Green traveler’s to do’s
Green your absence. Green your trip. The ultimate check list for your next eco-friendly adventure.
Home green home. Turn down your home’s thermostat to low heating or cooling—many have a vacation setting. Arranging to keep houseplants watered will not only keep them vibrant, it will maintain their production of oxygen and absorption of carbon dioxide and “bad air.”
It’s your home, nobody else’s. Nothing is less green than having to replace valuables because they were stolen in a burglary or destroyed in a house fire. So it’s up to you to take preventative measures. Obviously, one of the best you can take is installing a top-notch home-security system to deter would-be burglars. Aside from that, have a trusted neighbor or friend check your mail daily, install a timer on your lights—basically, do absolutely anything possible to make it appear as though you are, in fact, at home.
Be direct & plan to go longer. Choose a direct air flight, if possible. These spew less carbon into the atmosphere than flights with stopovers (it’s not just the extra flying miles—takeoff is the most fuel-intensive segment of any flight). Taking longer (and fewer) vacations instead of short getaways reduces air travel.
Be carbon neutral. It’s not the perfect solution (not traveling would be, but who wants that?). Still, when booking your flight, car rental, even your hotel stay, we recommend offsetting the carbon emissions your trip will create. A daunting variety of carbon offset options are available. A cautionary note: Bozos await! They want your cash but don’t deliver or properly oversee offset offerings. (See The Scoop on Offsets.) Remember that everything counts when it comes to reducing global warming, and surveys show that those of us who voluntarily spend money to fund greenhouse gas reductions work to reduce their impact in other ways as well.
Book green lodging. This website recommends green lodgings worldwide. If we say it’s great, it is. We only guide you to places we’ve been ourselves. Another reliable source is The Green Travel Hub by Rezhub.com. (Full disclosure: We like this green travel booking site, or we wouldn’t recommend it; but we do receive a small commission if you click through from our site and book your travel. We donate 50% of our commissions to deserving green organizations.)
Rent a hybrid or biofueled car. Public transportation is the greenest choice, but if you rent a vehicle, look for the greenest options. Major car rental companies like Enterprise and Budget now offer green vehicles in some U.S. locations. Search the Web for independent car rentals that offer green vehicles. You can most easily find green transportation at The Green Travel Hub*. At the very least choose the most fuel-efficient model that suits your needs.
Pack organic toiletries. Whenever possible, use refillable containers to take home again.
Leave the excess at home. Recycle everything excess, like the tags and wrapping on that new outfit, before you do your packing; anything disposable in plastic, especially, leave behind.
Bring a green shopping bag. Reusable shopping bags made of recycled materials are easy to pack and make a convenient carry-on for airplane snacks and other items you don’t want in checked luggage.
Bring green beverage containers. Avoid adding all those empty water or other beverage bottles to the waste stream by refilling your own container from larger sizes. For cold beverages use a stainless steel container like a Kleen Kanteen, Kor One or a container made from BPA-free plastic. For hot beverages, using a 16-ounce travel mug just 10 times eliminates 4 pounds of greenhouse gases and avoids nearly a half-pound of solid waste!
When you’re there…
Don’t be bashful—ask questions. Ask restaurants if they use local, organic ingredients. If the answer is a knee-jerk, “It’s all organic,” a follow-up question or two is probably in order (perhaps with the manager or chef). If traveling in a group, ask your group tour company or the operator of a specific activity like a bus tour about their green practices and how they respect (and give back to) the local community and culture. Usually, choosing locally owned businesses is best for the planet, the local community and you. A great example: Fundación En Vía: Travel, Learn, Fight Poverty of Oaxaca, Mexico.
Buy local and organic. Support local farmers and others who are green, and do a whole lot for the well-being of the soil, water and air—not to mention the health of those who lovingly nurture their crops and animals, or produce organic products. It’s a fact that organic food packs more nutrition and tastes better!
