Travel Green

By Katie Langrock

October 2, 2009 5 min read

Just because you are taking a break from the grind doesn't mean you have to take a break from the green. Vacations can rejuvenate our well-being, as well as the earth's.

A "staycation," or stay-at-home vacation, is the best way to pass your green retreat emissions test. No driving! According to Super Eco, "There's no single recipe for staycation success. Some people like to break away, while others prefer to nest in." Staycations enable you to put a new spin on spending time at home. The first rule is a must -- and the most advantageous to our environment: Turn off everything that beeps, rings or vibrates. Take a break from the hustle and bustle created by always being accessible. Do you really need your cell phone on? Is it necessary for the alarm clock to switch on to your favorite radio station at 7 a.m.? You are on vacation, after all. Enjoy the freedom and silence of becoming detached from the outside world. Your energy bill will be glad you did.

On your staycation, indulge in the activities that bring balance to your life and to your environment. Plant seeds in your garden; visit the park; lie in a hammock; take the kids to a local orchard to pick fruits and vegetables, and make dinner as a family; take bike rides; take hikes; camp out in your backyard. A staycation is a sure way to lower your carbon footprint and enhance your green thumbprint.

If a staycation isn't what you had in mind for your break this year, consider making green choices on how you get to your vacation and what to do once you've arrived. Start by selecting a green location. National Geographic's Center for Sustainable Destinations offers stellar reviews of environmentally friendly hot spots. As does Islands magazine.

They always say getting there is half the battle. And that rings especially true for those of us who wish to travel green. According to Practical Environmentalist, "Airlines, cars, trains and ships create a lot of pollution. According to Carbon calculator, a flight across country produces about 10 percent as much carbon as everything that the average American does in a year." So if you need to get away, seriously consider the distance you choose to travel and your mode of transportation. "Trains are one of the most efficient means of travel."

The green options don't stop once you've settled in at your hotel. Reuse your towels, and ask the housekeeper not to change your sheets. Just as you would at home, turn off the lights, TV and air conditioning when you leave the room. Rent a hybrid, or better yet, explore the area you're visiting using the public transportation system. I guarantee you will meet interesting characters and see a part of the town most tourists miss. Eat locally. And if you think the local restaurants are good, try the local farmers market. Instead of taking a dinner cruise, rent kayaks. Trade in the mo-ped for a bicycle. All you need is a good pair of sneakers to spend the day exploring your new surroundings.

If you just can't stand the idea of not spending your vacation halfway around the world, why not look into a volunteer vacation? It's a quick way to offset the damage caused by the long flight to your destination. You can find volunteer vacations to fit any interest you have -- building homes, teaching English, planting gardens, working on farms, etc. Globe Aware prides itself on providing mini Peace Corps-like experiences to those seeking eco-friendly volunteer vacations. Their vacations "promote cultural awareness and promote sustainability. ... Volunteers help to empower the host communities in creating renewable, sustainable programs." Vacationers will learn to cook local cuisine, learn local songs and dances, and interact with the community and culture in a way most tourists never will. Through a volunteer vacation, you stop being a spectator and get to truly indulge in the authentic place you are visiting. And as Globe Aware boasts, a volunteer vacation "will likely change how you see the world."

Whether you decide to spend your vacation at home this year, deny laundry service at a local destination or volunteer in a remote village, there are plenty of ways to stay green when you leave the grind.

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