I travel a lot. A lot more, maybe, than I should. Traveling, especially by air, isn’t great for the planet. Airplanes are a leading source of carbon dioxide emissions, which are causing global warming. So, despite my allegiance to helping save the planet, I am guilty: I always spend a few hours online to find the cheapest flight possible, and I don’t buy carbon offsets. But now that I travel with child, I have one condition: I travel for long periods of time, and I travel direct. Both approaches are better for the planet, it turns out.

According to the Telegraph, the cheaper, no-frills airlines are better for the environment. These flights, like the ones provided by EasyJet, which now flies to Israel, stay cheap by providing high-density seating. This means more people per plane, and since the baggage allowances on such cheap flights tend to be pay-as-you-go, we tend to take less on board. The overall effect is less greenhouse gas emissions.

Cheaper flights also tend to give away fewer in-flight freebies that you tend to pay for anyway. Checked baggage? Who needs it. Earphones? I’ve always got my own.

Passengers on an El Al flight (photo credit: Anna Kaplan/Flash90)

Passengers on an El Al flight (photo credit: Anna Kaplan/Flash90)

Traveling for extended periods of time is also better for the planet, especially if you’re one of those cheap tourists. Is Israel’s Ministry of Tourism listening? A new study has found that backpackers are better for the economy. While the research was done with Australian tourists, the case is likely true anywhere, the author argues.

People who live on a shoestring budget tend to stay for longer periods of time anyplace they go. Since airfare is usually their biggest expense, they make it stretch. They try to live like locals, and do what locals do. Over time, the value of having the budget traveler in Israel outdoes the economic impact of the luxury traveler times two. Luxury travelers will come for a week or ten days to stay at mid-range or luxury hotels, while consuming very few local services like public transport. Luxury money tends to stay in the pockets of the upper crust, while budget travelers’ cash gets better filtered through local economies. The effect is better for building sustainable communities.

Governments, especially in Israel, try to woo rich American Jews and Europeans over to the Holy Land. But the amount of money that they spend at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, or shopping at Kikar Hamedina in Tel Aviv, probably doesn’t do as much for the economy as backpackers staying for months in hostels, and shopping in local markets.

This makes me feel less guilty about traveling frequently and traveling frugally, especially since I do call myself a Green Prophet.