COVID-19 pandemic curbed our travel plans. But with restrictions gone, an accelerating climate crisis emphasises the need for new travel habits. Now, a research-based website assists in finding climate friendly travel options.

The choices we make have a wider impact on the environment around us, and this is becoming clear in the extreme weather events we experience.

This summer’s heat waves and droughts across Europe are just the latest example of this. There are many possibilities when choosing a holiday, but how should the environmental impacts be considered when deciding where to go and how to travel there?

Now there is a handy online tool that can help with that decision. Developed by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the website aims to raise awareness about which destinations are the most carbon emitting to get to (based on distance travelled), and which modes of transport you should be opting for if you want to travel consciously.

Travelling smart
One of the biggest carbon emitting activities that people can do is international air travel.  

“If you are planning to go on a vacation or business trip and you want to do it in the most climate friendly way possible, this is aimed to be a tool for choosing the destination, transport mode and accommodation,” says Jörgen Larsson, who is a researcher in sustainable consumption at the Department of Space, Earth and Environment at Chalmers University of Technology, and is one of the core researchers behind the Travel and Climate holiday tool. “Those three are the main factors affecting the climate footprint.”

Real world costs of international travel
The travel tool uses European energy and transport data, to create a visual calculation of distance travelled, mode of transport used, and type of accommodation stayed in, to make an estimation about the real-world impact of a holiday.

The outcome is shown as xx kilograms of carbon dioxide illustrated as a value of Arctic ice melt; with a much higher value, the further you choose to fly. The calculation is based on scientifically published analysis of the link between carbon dioxide and rates of ice-melting in the Arctic.

Alternative travel options
The Travel and Climate website was originally launched before the pandemic and gave its users a simple and effective tool to work out the real-world impacts of a holiday. As well as all the original features, there are some new ones for the post-pandemic roll-out, including ‘electric car’ for those who may want to holiday more locally, an interactive ‘flight emission map’ to highlight that the choice of destination really is one of the biggest factors in determining your carbon footprint, and a tab for ‘train-bike touring’. These new features reflect a change in transport-use over recent years. Electric cars are more popular now than ever, with 6.6 million vehicles sold globally in 2021, more than tripling their market share from two years earlier.

Train-bike touring is an example of alternative holidays that have come out of the pandemic, when people were unable to fly, and don’t produce nearly as much carbon. The idea is to take the train to exciting places in your own country or abroad, and whilst there, explore the area by bike. “Train-bike touring has transformed my vacationing – it has given me ways for more adventurous trips without having to fly” says Larsson.

Government policies and raising awareness
The researchers know that it is not enough to simply raise awareness. Strong policies are needed from government as well. Fit-for-55 is part of the EU Green Deal initiative and it is currently being negotiated, with the core aim to reduce emissions in the EU by at least 55 per cent by 2030. Since air travel is a major contributing factor to EU emissions, the aviation policies within this are very stringent. In line with this, the kind of awareness that the Travel and Climate website brings could influence travel decisions. Jörgen Larsson has already had positive feedback on how the calculator is being used, “it manages to influence at the grass roots level individuals choosing low carbon vacationing options”.