. I just did the WWF footprint questionnaire and despite living a relatively environmentally friendly lifestyle otherwise – as a vegan who’s determined you can walk just about anywhere and carries a metal straw around me – I still have a carbon footprint at 181% of my target impact on the world. 71% of my 17.7 tonnes of emissions are all due to travel. That’s not sustainable.

Credit: Linnea Lagerstedt

So where does this leave me, and anyone like me? Honestly, I don’t know. A less selfish person would probably say that the solution is simple:  for me to stop traveling. But I’m not that person. I don’t know if I wrote this article as some weird disstrack at myself but I genuinely believe that while I’m privileged to have seen as much of the world as I have, it has made me into a more intelligent and compassionate person with more first hand cultural knowledge. Maybe then the solution isn’t to stop traveling, but to travel less, and save to invest in plane tickets from airlines that take steps towards reducing their footprints. Asia, Africa, the Americas and more are all amazing places that I’m happy to have seen, but there are also a tonne of hidden gems around Europe, all accessible by train. The first step anyone can take though is to be aware of the impact you have, and you can do that by calculating your carbon footprint HERE.

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Features Editor 18/19, Second year BA English Lit student with a passion for intersectional feminism, dogs and iced coffee.

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