Traveling Green and Clean

You recycle aluminum cans and newspapers and send empty printer cartridges back to the office supply store.  But when you hit the road, your conscience nags.  How can you travel in a more earth-friendly way?  Here are some options to green-up your next trip.

Drive Smart

Even if you’re not ready to purchase an alternative fuel vehicle, you can try one when you need a rental.  Hybrids or cars powered by biodiesel are available through national rental chains as well as specialty companies. A bonus: In certain cities hybrid drivers are allowed to park free in metered spots, and some hotels give discounts or waive parking fees.

Drive or rent a hybrid car on your next vacation.

Drive friendly.  Aggressive driving–frequent acceleration and braking—consumes more gas.  For every gallon of gas used, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide enter the atmosphere.

Get Credit

Travel-related greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to grow by 75 percent during the next 10 years, but you can offset the effects by purchasing carbon credits. This means you’ll make up for the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by contributing to companies that are developing wind farms, solar power, or energy from alternative fuels. Several online sites offer calculators to help determine a trip’s global impact (or carbon footprint) and the cost to neutralize it.

Sleep Green

Hotels and resorts come in many shades of green. The best are certified by LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, from the U. S. Green Building Council. While standards for green certification vary within the lodging industry, look for eco-friendly projects such as solar-powered lighting and signage, recycled water used for landscaping, rooms with organic cotton linens, bamboo flooring, low-flow fixtures in bathrooms, wooden key cards, organic entrees on menus, and family programs centered around the natural environment.  Take advantage of golf-cart shuttles or bicycles that some hotels provide for guests.

A typical one-night stay in a hotel results in about 34 pounds greenhouse gas emissions—which you can offset with a dollar carbon credit.  Even if the hotel isn’t “green” you can reduce this amount by reusing towels (safety pins with colored beads help identify which family member used the towel) and turning off lights, television, and  air conditioning or heat when you leave the room.  Carry your own laundry bag, bring your own toiletries and drinking cup, and pack a nightlight so you won’t need to leave bathroom lights (and fans) on for hours.  Put newspapers in the recycling bin or leave in the lobby for other guests.

Eat local

A fun part of traveling is sampling locally grown products. Shop farmers’ markets for seasonal items, and take these with you in reusable containers.   Skip restaurant entrees that are “flown in fresh daily” since these consume extra energy to reach the table.  Avoid take-out items that can’t be recycled such as Styrofoam and plastic packaging, flatware, and single-serving condiment wrappers.

Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park uses green practices.

Tread lightly

Tourist attractions are loaded with paper—brochures, advertisements, and maps.  Take only what you need, and return the rest for someone else to use.

“Hunt” with your binoculars or digital camera.  Observe the “carry in, carry out” rule for natural or historical areas. Buy retail items made from recycled products, and forego souvenirs made from endangered plants or animals.  Choose excursions that are environmentally responsible such as catamaran tours powered by recycled vegetable oil.

Double Up

Consider group travel or tours at your destination.  Use public transportation or hotel vans when available, and take walking tours. Fewer vehicles on the road means lower emissions—and you might make new friends.

Top photo courtesy free images; bottom photo by Beverly Burmeier