Choose sustainable seafood. Ask your server or fishmonger for seafood that is local, not over fished, or is responsibly aquacultured. Sustainable means fishing local waters only in the proper seasons, without seriously depleting fish stocks or damaging the marine eco-system (NOT using methods such as drag netting or dynamiting).
Stretch the linens. OK, almost every decent lodging does this now, but do take seriously your invitation to reuse your sheets and towels, and do so for at least 3 days. Hotels that have linen reuse programs often experience a 50% drop in linen changes and almost as much in towel changes. That adds up to oceans of saved water and energy in the laundry room.
Time that sunscreen! Buy a biodegradable, natural brand of sunscreen and apply it at least 30 minutes before you hit the beach. If you wait to slather it on just before diving in, even many of the waterproof varieties will add to coastal pollution. (On supercrowded beaches, you can actually smell and taste the sunscreen oil slick.) When reapplying, wait at least half an hour before returning to the water.
Conserve your energy. Turn off the lights, and let the sun shine in. The cheapest and most energy-efficient light and heat source is often right outside your window. Turn off—better still, unplug—electrical appliances such as televisions, radios and computers when you’re not using them. As much as 75% of a product’s electricity use can be in standby mode. Upwards of half a building’s power bill can go toward air conditioning. Take a shorter shower, not a bath. (If you’re really serious, try turning off the showerhead while soaping!) In a vacation rental, run the clothes and dish washer only when full. Don’t keep the water running when you brush your teeth, shave, wash produce or dishes. An open faucet lets about 5 gallons of water flow every 2 minutes.
Use a green credit card. An increasing number of banks let you use credit card reward points to buy carbon offsets or green rewards.
Go green from Point A to B. Whenever possible, take the stairs, not the elevator or escalator; walk or bike. Good for you, good for Mother E. And, hey, why not take the first parking space instead of circling for 20 minutes in search of the “perfect” space? Try out the bus, train or trolley and enjoy rubbing shoulders with the locals along the way.
Recycle it. Fortunately, recycling bins for bottles, aluminum, plastics and paper are increasingly common; use them, obviously. But lodgings lag in providing them for guests in their rooms. If they aren’t in evidence, ask your innkeeper to recycle items for you. Sometimes you can compost too. When out on a day’s adventure, please don’t just toss recyclables into the nearest trash container, even if it means transporting them back to your lodging.
Support earth-friendly & local. Whenever possible, buy products and services that are locally made and are earth-friendly. That way you’re sending a strong message—and rewarding—those who are doing the right things for their community and the planet.
Respect the human & natural environment. Act always like a guest at someone’s home (because you are). Treat locals with courtesy and local custom with respect. Admire but don’t disturb native plants and wildlife—and never get so close to a wild animal that it reacts to your presence.
Beware of greenwashing. Alas, eco-wolves cloak themselves as eco-lambs. Don’t be shy. Ask questions of the businesses you patronize during travels. This is a signal that you’re serious about traveling green, and may even influence behavior change. When you question the greenness of a lodging and the response is “we do the best we can,” don’t be shy—dig further. In the case of tour operators, ask how they support local people and just what they do to tread lightly on areas they visit. Above all, don’t let these few bad operators spoil everything for you in the green travel world—keep the faith and celebrate true green all the more!
Go to green events. Earth Day is April 22 worldwide, with local celebrations of green and environmental interest. Locally, be alert for green happenings like singer Jack Johnson’s Kōkua Festival every April in Honolulu.
Get involved. Write a letter to the editor of a local publication on a green issue where you’re traveling—the opinion of a visitor, especially in a tourist-dependent locale, is often taken very, very seriously. (Example: In Hawaii, the multinational corporations that dominate the genetic engineering industry are conducting experimental open-air field trials of genetically engineered crops. If you are concerned about the effects these introduced species may have on the state’s fragile environment, public health and local agriculture, why not let your voice be heard?)
Volunteer for a green cause. Add an extra dimension to your travel experience (and do some good in the process) by spending a day or even an afternoon volunteering with a local green organization. Opportunities abound in many locales. In Hawaii, for instance, volunteers can tally sightings of whales for the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.