Whether temperatures in your area are starting to warm up or you want to escape a long winter, you and your family might be getting the urge for a little spring getaway. But before you plan your next vacation, there are a few more things to consider beyond where to go, what to see, and whether to splurge or save. Why? Travel can have an unexpected impact on the environment. Buying a plane ticket may be one of the most environmentally costly travel decisions. In fact, the choices you make on one vacation can make a bigger difference on your carbon footprint than the lifestyle choices you make in an entire year.

If you’re working to incorporate sustainable choices into daily life, don’t leave your spring break vacation planning behind! Take a look at some of our ideas below to make your trip eco-friendly and potentially less expensive, too.

Planning your green vacation

When you think of green travel, you might picture luxurious eco-resorts with hefty price tags. One famous example is celebrity environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio’s eco resort, set on a private island in Belize, scheduled to open this year. While green travel can indeed look lush, it is more about bringing an eco-conscious way of life wherever you go. It’s an approach to travel that focuses on reducing carbon emissions, preserving ecosystems, and supporting local communities.

Choose a green destination

There are plenty of green destinations around the world and in the US, including Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Vail, Colorado, and even golf haven Hilton Head, South Carolina. Ultimately, a green destination supports sustainable lifestyles, regardless of whether it’s listed as a green destination by the many ranking systems out there. Things to look out for include a good public transportation system, parkland, walkable neighborhoods, designated bike lanes, and farmers markets.

Be fuel-efficient

Generally speaking, buses and trains are your greenest modes of transportation. The least fuel-efficient way to go? Large SUVs and first-class flights. But keep in mind the carbon footprint of your trip is a function of 3 key factors: 1) the type of vehicle you are using (and how fuel-efficient it is); 2) how far you are going; and 3) how many people are traveling with you. The more people can share a ride or flight means the lower carbon footprint per-person on that trip.

On the other hand, a large family on a road trip in a fuel-efficient vehicle may have a low carbon footprint per-person for the trip. But if you are a solo traveler or a couple, driving is simply not as efficient as taking a bus, train, or nonstop flight.

If a flight is a must, fly coach and nonstop. Take off, landing, and ground operations produce a lot of carbon emissions. If a nonstop flight is not available, choose the most direct route possible.

Consider cruises carefully. Many cruise lines have a more harmful effect to the environment than other forms of travel, though many are making progress on sustainability improvements.

Think off-peak

Schedule your vacation during off-peak times or days to avoid congestion (and idling in traffic, when fuel consumption rate can increase). This will both help lower your carbon emissions and can help you save on gas.

For hotels, consider the environmental price tag

Your choice of hotel is another major area to make an environmental impact. The best green hotels support sustainable tourism in 3 ways: environmental, social, and economic. Search for hotels approved or accredited by sustainability certification programs such as Green Key, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

Before you leave, get your house in vacation mode, too

Don’t forget these quick to-dos before leaving on your trip to lower your home’s energy consumption while you’re gone.

  • Turn down water heater to lower temperature setting or “vacation mode”
  • Program your thermostat at a higher temperature or turn it off
  • Unplug electronic appliances like a computer, tv, coffee maker, and lamps
  • Keep you shades drawn to keep the sun from increasing the interior temperature
  • Some people leave lights on during vacations for security reasons, but consider a programmable timer that will switch on and off lights (with energy-efficient LED or CFL bulbs) at set times to minimize energy use

Once there, it’s easy keeping it green

BikingOnce you have arrived, choose public transportation like trains and buses, biking, or walking. Not only are these forms of transport greener than others, they are also great ways to experience your destination close up. If you need to drive during your trip, rent the smallest and most fuel-efficient vehicle, and even consider a hybrid or electric vehicle if possible.

When it comes to activities, consider what the outdoors has to offer, like hiking and swimming. You can employ local guides and support local businesses with some fun activities that may vary based on where you visit. Buy and eat locally instead of selected foods and goods that have been flown or shipped in from overseas.

You can also lower your carbon footprint while in your hotel room. Always turn off the lights when you leave the room. Reuse towels and linens, and decline housekeeping. Ask your hotel about their recycling program and sort your trash. Skip the plastic water bottles in your room and refill a reusable beverage container (if the tap water is safe to drink).

Most important green travel advice: have fun!

Being mindful shouldn’t take over your vacation! It is easy to incorporate your same home habits while you are away, and be thoughtful about simple ways to travel with an environmentally-friendly approach. It’s your vacation after all, and your hard work to reduce your environmental impact at home and away does deserve to be celebrated!

So relax and have fun. Happy travels!

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