3 Questions to Ask to Make Sure Your Nomading Trip is Environmentally Friendly

by Carmen

As an environmentally concerned traveler I have often wondered about the environmental impact of a nomadic lifestyle.  Writing about this in February of 2008 I estimated that if you traveled to a country where you lived with a much lower carbon footprint, you could not only offset the carbon footprint of getting there but actually impact the environment even less than if you stayed at home in your western comforts.  So I thought I’d put my hypothesis to the test with my latest nomad-ing venture and see how the numbers played out.

To arrive at my totals I used the carbon footprint calculator at Carbonica .  On this leg of our nomad-ing trip I traveled with our 3 children from Austin, Texas to Florianopolis Brazil where it is our plan to stay for 6 months.  We are living in a small 2 bedroom apartment powered by electricity and gas and the children are going to school by city bus.  This apartment has no central heat or air conditioning.   I have added to our regular monthly activities the carbon footprint of our round trip flight.

These numbers are compared to our life in a 4 bedroom home in Austin, Texas powered by electricity where we drive a minivan about 15,000 miles per year. The home in Austin has central heat and air conditioning.

Here’s how it compares:

Austin life:

6 months driving Dodge Caravan (2006) 2.72 tons

6 months electricity home Austin TX 30.94 tons

Total carbon footprint for 6 months Austin living = 33.66 tons

Nomad-ing trip to Brazil

:

6 months of bus travel .5 per day 3 people  .6 tons

6 months living in 2 bedroom apt. (electric and gas with energy saving measure and no central heat) 7.5 tons

Round trip airflight Austin TX – Florianopolis Brazil 4 people making 2 stops 15.9 tons

Total carbon footprint of nomad-ing to Brazil + 6 months Brazil living = 24.0 tons

These numbers reflect a stay of 6 months only because that’s my current family plan.  However, let’s take a look at what they would be at 3 months or 1 year:

3 months:

Total carbon footprint 3 months Austin life = 16.83 tons

Total carbon footprint nomad to Brazil 3 months = 19.95 tons

1 year:

Total carbon footprint 1 year Austin life = 67.32

Total carbon footprint nomad to Brazil 1 year = 32.1

As you can see, the carbon footprint of air travel is high so if we were to stay in Brazil only 3 months the footprint of travel would be higher than remaining in the U.S.  However, at one year, the low footprint of living in Brazil brings total carbon output to less than half of life in Texas.

Obviously, these are rough numbers but I can only believe that with more accurate numbers life in Brazil would be even easier on the environment than life in the U.S.  For instance, in Brazil we have hot water only in the shower and this is produced by an electrical gadget that heats the water right in the shower head.  We do not use hot water for dishes, laundry, etc.  In addition, we do not have any laundry appliances.  The energy consumption of an average clothes dryer is quite high, not to mention the electricity and water usage of the washer.  Here we are washing clothes by hand in cold water.  Going to the market it is easy to see most of the foods here are locally produced.  Not so in the U.S. where every grocery has products from all over the world and it is nearly impossible to “eat local”.  It would be great to see the numbers if we could get to this level of detail.

So – what’s the lesson here?  If you are an environmentally concerned traveler, pay attention to three things:

1) the lifestyle of your destination in terms of en