How to Plan a Green Vacation

You don't have to visit some far-flung locale to take an ecovacation. Just follow some basic principles of ecotourism travel.

By Emily Main

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Wherever your travels take you, says Enderlin, speak up if you see things that conflict with a hotel owner's green message. For example, if you hang up your towels in the bathroom so they'll be reused a few times rather than replaced daily, only to have the housekeeping staff replace them with fresh towels anyway. "It's very important for consumers to talk to employees and make sure people understand they care," he says. "It improves business for the hotel."

How to Get There
Nearly all major car rental agencies rent hybrids nowadays, so be sure to consider that option if you'll be driving, particularly if your personal vehicle isn't fuel-efficient. When it comes to other transportation alternatives, you can opt for trains or buses, but airplanes will most likely be the most convenient way to go. Major airline carriers now offer travelers the option to balance the greenhouse-gas emissions from their trips by purchasing carbon offsets, a small fee added to your ticket that is used to fund reforestation programs, wind or solar farms, or organic agriculture programs that mitigate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Environmentalists have often taken issue with these offsets for not being transparent with their projects and how they spend your money, or even with how they calculate the greenhouse-gas emissions you'll supposedly be creating by your flight. The Tufts Climate Initiative, a program operated by Tufts University that has studied carbon offset programs, has found that the prices for a single flight can vary widely, based on who's doing the calculations.

The Tufts program suggests that you buy carbon offsets as a last resort. If you want to fly greener, the best thing you can do is to take nonstop flights, as taking off and landing burn the most fuel of any stage of your trip. And, says Enderlin, "there are other things people can do while on vacation that are just as good as an offset," in terms of being green, such as supporting small, community-owned businesses and patronizing restaurants that serve organic food in the towns you're visiting.

What to Do
When you finally reach your vacation destination, as Enderlin says, do your best to support local businesses. Doing so allows the money you spend to stay in the local community and support other conservation efforts. Find local tour operators and shop at locally owned businesses, and always pay entrance fees to parks (even if they're just suggested fees) to help fund environmental initiatives.

At the same time, you want to be sure the businesses you patronize are responsible. The Rainforest Alliance has a list of third-party-certified tour operators, and you can find local, organic restaurants by searching the database of the Green Restaurant Association.

Last but not least, be creative. Enderlin says that there isn't really one definition of an "eco" vacation anymore, so if hiking isn't your thing, rent a bike and ride around town rather than driving. Park the car and take a historic streetcar downtown, or pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it outside, rather than driving through that fast-food restaurant off the highway. "With ecotourism, it's all about how you operate that makes a vacation sustainable," he says.

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