Sometimes it feels like I can barely move without increasing my carbon footprint. And, in a way, I can’t—unless I’m walking or biking, I’m increasing emissions. And when I travel, it’s even worse. Car and plane—my preferred methods of travel, in that order—aren’t exactly Earth-friendly. I eat out when I travel; on the road, it’s usually fast-food places. I love souvenirs and have the dust collectors to prove it.
So should I just stop traveling altogether? Of course not; travel actually can increase your awareness of the planet and the importance of protecting it (for example, I didn’t much care about ocean conservation until I became a certified SCUBA diver.) But there are ways to make my family’s travels a little greener.
The closer you are to home, the fewer carbon emissions you’ll put into the air. Daytrips or “staycations” are getting more and more popular; not only are they eco-friendly, but they’re cheaper than long car trips or extended stays in hotels. The Delmarva Low Impact Tourism Experiences website (delmarvalite.org) is an excellent place to start planning any vacation in the DelMarVa peninsula. There you’ll find guides to activities that have a low environmental impact, like biking, birding and surfing. If you want to go futher afield, don’t despair. A number of travel agencies have cropped up that specialize in making your vacation greener. Responsibletravel.com helps you search tours, activities and accommodations worldwide, so you can still feed your wanderlust responsibly.
Responsible camping is arguably the greenest way to travel. No air conditioning, no laundry; even cooking outdoors means your carbon footprint will be about the same as your actual footprint. Be sure to pack out all of your garbage—and save those recyclables—and watch what chemicals you may put into the environment when doing dishes or bathing (a camping store will be able to help you find earth-friendly soaps, etc.) Respect the environment by adhering to the old adage of “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” The Leave No Trace foundation (lnt.org) has excellent suggestions to help you ensure your camping trip is Earth-friendly.
If camping is not your thing (and it is really not my thing), look for green hotels and B&Bs. Opening this June, the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Baltimore (101 President St., Baltimore; greenfairfieldinn.com) is a LEED-certified Silver Marriott hotel; everything from floor to ceiling has the planet in mind. Even the food and beer served in the hotel’s restaurant will be local, reducing the greenhouse gases that are produced when food is shipped across the country.
Virginia has started a Virginia Green Lodging program, where hotels must meet certain minimum requirements, including giving guests the options to recycle and not automatically changing sheets and towels daily. Participating hotels are all over the state, and a downloadable list is available at deq.virginia.gov/p2/virginiagreen/lodging.html. Options range from chain hotels to family-owned B&Bs.
Part of sustainable tourism comes from supporting local businesses. So don’t eat at chain restaurants—try the local specialties. When you buy from a corporation, part of your money leaves the very area in which you’re vacationing. When you buy from local businesses, your money goes to support the immediate area. So when it comes to souvenir shopping, eating or even hotels, make your money stay in the same place your family does.
If, like me, you’re an avid souvenir shopper, there are ways you can make your memories more eco-friendly. The best thing to do is to only take pictures; that way, your carbon footprint is essentially zero. But for those who want something a little more substantial, again, keep local in mind. Buying a plastic Maryland crab Christmas ornament with a “Made in China” sticker is probably not the greenest way to decorate the tree. Instead, buy keepsakes from local artisans—chances are they’ll be prettier, anyway.
Scrapbooking your trip can actually be a very eco-friendly way of making memories. Take pictures, but also save the brochures, ticket stubs and other paper products that you’d normally throw away. Get the entire family involved; you’d be surprised how much that tic-tac-toe game you played on the placemat at the crabhouse can mean to you in a few years’ time.
Oh, and the souvenirs I buy now? I’m over the miniature Eiffel Towers. Instead, I buy weird, regional candy and save the wrappers. It’s a small, cheap, local way to remember my trip.