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Why & How: Carbon Offsetting When You Travel

I recently took a two-week trip to Italy to celebrate a friend's nuptials. I was incredibly excited about them choosing the Tuscan countryside as I had never been but had dreamed of adventuring through European cobblestone streets and vineyard-covered hillsides since COVID-19 started.


Because it was such a destination, I used this as an excuse to explore other parts of Italy I had never been to. I fantasized about seeing colorful oversized striped umbrellas, glasses of red wine paired with creamy pasta, and seaside cliffs with clear blue water crashing below. I imagined finding a tiny restaurant hidden away in some pastel-colored town where we ate fresh seafood and chatted with the chef about growing up there, what they'd seen change, and what was perfectly the same. I wanted to touch the travertine architectural figures and stare into the deep oil paintings of the Renaissance.


I had six destinations in mind and twelve days to see them. We have been fortunate enough to experience several overseas weddings and realized it's best to end the trip with the celebration. Now that we had chosen our time frame, format, and destinations, it was time to plan for accommodation, travel route, and... carbon offsetting*.

We started in Rome. We flew a Delta economy flight (carry-on only) that emitted 1,307 kg of CO2e per person (you can find carbon emission estimates on travel when you search with Google Flights). We stayed in Rome for three days at a local Airbnb. Airbnb stays generate less waste, energy, and water than traditional hotel stays, with more hosts offering sustainable accommodation (although the Airbnb site doesn't yet have that as a search feature) you can learn more about it here. We took a cab from the airport when we arrived, generating roughly 7.02 kg. We checked our bags at a local lock-up station (we weren't able to check in to our adorable Trastevere neighborhood studio yet) and wandered off in search of bikes to tour the city. On the go, especially in Italy, we live off local pastries and coffee during the day (I sometimes drink water...swear) and usually have an early dinner as our only large meal—a cup of coffee averages .4 kg of CO2e (Carbon dioxide equivalent). When ordering dinner, we keep it specific to the local cuisine. It's a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and better for the environment. I'm still new to calculating our footprint, but you can read this article for more information on meal emissions. We stuck to e-bikes (which are zero-emission vehicles, but I am unsure how bad battery production is...I'll put more research into that another time) and walking to get around Rome. Some notable spots for us included Ristorante Arco di San Calisto, Monti Neighborhood, I Vascellari, and The Capitoline Museums.



From Rome, we took the train to Naples. We spent one night in Naples and walked everywhere besides the cab to and from the train station. We stayed in a small boutique hotel (I try to stay at smaller establishments, but when booking a large hotel, you can always search for LEED-certified ones here). This stay was quick, and after a delicious dinner at Signora Bettola, we slept like little jet-lagged babies and hopped on the Ferry to Procida, costing roughly 418g of CO2e (19g of CO2e per kilometer) the following day.



In Procida, we stayed at another small inn. I loved La Suite Boutique Hotel, an 18th-century former residence of noblewoman Filomena Minichini turned adorable hotel. I found it on Booking.com, which has a built-in sustainability rating. It measures waste, water, gas emissions, green space, and local engagement. This place received a level one (out of three) rating. They supplied us with e-bikes to tour the island. We had dinner and local wine at La Lampara and woke up early to take the ferry to Capri.



I would have considered staying another day in Procida (it was that cute), but Capri was calling to us. The ferry ride emitted 532g of CO2e, plus the cab to the family-owned Bed and Breakfast we stayed in at the top of the island. The Il Veliero B&B mentions sustainable practices but doesn't have a rating on Booking.com. We rented a scooter for two days, using half a gas tank (scooters produce a third of what a standard sedan does in emissions cost). Again, we had only light breakfasts (supplied by the B&B) and a few notable dinners out. The spots we enjoyed were the magical public beach at Lido del Faro, and Le Grotelle.



After two days in Capri, we hopped back on the ferry, to a cab, to a train, to a rental car to take us toward the wedding venue, totaling an approximate travel emission of 600g of CO2e. We stopped in Montepulciano (because I am obsessed with wine) and were enamored of this captivating, medieval, cobblestone town on the hill. We stayed in an amazing Airbnb (where we could wash clothes for the first time on our trip and hang them out to dry). We had an incredible sunset dinner at Romantico overlooking the hills, then meandered the charming streets as the sky dimmed overhead.



In the morning we went to Florence. We parked outside the city and walked twenty-five minutes in (first to a latte/breakfast spot) and then on to the sites. Florence is only a 30-minute drive to the wedding venue in Tuscany, so we spent the day here, then went to the venue only to return for the Uffizi Gallery the next morning. We rented e-bikes to roam the streets and see the architectural sites before returning to wedding activities, a short drive away. Notable spots in Florence for us were Il Santino and a fantastic sandwich shop (you have to try the Finocchiona) at Lo Schiacciavino.





We ended this magical trip in Tuscany. The hot, dry days, followed by cool nights smelling of pine trees and vineyards, reminded me of my hometown in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and I knew it was time to return home. We had a magnificent dinner at Da Delfina followed by our friend's breathtaking ceremony and wedding celebration at Hotel Tenuta di Artimino.


On the plane back to the States (Norse Airlines costing 414kg Co2e), I realized how much I needed this trip. I had been mentally escaping since the pandemic years prior and couldn't wait to explore the place I had studied so much about in school. The reality that I had been away from work for so long, and after looking at the rough emissions cost, I felt wildly anxious. Still, after putting an offset plan together and making notes for ways to be more mindful before I travel in the future (blog post coming on that a little later), I realized, again, how worth it had all been.


After tallying it all up and adding a bit more for things I undoubtedly forgot to include or got the math wrong, I purchased two of these passes to offset our trip. I want to emphasize that while I may not have gotten the formula perfectly correct, the exercise proved invaluable as it gave inarguable numbers to our effect on the planet. However, I also understand the idea of carbon offsetting was promoted by large, wasteful companies trying to put the responsibility of reducing the carbon footprint onto individual consumers and by buying passes to offer myself relief, I could be part of the problem. But understanding my own impact helps me understand the larger cycle of things and I can't just do nothing with this information. I hope that if you have plans to take a trip, you have found this post helpful and spend a little time considering how you move through the world and what you can do to make your impact meaningful.


Sites to help you calculate and offset your emissions:


*How Carbon offsetting works, according to Terrapass: "Carbon offsets neutralize your carbon footprint by funding projects like reforestation, farm power, and landfill gas capture, which all remove carbon emissions. Every 1,000 lbs you purchase destroys greenhouse gases equivalent to 1,000 lbs of carbon dioxide. That's like taking one car off the road for an entire month."

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