Monday, May 25, 2009

Vacations ... The Eco Friendly Way

We recently returned from a wonderful vacation in the Pacific Northwest ... camping and visiting with family. Typically when I leave my home in the North Carolina mountains, I am struck by how wasteful and non-environmentally friendly our society is. But this trip was different.

On this trip, I noticed positive changes ... people carrying reusable water bottles in the airport rather than plastic ones, recycle containers set up in restaurants, signs in public restrooms asking patrons to turn out the lights when leaving and more people refusing plastic bags in stores. I saw less Styrofoam and more recyclable containers at take-out stands. In one public restroom there was a toilet that flushed one way for liquids and another way for solids ... reducing the amount of water used. In more than just a few shops I was asked if I wanted my receipt printed (which, of course, I said "no" to and saved some paper). In my relative's homes, I noticed cloth napkins being used instead of paper and everyone seemed to have a garden and a compost bin. A cousin told me about an Eco-Camp for children. Her daughter attended this camp where the focus was on teaching kids about waste ... specifically the waste on their plate when they take too much food and end up tossing what they can't eat.

Yes, there are still improvements to be made but it is encouraging to see so many people making an effort. It gives me hope!

With the trip and everything I saw still fresh in my mind, I decided to write a few tips on having a "green" vacation. Here are some ideas:
  • Plan ahead. For a very good list of green travel resources (tour companies, rental car agencies, transportation, activities, etc.), check out's Green Travel Resources.
  • Never take a vacation from your "green" ideals. The same rules that apply at home, apply everywhere. For example, don't use more water or electricity just because someone else is paying the bill ... continue to conserve.
  • Have a "Staycation" and play tourist in your own city. Yes ... I know ... I just returned from a vacation on the other side of the country. But I've also spent years taking vacations in my own back yard ... and they have been some of the best times we've had. Not only does it save money, gas and other resources ... there are usually activities to enjoy which typically, in our busy lives, we don't take the time to experience. So play tourist at home ... go to a special restaurant, enjoy a museum, take in a play or concert. For more ideas, contact the Chamber of Commerce in your city.
  • Make a few adjustment at home before leaving. Turn off the water heater (or turn down the temperature). Turn off A/C or heating units (or, again, adjust them to the least amount of use). Turn off the ice maker. Unplug as many electrical devices as possible.
  • Carefully consider the mode of transportation used to reach your destination. Trains, cars, planes, buses ... they all have their environmental pros and cons. Add in time and money and the choice becomes more difficult. For a short trip, consider public transportation. When driving, make sure that the car is properly serviced (tires filled to proper levels, oil leaks fixed, etc.) and follow speed limits to minimize gas use and emissions. Don't charge cell phones, iPods, etc. off the car battery ... it'll lower your gas mileage. If your car is a gas guzzling vehicle, consider renting an economy or hybrid car. If flying is the option, choose electronic tickets, pack lightly and consider carbon offsetting (for an excellent article on the subject, click HERE). Also consider bringing your own snacks and drinks (fill a reusable water bottle after going through security) ... you'll save money and waste.
  • Location, location, location! When choosing accommodations, think about location. Ask yourself these questions: Is it near public transportation (bus lines, subways, etc.)? Are tourist activities within walking distance or a short bus ride away? Are there dining and shopping opportunities close by?
  • Choose a "green" hotel (find one HERE).
  • Care for a hotel room in the same way as you care for your home. Turn out lights and TVs when not in use. When leaving, turn off the cooling/heating units. Leave a "Do Not Disturb" or "No Service" sign on the door and reuse towels and bedding. If a sign is not provided, leave a note for housekeeping requesting that they not service your room. When possible, use your own toiletries rather than those provided by the establishment. If you find it necessary to use their toiletries, take them with you, use until gone and recycle the container. Bring your own cup and let the hotel's plastic ones remain in their bags. Take short showers.
  • At your destination, consider environmentally friendly activities. Take a walking or cycling tour. Take digital photos instead of using disposable cameras. Only take maps and brochures that are necessary and, if possible, return them to the rack after use. Choose restaurants that use local, organic produce. Make sure that purchases (snacks, souvenirs, etc.) are Eco-friendly.
  • Let them know. When returning home, be sure to write emails to hotels, restaurants, car rental agencies ... even airlines and pilots ... to compliment them on their "green" efforts or encourage them to adopt them if they aren't currently doing so. I've said this before (perhaps a gazillion times) but I believe that if we ask, providers will accommodate us. So tell them that you want "green" travel options.
Vacations are wonderful ... they recharge our emotional batteries and add excitement to life. And, with a little care and concern, they can be kind to the earth as well.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!