Greening Your Vacation – 5 Easy Ways to Do It

Earth is the only place we have to vacation so let’s take care of it.

If you could make your vacation more eco-friendly without a lot of hassle and little or no expense, would you be willing to you try a green vacation idea or two?

Does that first line have you thinking something along the lines of, “Get real? Vacation is about having fun and indulging yourself. When I am on vacation, I do not want to worry about the environment.”

That was the reaction of my family dinner table editorial board when I broached the idea of writing a post about greening your vacation. They emphatically stated that vacation is about getting away from it all, splurging, and just enjoying yourself.

Bravely, I countered with you can do all that and do something to green your vacation. They sighed. Clearly, I was not getting the point that no one wants to think about the environment on vacation.

Actually, I do get it, but rather than being deterred, I decided to challenge myself to present you with five easy and low or no cost ideas and attempt to convince you that you can do at least one these without decreasing your enjoyment or making you feel deprived on your vacation.

Vacation and the Environment

You do not need me to tell you that we all live on a big sphere where global warming, climate change, and pollution do not stop at state or country boundaries but I feel it is worth repeating so we are on the same page.

In part, a healthy environment is what makes a vacation destination a place you want to visit. Envision your favorite vacation spot disappearing under the ocean forever, vaporizing in the flames of a mega-fire, or devastated by an unending drought. Imagine a place you have been longing to visit so damaged or polluted that you no longer want to go there and even if you did, it would not be safe.

We each have a responsibility to live more lightly on Earth safeguarding not only the communities where we live and work but also the places we go to relax, refresh, and live it up for a short time before going back to our daily lives.

The number one thing you can do to green your vacation is to avoid air travel.

That said I realize that millions of people choose to fly to and from their vacation destinations for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, regardless of your travel method, making some part of your vacation more environmentally friendly is within your power.

If millions of vacationers, including you and me, did just one thing, we could collectively make a sizable positive impact. Every drop in a bucket does indeed fill it up.

Reusable Water Bottle

On your next vacation, bring your own reusable water bottle and keep it filled. Make a point of drinking fewer bottles of water that come packaged in single-use plastic bottles or aluminum cans or better yet skip it altogether.

Besides the negative environmental and social impact of bottled water, dealing with billions of single-use plastic bottles discarded in the trash, placed in recycle bins, and tossed on the ground is a challenging and costly problem for tourist towns, national parks, beaches, amusement parks, and transportation hubs.

So much so, that municipalities, recreational areas, and airports are increasingly installing drinking fountains and water bottle refilling stations in an effort to reduce their costs. This is good for you because it makes it easier for you to refill your bottle when you are out and about.

I travel with two or three reusable BPA-free 24-ounce plastic reusable water bottles and one bottle carrier with a strap.

Three Reusable Water Bottles with a Bottle Carrier

You can buy a good quality reusable water bottle that will last indefinitely for $15-$25. Many organizations and non-profits offer reusable water bottles emblazoned with their logos for less than $10 or even free (it is good marketing for them).

Reusable Shopping Bag

A simple way to green your vacation is to stash a compact reusable shopping bag in your pocket, purse, daypack, tote bag, or rental car and then hand it to the store clerk before he or she puts the souvenir coffee mug or the makings for a picnic lunch you just bought into a disposable bag.

Unfortunately, single-use plastic bags are ubiquitous and like single-use plastic bottles, they have a large environmental footprint and generate tons of waste. Because they are lightweight, plastic bags tend to fly all over the place getting stuck on fences and trees, clogging storm drains, and ending up inside unsuspecting animals.

I travel with two or three reusable bags that roll up.

Three Roll Up Reusable Shopping Bags

You can buy a good quality and attractive reusable shopping bag for about the same price as a reusable water bottle and sometimes organizations give them away.

Provisions and Packaging

Another easy way to reduce the carbon footprint of your vacation is to cut down on using throwaway packaging.

For instance, you can be green and forgo the exorbitant prices you often find at travel departure locations like airports, train depots, and bus stations by taking food with you such as nuts and raisins, pretzels, chocolate chips cookies, a sandwich, or a salad in a reusable bag or container.

Another eco-friendly practice is to eat at least some meals in restaurants with reusable flatware, dishes, and glassware. This requires no effort on your part other than selecting a restaurant.

