Expat travel: six simple tips to cut your environmental impact

Need to travel? Feel guilty? For millions of expats who live and work far away from where they were born, travel is a necessity not just a choice.

Expat travel: six simple tips to cut your environmental impact
Photo: Getty
Feeling concerned about the impact of your carbon emissions should not mean you never get to see distant friends and family. With many countries gradually loosening travel restrictions, this could be a good time to consider how you can make your future travel more sustainable.
The Local reached out to experts in the field, as well as picking our readers’ brains, to come up with a list of ways you can cut your environmental impact without cutting out travel.

We’ve also worked with our commercial partner bunq, an ethical and fully-licenced bank from the Netherlands, which plants trees as you spend when you join as a member of its new SuperGreen programme.

With their mission of making lives easier for their users in 30 European countries, bunq is especially popular among expats and internationals in France and Germany as well as climate-conscious travellers. It is available in seven languages (English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese).

Whether travelling for business or pleasure, remember that it’s vital to check current Covid-19 restrictions and advice before making plans. Now, here are six ways to make your travel greener:

Go SuperGreen now in Germany or Go SuperGreen now in France

1. Change how you count travel’s cost

While some changes are relatively straightforward – buy local when you’re away and opt for eco-focused accommodation – others “might need a change of thinking”, says Thomas Finkel, the Managing Director of sustainability consultancy Como Consulting.

One major way to change your thinking is to reassess the way you see ‘cost’. Travellers concerned about sustainability shouldn’t view cost as only a matter of price, but the true impact of their trip.

Kaitlyn Brajcich from Sustainable Travel International told The Local that travellers needed to take the time to realise how their actions can make a real difference. 

“One of the most powerful steps that you can take as a traveler is simply to educate yourself how your different actions create impacts, either positive or negative, so that you know how to be a more responsible traveler.”

2. Think train not plane
CO2 emissions from flying make travelling less sustainable – so why not skip the security queues for the dining car? The UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy estimates that each kilometre of a domestic flight results in 133 grams of CO2 emitted, compared to 41 grams for a train.
Jon Worth, a Berlin-based British academic and journalist who travels frequently for work, has become a prominent advocate of taking alternative modes of transport – with the train a particular favourite.
Speaking before coronavirus-related lockdowns, Worth told The Local the visible impacts of a changing climate are a major motivator for millions to consider flying less.
“The attention being paid to the climate crisis is a crucial driver encouraging people to take fewer flights, but it’s not the only driver. The experience of taking a plane has become quite an unpleasant one.”
Take the scenic route – by train. Photo by Hari Panicker on Unsplash

From the Siberian Express to Germany’s InterCity Express (complete with draft beer in the dining car) to any number of longer-distance Indian trains, train travel gives you experiences that simply can’t be replicated in the air.

Of course, not all journeys can be made via train. The solution isn’t to cut flying entirely, but to minimise it in all aspects of your life if you can.  

Marcela Rilovic from Better Places Travel told The Local that if you do have to fly, then going direct from A to B – rather than with stopovers – can make a big difference. 

“Take a direct flight: most people don’t realize how much this saves in terms of emissions (plus in time, and wins in comfort; all big benefits for expats)”. 

3. Business travel: bring your bike

Worth points out that business travellers are responsible for significant carbon emissions. 

“If you want to get people out of planes and onto trains, you need to get business travellers,” says Worth. “That makes a bigger difference than people who go once a year on holiday and takes a plane.”

The focus on how, when and why people travel for business is only likely to increase as a result of the adaptation to different ways of working during the pandemic. Finkel told The Local anyone concerned about sustainability in travel could push for their organisation to book fewer flights.

“In 2013 we decided to compensate our CO2 emissions by investing into renewable energy projects. We have to visit projects quite regularly in Africa, Asia, Latin America, so we are unable to avoid long term, travel, i.e. flights,” he says.

“We’ve also decided not to take flights within Germany anymore, and we just invested in video conference equipment to be able to avoid more international trips.”

Finkel points out that thinking big is important, but so is thinking small – and a little outside the box. On business trips, Finkel has found a way to avoid using taxis while also burning calories in the process.

“Habits like taking a fold up bike with you when taking the train to a business meeting so you don’t need to take a taxi when you arrive helps minimise your ecological footprint. We say ‘walk the talk’ – we cannot talk about sustainability and then not do it in our day-to-day work.”

4. Get off the beaten track

Sustainability in travel is not just about minimising CO2 emissions. The impact on overcrowded destinations can be devastating, particularly when they don’t have the infrastructure to deal with the influx.

So rather than playing Instagram catch up, why not blaze your own trail? Once you can take a holiday, swap the Greek islands for Georgia, or check out one of the many beautiful Croatian cities and towns not named Dubrovnik.

