Center for American Progress

It’s Easy Being Green: How to Plan a Green Vacation

It’s Easy Being Green: How to Plan a Green Vacation

Taking a vacation without leaving behind a large carbon footprint isn’t as difficult as you might think.

Avoiding complimentary shampoo and other toiletries by using refillable bottles can minimize your impact on the hotel and the city you're staying in. (Flickr/Miss Shari)
Avoiding complimentary shampoo and other toiletries by using refillable bottles can minimize your impact on the hotel and the city you're staying in. (Flickr/Miss Shari)

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“The Obama family is setting a great example by taking the train to the inauguration instead of a private jet. After all, taking mass transit when possible is something we can all do to help reduce pollution and end our dependence on foreign oil,” said environmental journalist Lori Bongiorno in an article posted on Yahoo’s Green Blog prior to the inauguration. While not all of us traveled to the nation’s capital to watch the new president’s swearing in, we can take steps—such as taking a cue from Obama and riding mass transit—to make our travels more eco-friendly.

According to a study by the Travel Industry Association of America, more than 55 million Americans are interested in sustainable travel. Ecotourism, a form of tourism that takes into account the environmental impact of travel, lodging, and sightseeing activities, is one way for travelers to indulge in a carbon-reduced vacation. Taking an eco-vacation is a great way to discover an exciting new location without leaving a giant carbon footprint, but by seeking out alternative means of transportation such as trains or bikes and environmentally responsible hotels, you can also make your next business trip to Boston a little greener as well.

While Americans might be interested in sustainable travel, that doesn’t mean they want to spend more. A recent CNN article reports that most Americans aren’t eager to pay a premium for being green. But they will pay some for convenience, if a travel company offers it. According to the YPartnership study quoted in the article, Americans “expect travel companies to be good stewards of the environment in which they operate.”

A few U.S.-based airlines, such as Continental and Delta, attempt to meet green desires by offering programs that allow travelers to offset their share of carbon dioxide emissions from a flight. Individuals calculate the amount of carbon they are responsible for and purchase an offset for that amount. The funds the offset company receives through the airlines are used to implement and manage projects that avoid, reduce, or absorb greenhouse gases. However, the airlines are essentially asking travelers to pay more for flying through offsets, which doesn’t help the travelers’ wallets.

Spending more money isn’t necessary, either—cheaper carbon-saving alternatives can also get you to your final destination. When it comes to travel options, air travel leaves a big carbon footprint for those who use it, and it isn’t always the least-expensive option. Currently, aviation accounts for just over 3.5 percent of total CO2 emissions, but a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that by 2050, aircraft emissions could be responsible for up to 15 percent of carbon emissions worldwide. Eurostar, the major rail carrier between Paris and London, estimates that completing the 283-mile journey by train over air travel saves an average of 111kg of CO2 per passenger. In most of Europe, traveling by train is cheaper than flying, not to mention its other benefits, like skipping security lines and avoiding traffic congestion.

Other countries also offer convenient and fast train travel. Japan’s high-speed rail system links all of its major cities, with a transit time of 2 hours and 30 minutes between Tokyo and Osaka. And China now has 3,750 miles of high-speed track and plans to double this by 2020.

Once you’ve gotten there green, you’ll want to consider green accommodation, too. Look for an environmentally responsible hotel that implements such practices as low-flow showerheads, low-flow toilets, or waterless urinals. Ensure that the hotel has adequate recycling programs—both for water and solid waste—and know how to use them.

Also, try and minimize your impact on the hotel. Avoid using complimentary shampoo and other toiletries—instead, bring your own refillable bottles. Purchasing reusable bottles may cost more at the outset, but reusing them will save you money in the end. If you have the option to reuse your sheets and towel instead of having them laundered every day, take advantage of the water savings. According to a report by the National Parks Service, not laundering your linens everyday can save up to 30 gallons per room per day. By staying in a hotel that gives back to its community, you can minimize your impact on both the city and the environment.

Whenever possible, using public transportation or walking instead of a car to get around can significantly lessen your impact on the city you’re visiting, both in terms of traffic and carbon emissions. In recent years, many cities around the world have also spent significant money on upgrading their bicycle infrastructure and implementing bike-sharing programs. Avoiding tour buses and bicycling around the city is also a great way to stay in shape on your trip while saving energy, and to experience sights only a local might normally see.

If you feel like a traditional tour is the best way to see your vacation city, you may soon have the option of taking a green-certified tour bus. Though they currently only exist in certain areas, these buses generally run on a mix of biodiesal and ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, making them significantly greener.

If you’re trying to stay carbon-neutral while traveling, even the smallest actions can lessen your impact on the environment. The most carbon-neutral vacation of all may be not traveling anywhere and staying local, thus eliminating any need to offset carbon. But if you’re feeling the need to take a break from home, these simple tips can help make your trip more sustainable.

Photo by Flickr user Miss Shari

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

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