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Greening your getaway

By John Kirchner December 22, 2009

The carbon footprint of a winter getaway is one that often goes unnoticed. But even if fuel (car, plane or otherwise) were the only factor – and that’s far from true – the impact would warrant some attention. So why not try greening your getaway?


As you plan your green vacation, consider your accommodations first. Many hotels and resorts work hard to achieve some form of “green certification.” Frankly, it’s in their best interest to be environmentally friendly because they, as a business, can enjoy the same kind of dollar savings as you do in your home by being green.

Look for hotels that have been built or remodeled using recycled materials, used eco-sensitive site selection or site clearing practices, or hotels that encourage their guests to conserve water by reusing linens and towels. There are many different criteria a hotel needs to meet to be considered green, here’s a site that can help you sort out some of the different types of accommodations and help you determine whether they meet your travel criteria.

But before you leave…

Before you even leave on your vacation you can start earning “green cred” by taking steps in your home to cut down energy usage while you’re away. Start with your thermostat. While you’re away, is there any reason to keep your home heated to your comfort level? Turn your thermostat down to a level that is acceptable to simply sustain your home before you go. If you have a programmable thermostat, you can manipulate the temperature during selected parts of the day and allow the warmth of the sun to filter through and heat your home when it is able.

Another often overlooked creature comfort is hot water. While you’re enjoying the warmth of the Caribbean waters, you don’t need the water in your home to be kept at a constant 120 degrees. In most newer, gas-powered water heaters, there is a “vacation” setting designed to be used for these occasions. If that setting doesn’t exist, you can switch to the “pilot” setting. If you have an electric water heater, you can throw the breaker switch before you leave.

Finally, unplug any non-essential appliances. Most appliances continue to draw energy even when they’re not running, especially large televisions and computers. The only appliances that would need power while you’re away are lights outfitted with timers that might come on as part of your security plan.

Road trips

For many, the current recession has changed the way they travel, with “staycations” replacing “vacations.” A staycation is a trip that involves traveling less than 300 miles or even staying at home. If you’re considering a staycation and need to know how to keep it green, start with this: The most important consideration is your vehicle. Before you leave, be sure to get the car tuned up. An oil change, proper inflation in your tires, and new air filter – all of these elements play a role in determining your gas mileage and energy usage. If your everyday car isn’t as mileage friendly as you would like, you may also consider renting a more eco-friendly vehicle like a hybrid.

Also, as your travels begin, watch your right foot to make sure it’s keeping you green. For every 5 miles per hour you drive over 60, you spend an extra 24 cents per gallon in extra gas. Do the math over the course of a decent-length road trip and your lead foot could cost you some serious dollars – and pump out some serious carbon.

Finally, turn right. Yes, right. Avoiding left-hand turns means less idling, more moving and less fuel usage. UPS, which knows a thing or two about transportation costs, has practiced this technique for years, and according to estimates they saved more than 3 million gallons of fuel in 2007 and reduced the C02 emissions of their vehicles by the equivalent of taking 5,300 cars off the road. Take a look at some of these quick tips for driving more efficiently.

Be smart when you’re there

Once you arrive at your destination, there are a myriad of ways you can go green. Park your car in the hotel ramp and take public transportation. If it’s good enough for the residents of the city, it should be good enough for you. Plus, you’ll seriously minimize your chances of getting lost. It’s a lot easier to read a map when someone else is driving.

Also, be a conscientious traveler. Just because you’re away from home doesn’t mean you should stop doing the smart things you do. Take care to recycle rather than tossing cans, plastic and glass into the trash. Finally, don’t be intimidated by the prospects of arranging an eco-friendly vacation. A simple Web search for green or eco-friendly vacations will return a plethora of options and ideas for your next trip. Here’s a great starting point for making those plans!

Photo courtesy of muha on Flickr