If your heart is set on one location, travelling off peak is a better way to see your destination in full while also keeping costs down and beating the crowds.

Dubrovnik is beautiful all-year-round. Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

5. Pack reusable items – and use them!

While packing light is a great way to reduce the impact of travelling, this will be of little benefit if you simply buy everything you need when you arrive.

Bottles of water, soap, takeaway coffee cups and single use plastics are all convenient, but they stick around well after you’ve returned home.

Spend the SuperGreen way when banking with bunq in Germany or Spend the SuperGreen way when banking with bunq in France

Brajcich told The Local: “A lot of destinations, such as islands, struggle with limited landfill capacity and waste management infrastructure. Plastic waste is a huge issue in particular.

“Take a reusable water bottle and empty it before going through security. Take all your toiletries in small, refillable containers. And while it might add a bit of weight to your bag, taking a reusable shopping bag or coffee cup is a great way to minimise waste.”

6. Plant trees as you spend 

Banking with bunq in France, Germany or elsewhere makes it easier to be green. Unlike other banks, you can choose to invest in things that matter to you – such as companies with stellar green credentials.

Privacy and data security are also prioritised at bunq – an absolute must in today’s digital environment. Experience total safety in banking by blocking cards, changing PINs or adjusting limits in realtime. 

With the newly launched SuperGreen subscription, you can plant a tree for every €100 you spend. That means approximately 50 percent more trees being planted than previously – and a target of at least half a million trees before the end of the year.

SuperGreen was launched in response to feedback from bunq users who said they would value being able to plant trees with all their spending on any bunq card. So, whether using your Metal Card, contactless Maestro, online cards, or Apple or Google Pay, your SuperGreen spending now goes towards more trees – and could make you CO2 free in under two years.

Each tree you plant captures 308kg of carbon throughout their estimated 25-year life. When paired with our tips, you’ll be able to offset the impact of your travelling – it takes ten trees to offset three flights from Paris to New York.

We believe that it should be easy for people to make a positive impact on the environment. That’s why we’ve made it possible to empower you in making a real difference, just by using bunq SuperGreen in your day-to-day life.” – bunq

There are lots of ways you can make your travel habits greener. One of these is signing up to SuperGreen with bunq – bank of The Free. Find out more for Germany here and for France here.


This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by bunq.

For members


EXPLAINED: The new direct flights to and from Germany in 2024

Airlines around the world are adding several direct services to Germany next year – with the traditional German hubs of Frankfurt and Munich seeing the biggest benefit.

EXPLAINED: The new direct flights to and from Germany in 2024

2024 is an exciting year for air travellers to and from Germany – especially foreigners who might come from far afield – due to the number of new direct intercontinental options coming online.

New transatlantic options

For those who need to hop “the pond”, German flagship carrier Lufthansa is adding a host of new direct routes from its hubs in Frankfurt and Munich.

Starting on May 30th, a daily direct flight will connect Munich and Seattle-Tacoma Airport, complementing the already existing direct route between Seattle-Tacoma and Frankfurt. It’ll operate daily in summer and carry on in winter for three days a week.

Lufthansa will also add two new direct flights from its main hub in Frankfurt, including a daily service to Minneapolis-St. Paul and a flight to Raleigh-Durham that will go five times a week. Both flights are set to start operating in early June 2024.

Four new direct routes to the US from Germany are coming online in 2024. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

Condor is also adding American and Canadian routes. Starting September 6th, the airline will offer direct flights to San Antonio, Texas three times a week.

Those flying to western Canada – hoping to enjoy the Rocky Mountains – will be able to hop on Condor two times a week with a direct service from Frankfurt to Calgary. This increases the competition on the Calgary route – which is already serviced daily by Air Canada.

Lufthansa is also increasing the number of flights they operate on some already existing routes, starting in summer 2024.

The current Frankfurt to Austin service will increase from three times a week to four, while San Diego to Munich will become a daily service, rather than its current five times a week.

Eurowings will also increase its current service from Tampa to Frankfurt – which now runs four times a week – to a daily service.

EXPLAINED: The airlines that offer direct flights between Berlin and the US

New options for Iraq and Armenia

Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings is also expanding its offerings for travellers headed further east.

Berlin, Hamburg, and Stuttgart will all be getting daily connections to Erbil in northern Iraq – each one going twice a week – starting on December 19th of this year. They complement an already existing service between Erbil and Düsseldorf.

The Eurowings offers brings in some competition to German routes to Erbil. Iraqi Airways and UR Airlines already operate some direct services between Erbil and Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, and Munich – although the Hamburg and Stuttgart connections remain new.

The carrier also plans to add a weekly service to the Armenian capital of Yerevan, starting in May.

Munich, Vienna, or Salzburg: Which is the best airport to fly from?