If you are staying in a vacation rental with any sort of a kitchen, consider making some of your own meals. Breakfast is a good choice because it is a relatively simple meal to make and you are fresh in the morning. Give yourself extra green credit for packing up snacks or lunch for the day.

Just say no thank to excess packaging. You do not need a little, waxed paper bag for the raspberry truffle you are going to eat as soon as you leave the candy store. Nor do you need a paper bag to carry one sandwich and a bag of chips on your way back to the beach for lunch.

Travel-Size Toiletries

Bringing your own toiletries from home either in full-size original containers or in travel-size reusable containers is easy and cuts down on waste. Another benefit is that if you have sensitive skin (like me), you can avoid potential allergies and rashes from using unfamiliar products.

Those tiny plastic bottles of shampoo and lotion have a similar environmental impact to single-use water bottles and plastic bags.

I travel with small reusable containers filled with my usual 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, shower soap, lotion, and bar soap.

Four Reusable Travel-Size Toiletry Containers

You do not want toiletries leaking in your luggage so look closely at the containers before you buy them. An alternative is to buy travel-size containers of the toiletries you usually use and then refill them for future trips.

Shopping and Souvenirs

Buying souvenirs and shopping are an important part of the overall vacation experience for some people (including me) so this is probably a touchy subject. However, minimizing or eliminating shopping and buying souvenirs can free up your time for more sightseeing and other fun activities while decreasing your vacation carbon footprint.

To help you evaluate your vacation shopping habits and potential willingness to change them consider asking yourself the ten questions I raised in the post entitled Greening Your Vacation – Souvenirs and Shopping. I wrote this post past last year when I was grappling with own vacation shopping habits and trying to establish a balance for myself between buying nothing and buying too much.

Setting some limits on shopping before you leave home does not preclude you from being spontaneous or indulging yourself on vacation.

In September, I am going on vacation with friends to Omaha, Nebraska traveling by train from my home on the Central California Coast. I intend to implement my revised vacation souvenir and shopping philosophy on this trip.

After reading this post and thinking about it, I hope you can see yourself enjoying and greening your next vacation.

Featured Image at Top: Tiny Green Suitcase and Luggage Tag Made to Look like Plants on a Wood Background – Photo Credit iStock/Petmal

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Greening Your Vacation – Souvenirs and Shopping

We cannot shop our way to a sustainable world.

Free up your time for actual vacationing and reduce your environmental footprint by greening your souvenir and vacation shopping habits.

If you are like most people, you probably have between two to four weeks to go on vacation each year. That is not a lot of time for connecting with your family and friends, seeing new sights, revisiting favorite places, relaxing, and refreshing your spirit.

So, why would you or I spend our vacation time shopping?

I posit that consumerism is so entrenched in our society that we will use our limited and precious vacation time for shopping without really thinking about it.

Nowadays, even rural areas and national parks have gift shops and visitor centers so we can shop even while we are “getting away from it all.”

Besides using up our vacation time, buying at the American or Western level is using up the planet’s resources at a faster clip than Earth can renew them while wreaking environmental havoc on people and other living things.

After a recent trip to Oregon with two long-time friends, I decided to evaluate my souvenir and vacation shopping on that trip. Below is a synopsis of my findings. At the end of the post, you will have an opportunity to evaluate your own souvenir and vacation shopping habits.

My Souvenir and Vacation Shopping Evaluation

Interestingly, at least to me, it was non-souvenir shopping that tripped me up the most.

Souvenirs

Souvenirs Bought on Vacation

My ideal souvenir is a refrigerator magnet so I was on the lookout for one with a quilt on it at the Sisters outdoor quilt show. I did not find one, but I did spot and buy a lovely quilted postcard donated by a quilter for a Sisters High School scholarship fundraiser.

I found my souvenir refrigerator magnet in the Crater Lake National Park visitor center. It has a beautiful photo of the deep blue almost purple colored Crater Lake. Showing some restraint, I did not buy a Christmas tree ornament, jigsaw puzzle (I love puzzles), coffee mug, a book about Crater Lake, or a hat I eyed for a while as I stood in the checkout line.

Near the end of our trip, while we were walking through a Chinese garden in Portland, we came across a young woman playing a Chinese zither. Her music was captivating. I saw she had CD’s for sale and I snapped one up.

Lavender Farm

On a sweltering day in the upper 80s, my friends and I decided to visit a lavender farm. The couple who own the farm shared their knowledge about lavender freely and offered us ice-cold lemonade and melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies.

