Thinking of taking off for the summer? Airfare for summer travel to domestic destinations is down more than 9 percent on average from 2008, while overall summer fares to destinations in Europe are down more than 19 percent, according to Farecast. On the down side, most airlines are charging extra for even a single bag — and what about that excess carbon baggage you'd be packing?

A single passenger traveling round trip from New York to L.A. will be responsible for emitting about 1,500 lbs of carbon, on average, according to the TerraPass carbon calculator. Terrapass only looks at a few airlines, but you get the picture. So how can you visit your family without damaging the planet?

  1. You can invest in alternative energy and other global warming mitigators by buying carbon offsets.
  2. While price is most travellers' top concern, you can, whenever possible, patronize airlines with good environmental records.
The nonprofit Climate Counts, which ranks companies by their efforts to combat climate change, recently began rating airlines and hotels. Northwest Airlines scored the highest — 39 out of 100 points — followed by Southwest Airlines (37), American Airlines (35), and United Airlines (28). 

Carbon offsets can be purchased from companies that use your money to fund renewable energy, such as wind and solar, methane entrapment and energy generation projects, and biofuels. Theoretically, these carbon-reducing projects balance out your carbon-emitting travel.

But before you buy, ask offsetters how much of your fee goes directly to fund projects, and how much to the companies' own administrative costs.

Ask yourself this: Are you paying yourself to pollute without guilt, or taking steps to reduce carbon where you can, in home energy consumption, transportation and food and water (non-bottled) choices? After all, every American is responsible, on average, for the release of 26.5 tons of greenhouse gasses. You might be able to "offset" your flight without buying offsets!  Calculate your total carbon footprint on the EPA's site. 

Most third-party carbon offset companies allow you to purchase your offsets at any time, so even if you've already booked your flight, you can still offset your emissions. You can even pick up a few extra credits to offset last  year's vacation. It's retroactive eco-redemption! 

TerraPass offers carbon offset packages for individuals and family units. You can purchase offsets for driving, flying, home energy usage, and combinations of all three. Projects they fund include farm energy, landfill gas capture, and wind energy farms. One year of airplane travel offsets costs about $50.

Vermont-based NativeEnergy sells offsets to individuals and businesses. They fund both biomass projects and transportation efficiency projects. The 6,000 mile round trip from New York to L.A. would cost you $42, using their calculator.

Travelocity allows you to purchase offsets when you book on their site through their Go Zero project. They fund native tree-planting projects through the Conservation Fund. One carbon credit costs about $3 and they offer hotel and flight packages for families and individuals. Enough credits to cover a New York/ California round-trip costs $25, and they'll plant 2 trees.

If you're planning on traveling internationally, check out Germany-based Atmosfair, Australia-based Climate Friendly, and Switzerland-based Myclimate.

For comparative airfare price shopping, check out Fare Compare.

Travel light!

Story by Rachel Brown. This article originally appeared in Plenty in 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008