FAQ: How do I reduce my ‘carbon footprint’ when I travel to Rome?

One of the reasons that I’m such an opponent to driving when you travel is that driving increases your carbon footprint.

Recently, in a piece on NPR, a noted travel writer from the LA Times, Dan Neil, made the comment that tourism is destroying some of the great treasures of the world. He had some persuasive agruments. Whether you buy his arguments or not, I think that at the very least we have to be aware of our presence when visiting other countries or travelling and to do our best not to damage the very treasures that we seek to enjoy.

Rome, for all its beauty, is a polluted city. You can see a patina of grime and dirt on many buildings that is due to pollution caused by traffic and industry — in other words, smog. That isn’t to say that you can’t breathe in Rome, but you can certainly see the effects of years of pollution has had and is having on many of the buildings, monuments and sites in Rome.

As a tourist, you can help to reduce this by not driving, making use of public transportation, recycling when you can, not overdoing the air conditioning and being more environmentally conscious of your actions. I think one of the great things about taking a vacation is getting away from it all, and I do mean all.

I almost never drive when I’m on vacation because I don’t consider driving a fun activity, but a necessity. Ask me what I would do if I wasn’t commuting, and I could give you 100 different answers! I’m one of the unlucky Americans that lives in a metropolitan area without public transport. My 60 mi. per day commute to and from work is too far to allow me to bike or seek alternate means, so you can see how I could get sick of driving pretty quickly (at least I have a fuel efficient car!). So when I go on vacation to a city like Rome with abundant public transport, cheap fares and the possibility of reaching almost anywhere without having to drive myself is music to my ears (and my nerves!).

Don’t get me wrong: there may be instances where driving is necessary while you’re in Italy, but when you’re in the city proper, leave the car at the rental agency. Bike or walk. One of the great things about Rome is that it is such a walkable city. I personally don’t like to bike, but if you do, Rome is also an excellent city for that, too. Walking and biking are not only carbon friendly, but you’ll be doing wonders for your body.

Drive only when you need to — that is when public transportation is not practical. Choose the smallest and most fuel efficient car as well as the car that pollutes the least if and when you must drive. You won’t need (nor would you want) an SUV in Rome — you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place to park it!

If you’re staying in a hotel, re-use your towels and go a few nights before having the sheets changed. Hotels use a lot of water cleaning linen. Do you wash your sheets every day when you’re at home? Chances are you don’t. Turn your lights off when you’re not in your room. Don’t leave the air conditioning running when you’re not there (you’ll find that air conditioning in Rome is probably not the kind you’re used to) and use it only when you have to.

In short, follow these tips to reduce your environmental impact (not only Rome, but anywhere you visit):

  • Use public transport (buses, metro, trains) when you can.
  • Walking and biking are relaxing and fun. Not only are you helping to offset the smog in Rome, you’re doing something healthy for yourself, too.
  • Use taxis and drive yourself only when necessary.
  • Re-use your towels and request that your bed linen not be changed daily to help the hotel save on water. You don’t do it at home – why do it when you travel?
  • Don’t litter. Not only is it bad for the environment, it’s rude.
  • Recycle when you can.
  • Don’t leave the water running when brushing your teeth and take short showers. Water and power are more expensive in Europe – not only will you help the hotel keep costs down, you’ll be conserving too.
  • Turn off lights, appliances, and air conditioning when leaving your room.

*photo: Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, released to the public domain; original here