The whole point of vacation is to relax, travel, have fun, explore, and “get away from it all”, a perfect excuse to chuck our green habits.
Going on vacation presents us with a conundrum. On the one hand, vacations give us a break from work, school, and daily commitments to refresh our bodies and spirits, enjoy time with family and friends, see new sights, revisit favorite places, and indulge ourselves. On the other hand, vacations generate a sizable carbon footprint, especially if they involve air travel.
Chances are people will not stop needing, wanting, or going on vacation in the near future, but we can mitigate the environmental impact of our vacations by taking our green habits with us. Sure, not having your towels washed every day is drop in the bucket compared to traveling via fossil fuel powered transportation. However, drops do fill up a bucket, and a partially full bucket is better than an empty one.
I recently returned from a trip to Michigan with two friends I met at work over two decades ago. We now live thousands of miles apart so cherish our rare opportunities to get together in person.
Our travels took us from the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, up the center of Michigan, and then across much of the Upper Peninsula to a lovely house on Independence Lake. On our journey, we saw three of the Great Lakes: Michigan, Huron, and Superior (where we dipped our toes in the frigid 40° water). We explored lighthouses, forest trails, and lakeshores by day, and played games and enjoyed each other’s company at night.
We all flew to Detroit so our transportation was not low carbon (unless one considers three people driving around in the same car as carpooling). I did bring some green habits from home.
No Bottled Water
Not buying bottled water at home is one thing, avoiding it while traveling is another. I challenged myself to not buy or knowingly drink bottled water on the trip. I brought two reusable water bottles with me.
I filled both reusable water bottles each day before we set out, stowed one in the car, and carried the other with me.
If you ask for water on an airplane, the flight attendant opens a bottle of water and pours it into a plastic cup. I avoided this bottled water pitfall by filling up my 24-ounce reusable water bottle at a drinking fountain after going through airport security. Finding a drinking fountain at the Detroit airport was not easy. I finally located one tucked into a niche next to the family restroom at one end of the terminal. Whew!
Reusable Shopping Bag
Our county banned single-use plastic bags in 2012 so reusable bags are routine here, even at stores not affected by the ban.
I packed two roll-up reusable bags and wondered how they would be received in Michigan (I’ve encountered occasional hostility in other cities and states).
As it turned out, reusable bags were accepted and often welcomed at stores across the state, from the small general store near our vacation rental to a city grocery store. I handed back plastic or paper bags to a few efficient clerks who bagged my purchases while I was counting the money to pay for them.
A couple years ago, I came across the concept of personal towels, which are small towels you carry with you to dry your hands in public restrooms instead of paper towels or electric hand dryers. I liked the idea and bought several; a washcloth or any small towel would work just as well.
I took two personal towels with me and attached one to my purse or fanny pack whenever we went out.
Not using paper towels in office, store, and airport restrooms may not make a huge environmental impact, but walking around with a towel hanging from one’s purse might raise an eyebrow, prompt a question, or spark an idea.
On our first morning in Michigan, I ate a simple breakfast at the hotel: coffee, cereal, and a banana. I was shocked to see how much waste this small meal generated. Only the metal spoon and plastic tray were reusable and there was no recycle or compost bin in sight.
After that, I realized I’d need to pay more attention to what I was buying to eat and drink. We ate many of our meals with reusable silverware, plates, and glasses in restaurants or at our vacation rental; however, we ate delivery pizza one night and at least one fast food meal and consumed several bottles of wine. Recycling was a challenge.
We flew almost 10,000 miles and drove about 1,800 miles (including to and from our home airports) which emitted approximately 2.6 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. As a gift for my friends, I bought us each a 2-ton carbon offset and selected a reforestation project in the Mississippi River Valley for our donation.
A carbon offset does not negate travel and doesn’t give us a free ride; however, it is a tangible way to take responsibility for our actions.
The other day, I was talking to one of my friends from the trip and she said it was too bad we couldn’t buy carbon offsets for local projects. What a good point! While it might not necessarily offset the carbon from a trip, donating time or money to green projects in our own communities is a reasonable alternative.
While I did take some of my green habits with me to Michigan, I feel I could have done better in the areas of food and recycling. I’ll endeavor to up the green factor of my next vacation.
What green habits do you take on vacation?
- Bags – Paper, Plastic, or Reusable?
- Bottled Water Alternatives
- Carbon Offsets – Air Travel
- Green Travel – Aboard the Amtrak Coast Starlight Train
- Green Travel – Airport Water Bottle Empty and Refill Stations
- Green Travel – Take the Train
- Not So Green Vacation
- Paper Towels – Green Alternatives
- Take a Green Vacation – Go Camping
- You Can Live Without Single-Use Plastic Bags – Here’s How