Contemplating international travel soon? Before booking that plane ticket, you may want to consider air quality and pollution.
Whether you’re planning a summer getaway or just going through your daily grind, air quality can have a major impact on overall trip enjoyment and personal well-being. Travelers should take note of local air quality in order to help protect their health while still getting to enjoy the places they visit. Below, we’ll look at some of the most popular travel destinations and how they stack up when it comes to air quality.
Before we explore travel destinations, let’s break down three of the more common particle and pollution types found globally.
Particulate Matter (PM): These are inhalable particles that can range in size, with the smaller, finer particles having the largest effect on health. Particles come from things like fuel emissions, industrial business, power plants and construction sites. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), implications of being exposed to PM pollution can include asthma attacks, bronchitis and serious cardiovascular issues—especially for older adults and children, or those with preexisting heart or lung disease.¹
Ozone (O3): Ground-level ozone is the main “ingredient” of smog. There are many natural causes of O3 (lightning, volcanic activity and emissions from plants) but motor vehicles are a leading man-made contributor. Too much exposure to ozone can cause problems with breathing and trigger asthma.¹
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2): This gas is a strong oxidant that results from high-temperature combustion of fuels in transportation and power generation. In the home, sources include equipment that burn fuels such as furnaces, fireplaces, and gas stoves and ovens. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide can irritate airways and aggravate respiratory diseases. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide can irritate breathing and worsen respiratory diseases.¹
Now, let’s take a trip around the globe and see how top travel destinations are faring when it comes to air quality.
Japan is a popular destination to visit, and for good reason. The country’s beautiful cities are known for their many historic sites, modern attractions and delicious food. And Tokyo—a tourist-favorite—ranks good to moderate in the air pollution space.²
Some of the main causes of pollution in Tokyo are the emissions from factories and vehicles. Despite strict rules around what types of fuels can be used, the more than 3 million cars on the road still have an impact on air quality. So before booking that flight, just be sure to check local air quality alerts.
Thanks to recent efforts across the country, air quality here has improved over the past few years. Air pollution and vehicle emissions are decreasing, while energy efficiency of vehicles is up—especially in major cities like London. Nitrogen dioxide levels can still be high in certain parts of town due to traffic congestion problems, but overall, this country is relatively safe when it comes to pollutants.²
Thinking about a warmer vacation? While Mexico offers great beaches, mountains and cultural attractions, air pollution is an issue in some larger cities, like Mexico City and Guadalajara, where there are high levels of PM and ozone.² Mexico has implemented some laws to reduce emissions from industrial sources, but it’ll take time to lower those levels.
Fortunately, there are several places in Mexico with excellent air quality. Cities along Jalisco’s Pacific coastline—such as Puerto Vallarta—have much lower levels of PM and ozone thanks to offshore winds. The Yucatán Peninsula’s air quality is good to moderate, with Cancún and Cozumel both currently meeting the WHO annual air quality guideline value.²
The main pollutant found in Germany is PM. While the country generally has good overall air quality, pollution levels can vary greatly between city-center spots and rural areas. But don’t worry—many German cities have laws in place to reduce emissions, including restrictions on older cars in certain parts of town. If you’re dreaming of bratwurst and pretzels, consider Munich and Berlin, which have two of the lowest pollution levels in the country.²
Travel further south to the bustling towns, stunning coastlines, mountain ranges—and of course, pasta—of Italy. Pollutants here include particles from motor vehicle and domestic heating, but the air quality is generally good, especially in tourist-favorite Rome.²
Canada’s westernmost province is diverse in population, ecosystems and activities. From amazing cities like Vancouver to remote islands to mountainous stretches, it is a crowd-pleaser—including those who require easier breathing. Air quality in most of British Columbia is good. Compared to other larger cities, this is particularly true for the Greater Vancouver area and Victoria.²
Before you plan your next trip abroad, consider checking out local air quality reports so you know how best to prepare. Consider bringing a mask for areas that have higher levels of air pollution. Keep car and hotel windows closed if needed, and look for hotels that have a gym so you can keep exercise indoors.
Taking a few small precautions when planning a trip can go a long way in having a rewarding and fun-filled adventure!