Eco-tours that cater to environmentally friendly travelers are great, but what about making your trip to New York City or Grandma's house greener? Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to make eco-friendly choices on your next family vacation, most of which are easy and affordable.
If you're flying or driving, consider purchasing carbon offsets to reduce your net emissions. Those offsets are used to invest in green projects that reduce carbon dioxide in an equivalent amount to what your family uses on a trip. Then, once you've arrived at your destination, seek out public transportation instead of driving a car or hailing a taxi, advises Andrew Grossman, Outreach Manager at Sustainable Travel International, an organization that works toward more sustainable tourism. Lastly, if possible, walk to sites close to where you're staying.
How to Plan a Green Vacation
Choose Green Lodging
Grossman suggests travelers book with hotels that are certified green (check your choices on Green Key). Their seal of approval means these hotels have proven they meet a certain level of environmentally sound business practices as far as conservation or energy consumption. Check out the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, a hotel that’s won awards for its practices that protect and preserve South Carolina’s environment, or 70 Park Avenue Hotel, which received a top rating of five from Green Key for achieving the highest level of environmental and social responsibility throughout all areas of operations (down to offering parking discounts to hybrids!). If you aren't able to find an eco-friendly hotel in your vacation spot, at least try to find a hotel close to the attractions you want to visit so you can cut back on driving.
No matter where you wind up staying, your family can still reduce your energy use as guests. Turn out lights when you're not using them and when you leave your rooms, don't run the heat or air-conditioner at full blast if you're going to be out for hours, and reuse towels instead of having the cleaning staff wash them daily. Bottled water, to-go containers, and Styrofoam coffee cups are all ubiquitous at hotels, and yes, sometimes you don’t have any other choice or the convenience factor is significant, but when you can, opt for reusable instead of disposable for food and drink. Lastly, remember that water is a scarce resource, so treat it as such.
Go Small or Go Home
'"Think local" wherever you go. "Make sure your money is staying within the community," says Grossman, "by looking for small businesses that use local suppliers and local workers." For example, dine at local restaurants instead of visiting a chain, since locally sourced food leaves less of a carbon footprint than food shipped in from far-flung places. Be thoughtful about purchases, as well. Rather than buying a souvenir that uses valuable resources and/or requires emissions to produce and ship, consider springing for an experience, like a fun family tour. "Think about what you'll remember rather than what you bring home," Grossman advises.
Treat Your Home Away from Home with Respect
Model responsible behavior for your children so they learn to be mindful travelers themselves. If there are signs asking people not to walk on certain protected spots, not to touch, or not to pick up something and take it back home with you, enforce those rules even if you see others ignoring the signs. By the same token, don't take brochures or attraction maps for the whole family if you only need one or two, don't grab a ton of napkins when you only need a few, and never litter. A greener vacation—and a greener world—starts with you.