Tips for Eco-friendly Travel

Aubrey Vaughn
November/December 2007
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November brings with it the start of the holiday season, school breaks and family vacations. Whether you're visiting Grandma Millie in Cheboygan or escaping to the Bahamas, many of us may travel more in the next few months than we do all year. The bad news is that travel produces a lot of carbon dioxide, the primary culprit in global warming. The good news is it's easier than ever to choose more eco-friendly travel methods and offset the emissions from your journeys. Here are several ideas to consider when making travel plans.

Bus and Rail
Staying in the country, your region, state or even city can leave a far smaller footprint that stepping abroad ? the closer you stay to home, the fewer fossil fuels will be burned. Taking a trip within the United States opens up the option of taking a bus or even riding a train. A tour by train can be a vacation in itself, and is a fun way to enjoy the scenery and get off the main path.

If you can drive rather than fly, drive a small car with good gas mileage. Also look for rental companies that offer hybrid-electric vehicles. Among these, Enterprise Rent-A-Car recently launched the 50 Million Tree Pledge ? committing to underwrite the planting of 1 million trees a year for 50 years as part of their environmental stewardship program. If you're traveling to Los Angeles or Maui, you can even rent a biodiesel-powered Volkswagen Bug from Bio-Beetle. Cities throughout the U.S., Canada and abroad also offer car sharing programs ? simply pay per trip to reserve a vehicle for a few hours or several days. No matter what the vehicle, hitch a ride with grandma and your kid brother rather than taking separate cars. You'll save gas, and are practically guaranteed to get a good story or two in the deal.

Airplanes burn the most fuel during lift-off and landing, so book a direct flight to reduce both, and decrease the total distance traveled along the way. And try to save air travel for when it's the best or only option. Whether you're taking a train, plane or automobile, Web sites such as TerraPass and EarthMoment have partnered with airlines, car rentals, passenger railways and hotels so that a portion of your purchase price goes to fund carbon offsets ? or you can calculate the footprint of your trip and purchase offsets directly.

Public Transportation
No matter how you get to your destination, don't forget about the travel during your stay. Try walking or taking public transit rather than renting a car. Many cities have some form of public transportation, and the largest ones, such as New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles have extensive systems such that you won't need a rental car. You'll enjoy the lower cost, no parking hassles, less time stuck in congestion and a smarter environmental choice. City transit usually includes convenient stops at parks, museums and other cultural offerings. Walking is a great way to see communities and discover great nooks and hidden treats.

All that walking warrants a great place to unwind at the end of the day, and you don't want to dash your efforts with eco-indifferent accommodations. Use sites such as Environmentally Friendly Hotels to find ratings and reviews of hotels and their sustainability efforts. During your stay, request that linens not be changed until you check out instead of every morning. Also hang towels on the racks, as towels on the floor indicate to housekeeping that they need to be replaced. Some hotels are determined in their daily cleaning, so if all else fails keep the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on your door until the room needs refreshing.

Try as you might, a perfect, zero-footprint vacation often isn't feasible without a little help. With EarthMoment, you can calculate your carbon footprint and use your regular shopping to offset it. Whether you're buying airfare, a gift for mom or music for the trip, your purchase will support your choice of renewable energy, energy efficiency or reforestation (at no extra cost).

Have a great, green adventure!

Do you utilize carbon offsets or have tips for low-impact traveling? Share your ideas and resources in the comments section below.

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