Going on a green vacation is as easy as finding a travel agency on the Internet (check out ecotourdirectory.com) and telling them you want to take an eco-tour, embark on an eco-adventure or go on an eco-holiday with the family.
For a price, they’ll send you to some of the most exotic places in the world and promise that the trip will be socially responsible, will not have an adverse environmental impact on the destination and will be respectful of the local culture. Eco-vacationers can travel to the Galápagos Islands to see first-hand what inspired Darwin, head off to arctic Canada to photograph polar bears or mix with giant pandas in China.
If you’re interested in doing a little ecological volunteering while you’re on vacation, there are plenty of opportunities for that. According to thedailygreen.com, travelers can learn about climate change in the Arctic, help preserve cheetahs in Namibia and study sharks and crocodiles in Belize.
Most folks, however, probably don’t want to spend their hard-earned week off from work going eyeball to eyeball with a crocodile, even if it’s in Belize. They might prefer to spend that week escaping from their worries, not confronting new ones. Many people believe vacations are a time for mindless relaxation.
Watching the sand crabs dart around a beach on the New Jersey shore might not be as exotic as marveling at the land and sea iguanas that inhabit the Galápagos Islands, but a trip to Cape May also can be a green vacation.
If you are a committed environmentalist and believe personal actions can help save the planet, then you need to put those principles into action when you head to New Jersey or the Outer Banks or the Bahamas or Europe. Taking a green vacation doesn’t mean taking a vacation from green principles.
It’s simple stuff, but it’s important. Maybe you’re not staying in an ecolodge, but you can still keep the showers short; turn off the air conditioning and lights when you’re out; learn the local recycling program and use it to cut down on the trash; and tell the hotel that you don’t need the sheets and towels changed every day. What you do while you’re on vacation should simply be a continuation of what you do at home (for more green travel tips, go to geekabout.com and gosw.about.com/od/resortsandtours/a/greentravel.htm).
If you’re out sightseeing, try to use public transportation or, even better, rent bikes or walk. Transportation is where most vacationers have the most adverse environmental impact.
That’s especially true of air travel, which is bad for the environment, just like car travel. The International Ecotourism Society (ecotourism.org) estimates that 10 percent of all greenhouse gases come from air traffic.
What to do? An idea that has been gaining traction in recent years is the concept of carbon offsetting. What this means is that for every mile you travel by air, you make a monetary contribution that can be used to plant a tree or invest in a renewable energy project to make up for the carbon dioxide your airplane spewed into the atmosphere. (For more information about carbon offsetting, go to independenttraveler.com.)
Just remember: When you travel, leave no footprints, carbon or otherwise, behind.
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