Planning Your Green Vacation
By Wendy Priesnitz
There are many ways to make your vacation reflect
your concern for the environment. A quick internet search will turn up
hundreds of sustainable tourism organizations and companies. Start your trip
planning by defining your own goals and needs, as well as your definition of
“green.” Then ask lots of questions because there is a fair bit of
questionable marketing being done in the name of “eco travel.” Here some
ideas for planning your green vacation.
If You Must Go, Go Carbon Neutral
Selected as the New Oxford American Dictionary
Word of the Year in 2006, “carbon neutral” has become an
important part of our vocabularies.
Increasing numbers of us are understanding the damage done by the greenhouse
gases that are created by our getting from Point A to Point B. And, also
increasingly, we are using carbon-offset programs to balance the impact of
our travel. The best programs are those which fund cleaner, greener energy
supplies from wind, solar, and other renewables. An increasing number of
travel companies are offering carbon offsetting programs and many websites
provide carbon use calculators.
Consider making a bike tour the focus of your
vacation. Some locales – such as parts of Quebec, PEI, the Adirondacks in
New York State, and in Europe, the Netherlands and Denmark – are
specializing in being bike-tour friendly.
One of the more ecologically friendly modes of
long-distance travel is the train. Mark Smith, a rail travel fan from the
UK, runs an informative website called The Man in Seat 61, which helps you travel by train or ferry.
He compares the emissions of a round-trip journey from London to Paris. By
air, it would take 3.5 hours and emit 244 kg of CO2, while by train it would
take 2.75 hours and emit just 22 kg of CO2. Smith was awarded the 2006 First
Choice Responsible Tourism Award for “the person who has made the greatest
contribution of responsible tourism.” He feels that, especially in Europe,
rail travel is comfortable and affordable. He points out that, “There is
more to travel than the destination – it used to be called a journey!”
Support the Locals
If you’re traveling outside your own area, spend
locally while you’re there. Support independently-owned hotels, inns and
B&Bs, rather than staying at the multinational chains. Eat at local
restaurants, shop at markets and use public transportation and/or take
walking tours. In many cities you can rent bicycles as a healthy, fun and
environmentally sound method of seeing the sites. Not only will you be
supporting the local economy, you’ll be learning more about the place you’re
visiting. Even though bargaining for the lowest price is assumed to be the
custom in some areas, don’t get carried away; a few cents to you can mean a
lot to a local artisan. And don’t forget to respect local customs by
adapting your clothing so that you fit in.
Hostels Go Green
You might want to stay in hostels, which are a
great place to meet other travelers and get a comfortable night’s sleep at
an affordable price. And they’re not just for youth. Generally, they are
open to people of all ages, although some give priority to young people when
they’re near capacity. Many provide access for wheelchair users and some
even accommodate pets. Many hostels, especially in Europe, are in charmingly
historic buildings and big dormitories are becoming increasingly rare.
Many hostels are environmentally friendly.
Hostelling International – which represents 90 Youth Hostel Associations in
over 80 countries, operating 4,000+ hostels – has an eco policy that favors
recycling; biking, car sharing and public transit use; energy efficiency;
native plants landscaping and wild gardens; environmentally conscious
purchasing; locally grown and organic food; environmental education and even
An increasing number of hostels are organizing
a variety of tours and packages for their guests. Hostelling International’s
website will give you some great trip ideas, whether it’s scuba diving in
Malta, taking a mountain biking tour through a Belgian forest, or
paragliding and climbing in Belgium.
If you prefer to stay in a hotel, the Green
Hotels Association can recommend a member facility that adheres to its code
of environmental conduct. In hotels, turn off lights and air conditioning when you leave the room. Take your own
shampoo, leaving those wasteful little bottles unopened. If the hotel has an
electronic check-out program, use it and save trees.
Leave Only Footprints
Getting off the beaten path is attractive to
many who favor a green vacation. But no matter where you go, adhere to the
ecotourism pledge to leave only footprints and take only photos. If you’re hiking, canoeing, camping, or otherwise spending
time in wilderness areas, take everything out that you brought with you. Try
to avoid the use of disposable plates, mug, toilet articles, canned drinks,
and plastic bottles.
Be careful where you walk or drive (or allow your
pet to roam) to make the least impact possible on the terrain. In many
areas, the impact may be merely cosmetic, but you can also carelessly crush
nesting birds, lichens, and other vegetation, or compact the soil.
While a blazing fire in the evening is a big part of camping for many people, you
might think twice and substitute a stove instead. In many areas, firewood
may be scarce and old branches and logs provide an important habitat for
small creatures. And, of course, there’s always the danger of forest fire.
People who love camping usually hate recreational vehicles. However, despite
their well-deserved gas-guzzling reputation, most RVers use fewer of some
resources than the average household – less water, less heat, and less
electricity. And even these high-end “campers” are trying to employ greener
practices. Green RVers plan their trips so they stay in one location longer;
once at their destination, they walk, bike, or paddle.
converting their rigs to use bio-diesel and it’s not uncommon to see solar
panels and wind generators attached to motorhomes or trailers. RV solar
panel kits come in a range of sizes and will keep your RV batteries charged
to operate lights and other appliances without the use of a polluting diesel
generator or being plugged in to electrical hook-ups in parks.
One of the
problems RVers can create for the environment relates to their choice of
products used to treat waste effluent in their holding tanks. Camp Green,
Canada is a national initiative created to encourage RVers to use non-toxic,
biodegradable products for this purpose. It also raises awareness among
campground owners of the economic and environmental benefits of declaring
their dumping facilities chemical-free. There is a similar Green Camps
Initiative based in California.
Stay at Home
Perhaps the most eco-friendly vacation is the one you
take by staying right at home! If you live in or near a major city, you
might have access to a “green map” to help you explore earth-friendly
destinations. The first green map was published in 1992 as a Green Apple Map
for New York City. There are now about hundreds of green maps in over fifty countries
around the world. Contact your local tourist information bureau for details
or you can access them at the Green Maps website.
Wendy Priesnitz is Natural Life Magazine's
editor, and a journalist and author with forty years of experience and thirteen
books to her name.