I was not interested in buying a lavender item in their small store, but I felt obligated somehow to buy something from these delightful people. Also influencing me was my desire to support small and local businesses. Why did I feel that just thanking them as we were leaving would be inadequate?

In the end, I purchased a small metal tin of tea with lavender justifying to myself that it was consumable.

Metal Tin with Tea and Lavender Bought on VacationThis is just one example of the millions of purchase transactions occurring at any given moment where the buyer does not really want and/or need the item but is purchasing it out of a sense of obligation either to the seller or to a person they intend to give it to.

Sigh.

Quilting, Book, and Cross-Stitch Stores

One of my friends is a quilter and the three of us like reading and cross-stitching so we often build browsing at quilting, book, and cross-stitch stores into our vacation plans.

In the two quilting stores we visited, I admired the fabrics, tools, and sample quilts with no desire to buy anything, whew.

I pulled these 14 books from my bookcase to represent the books I bought on vacation that got lost in transit.
I pulled these 14 books from my bookcase to represent the books I bought on vacation.

Unfortunately, I began a book-buying binge in Sisters with the purchase of a used book at a library sale and a new book signed by a local author who was signing copies of her books in a bookstore. I purchased four used books in Corvallis and eight more in Portland.

Fourteen books would not fit in my luggage so I mailed them to myself from a post office in Eugene before I boarded the train to come home. (The books never made it and seem to have disappeared at the Seattle distribution center.)

I am a book lover so by not establishing a self-imposed limit on book purchases up front and then visiting multiple bookstores, I unintentionally set myself up for excessive book buying.

We visited two cross-stitch stores during our trip where I bought materials for two projects and a few embellishments (I could not resist the happy face buttons).

Materials forTwo Cross-Stitch Projects Bought on VacationThe weird thing is that I actually prefer finishing one cross-stitch project before buying materials and starting a new one. So, how did I end up with more projects? I think it was partly because, again, the store owners were friendly, helpful, and small business owners.

Another and more interesting factor is that many cross-stitch enthusiasts, including my two friends, routinely have multiple projects going at the same time so even though no one told me I am a loser for doing one project at I time, I allowed this to influence me and purchased supplies for projects I am not ready to start yet.

Hmmm.

Update: Months later, I decided to mail the excess cross-stitch project materials back to the store with a note telling the owner I did not want a refund and I would appreciate it if she would give them to a cross-stitch enthusiast on a tight budget, which she did.

The Bottom Line

Evaluating my purchases and thinking about why I made them was an eye-opening experience. The bottom line for me is that as a person trying to live happily with fewer possessions, I sure bought a lot of stuff on my vacation.

Consumerism is a powerful force that is difficult to overcome, even for a committed environmentalist like me.

Humans excel at justifying our actions and I even wrote a whole paragraph justifying my purchases, like how I was planning on donating the books to the library after I read them. I later deleted that paragraph. The thing is regardless of how much pleasure you or I might take in the stuff we buy on vacation (or any other time), we cannot shop our way to a sustainable world. Changing our relationship with stuff and shopping less is critical to maintaining a habitable planet now and in the future.

Prior to my next vacation, I intend to set shopping limits for myself before I even leave my house.

Now, it is your turn to evaluate your souvenir and vacation shopping habits.

Evaluate Your Souvenir and Vacation Shopping Habits

Take a moment to think back over your most recent vacation and ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What did you buy for yourself and why?
  2. Did you buy gifts for people back home and if so what and why?
  3. Was most of your shopping for souvenirs or non-souvenirs (e.g. art, books, wine)?
  4. How much time did you spend shopping?
  5. Did you spend more money than you felt comfortable spending?
  6. Are you wearing, using, or otherwise enjoying the items you bought?
  7. Which items, if any, ended up in the trash, back of a closet, or in a charity box?
  8. Did you eat and drink the edible products you purchased and brought home?
  9. Were your traveling companions enthusiastic about shopping?
  10. What actions, if any, do you plan to take to curtail souvenir and vacation shopping on your next trip?

Now, imagine spending your next vacation actually vacationing.

Featured Image at Top: Souvenir Store in New York, NY with an ATM Sign next to a Replica of the Statue of Liberty (hmmm) – Photo Credit iStock/anouchka

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