Do We Need To Travel Less Due To Climate Change? Here's What Expert Rick Steves Says

Rick Steves is arguably one of the most well-known travel gurus in the U.S. He has published numerous guidebooks and graced television screens with his PBS show, bringing European culture and sightseeing tips to people everywhere. Fittingly, he spends a lot of time traversing borders and exploring new places, devoting about four months per year to his European adventures, according to one Forbes feature.

As exciting as Steves' lifestyle may be, it might not seem like the smartest choice as experts sound the alarm on climate change. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, an estimated 8% to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the travel industry. Long flights, private taxi rides, and wasteful consumption during vacations — just to name a few examples — can all contribute to climate change and environmental degradation. So does this mean we should store away our luggage and forget about visiting faraway destinations?

Steves, for one, doesn't think so. The avid traveler spoke about climate change during an episode of the "Rick Steves Over Brunch" podcast, explaining that travel — despite its impact on the planet — is essential for society. "We need to have an empathy for the other 96% of humanity, otherwise our leaders in any country can run us astray," the TV host shared. "I think when we travel, we make it more difficult for the forces in that country to demonize us through their propaganda and it makes it tougher for our country to dehumanize them with our propaganda."

Rick Steves says to balance exploration and the environment

Besides being personally fulfilling, travel is crucial for the greater good, according to Rick Steves. Still, it should be done with the environment in mind. "When we travel and when we fly, we contribute to global warming and climate change and we as responsible travelers should travel in a way that is carbon neutral," Steves told the hosts of "Rick Steves Over Brunch." "And you do that by mitigating the carbon you contribute to the atmosphere through different clever ways."

For the travel expert, clever tweaks come in the form of his company's Climate Smart Commitment. Rather than limiting travel, Steves has decided to donate funds to environmental groups to offset some of the carbon emitted from his trips. In 2023, Rick Steves' Europe donated a whopping $1 million to various eco-friendly organizations.

After first starting the initiative in 2019, Steves explained to USA Today, "At the expense of our profit, we imposed a creative 'carbon tax' on ourselves. And until our government requires us to do so, we're doing it voluntarily. I don't see this as heroic – it's simply ethical."

Other ways travelers can minimize their carbon footprint

If you don't have a mega-sized travel business like Rick Steves, donating a substantial amount of money might not be feasible. Steves does encourage tourists to donate what they can afford to his environmental fund via his website, though you can do your part without having to pay, especially if your travel budget is already limited. You might just have to get a little creative.

One option is to go on that dream vacation you've been planning for months, but adjust your plans so you fly as little as possible. Seek greener alternatives, such as using trains for a leg of your trip, and consider extending your vacation in one spot rather than taking shorter trips to multiple destinations. As Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel, told CNN, "With the advent of low-cost aviation, many of us are taking multiple flights, and holidays are much shorter. If we went back to the style of travel we used to enjoy, we'd achieve the reduction in flights that we need."

During your getaway, choose eco-friendly services and providers when available. The World Wide Fund For Nature suggests choosing locales with ecotourism options and booking accommodations that recycle and use sustainable energy sources when possible. To increase your impact, embrace slow travel and try living like a local. Shop at farmer's markets, cook your own meals, and bike around instead of hopping on tour buses.