As many of you embark on long-awaited summer vacations, remember to do so sustainably! It’s easy to forget the huge carbon cost of travel—one yearly vacation can cancel out a year’s worth of sustainable lifestyle choices. Luckily, many people are concerned about this problem. A recent survey showed that 67% of Americans think eco-friendly travel is important.
Take your vacation without the guilt—below are some tips for greening your summer adventures!
Miss your flight
Take five minutes to calculate your carbon footprint and you may discover the ugly truth: air travel is often the biggest contributor to personal carbon emissions.
This summer, why not return to more time-honored forms of transportation?
For families, a road trip can be a great way to spend time together and explore another region. Consider ditching the SUV and renting a more fuel-efficient vehicle for the trip. Or, check out motor coach routes—these comfortable buses are the most carbon-friendly way to travel, and also a great way to save money on transportation!
Train travel is also an overlooked travel option. Amtrak has routes all across the country and can often count as a carbon-free trip for you. It’s also relaxing—you can enjoy the view or read a book rather than driving. Some train routes even go off the beaten track. For example, Amtrak’s “Empire Builder” route goes directly through Glacier National Park, and riders can sit in the scenic car while a National Park Service volunteer points out flora and fauna through the windows.
If you are planning a trip that requires you to fly, book economy seats and try to find non-stop flights. Less time in the air means less carbon emissions, and since takeoffs and landings account for the majority of a plane’s carbon emissions, a non-stop flight minimizes this impact. Also, you’ll get to your destination faster, so it’s a win-win!
To offset or not to offset?
Many people choose to invest in carbon offset plans to balance their trip with a positive climate impact. However, the world of carbon offsets is complicated, with many different companies vying for customers’ money. Some are for-profit, some non-profit; some are accredited, some not accredited. It’s no wonder that carbon offsets have become controversial.
Ultimately, it may be better to donate directly to a clean energy project or other organization doing climate-related work. These organizations are doing the same work as many carbon offset groups, and donating directly will cut out the middle-person. Better yet, look up environmental groups in the region you’re traveling to and use this as an opportunity to make an environmental connection to the place you visit.
Do your homework
Even before you leave town, there are many ways to start greening your trip. Research the place you’re traveling to and environmental issues in the region. Is there a drought? If so, water conservation will be all the more important. Perhaps there has been a conflict over regional resources. If so, plan to support local businesses that have advocated for the environment.
Check out the Green Hotels Association for a list of eco-friendly hotels in the US and worldwide. Even if your hotel isn’t on the list, try to find one that offers ways for guests to be sustainable, like towel and sheet reuse or recycling. Be sure to find out if the hotel is locally owned and if it employs local staff. This is especially important when traveling to international destinations: a green hotel or resort should benefit both the environment and the community that surrounds it.
A lighter suitcase does more than just simplify your travel. Extra weight requires more fuel to transport, so cutting back on what you bring can help make your trip less stressful and reduce your carbon emissions!
Take it with you
Don’t leave your sustainable habits at home. Everyday habits like buying locally, recycling, and even using reusable water bottles can fall to the wayside when your daily context changes. However, these habits can have a huge positive impact in the region you visit. If you are staying in a hotel that doesn’t appear to have a recycling program, suggest that the management implement one. Expressing that this issue is important to you may have a larger impact than you realize. You may also consider taking recyclables home, in addition to any hotel soaps and shampoos that have been opened.
Cabin and lake home tips
Cabins and lake homes are an integral part of summer for many Minnesotans. Here are a few tips to make your lake home more sustainable:
- Keep a natural shoreline: maintain native plants at the water’s edge or, if your shoreline needs to be restored, follow these steps from the DNR.
- Be aware of fertilizer runoff. Even organic fertilizers can increase and disrupt nutrient levels in the water. Leaves, grass clippings, soil, and animal waste are all sources of nutrients. Don’t let these things wash into the lake.
- Maintain your septic system regularly to avoid leaks that could contaminate groundwater.
Consider a staycation
Opt out of the stress of travel planning and plan a vacation in your own neighborhood. There are many ways to make a staycation fun. Some suggestions include camping in your backyard, going to the farmers market, or tackling a family project like building a tree house or planting a garden.
It can be helpful to set ground rules to make your staycation different from normal time spent at home. You might decide to have a phone and email free week, or a family-only week. You might choose not to cook at all during your staycation…Or you might choose to cook a new recipe every day!
Check out Do It Green! Minnesota’s itineraries for local summer adventures all within Minnesota.
Take the summer challenge
Travel adventures don’t have to be limited to vacations. Challenge your family to try the two-mile challenge for the month of July. The idea is that for an entire month, you pledge not to use fueled-transportation for trips under two miles. Whether this includes public transportation is up to you, but it can be a great way to encourage yourself to spend more time biking and walking.