Not So Green Vacation

Vacation is a time to leave work behind, rest, relax, have fun, and enjoy time with friends and family. Many vacations involve traveling by airplane, car, or both, staying at hotels or resorts, eating out, and buying souvenirs that soon find their way to a drawer or landfill.

Let’s face it going on vacation is not a green activity. However, being on vacation is not a justifiable excuse for abandoning our daily green habits. Taking our green practices with us helps us maintain them and mitigates (by a tiny amount) our not so green vacations.

Our family recently returned from a 10-day vacation to San Francisco and the Redwood forests of northern California. This post chronicles the green habits we took with us and the challenges of being green on vacation.

Vacation Travel is Not Green

Our sons traveled to our home on the central California coast from their respective college towns via car and airplane so we racked up a sizable carbon footprint before even leaving our driveway.

We embarked on the 1,000 plus mile trip in our 1999 Chevy Tahoe SUV (a gift from my parents when they downsized to one vehicle). The Tahoe is useful for ferrying college kids and gear back and forth, transporting home improvement materials, and carrying people and their stuff on vacation. Unfortunately, it is a gas guzzler.

I bought a carbon offset and made a donation to plant 10 trees. As long as we don’t delude ourselves into believing that buying carbon offsets negates the pollution generated by our modes of vacation travel, I don’t see a downside to contributing to a renewable energy project or planting a few trees.

No Bottled Water Policy

I am opposed to bottled water and have written several posts on the topic. As a precaution against “emergency” bottled water purchases, I filled up several reusable water bottles before we left home and refilled them as needed. We used canteens and reusable water bottles for walking about and hiking.

San Francisco


We chose our San Francisco hotel based on its centralized location (near Union Square) and availability of rooms. The hotel followed typical green practices such as changing sheets and towels every three days, low-flow shower heads and toilets, and in-room recycle bins. Soap, shampoo, and conditioner dispensers were mounted inside the shower. If the hotel had a comprehensive green program in place, it was a well-kept secret as there was no mention of it in the hotel or on their website.

Getting Around

Coit Tower in San Francisco, CaliforniaWe turned our car over to the parking valet at check in and did not use it for the duration of our stay. San Francisco is well known for its steep streets and excellent public transportation system. We walked a lot and took a few cabs during our quest to see the city. The evening we arrived we hiked up the streets from our hotel to Coit Tower. Another evening, after walking to and along the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf we hailed a cab back to the hotel; at least it was a hybrid.

Redwood Forest

We opted for a vacation rental house in Trinidad as our home base for exploring the redwood forests.

Home Cooked Meals Away from Home

At home, my spouse cooks most of our meals. We belong to an organic farm CSA program, shop at the farmer’s market, and strive to buy local and organic food as much as possible. We rarely eat fast food and occasionally go to a sit-down restaurant for dinner.

View from Vacation Rental in Trinidad, CaliforniaWe brought some non-perishable food from home and stopped at a co-op on the way to Trinidad where we bought mostly locally grown and organic food. We used our reusable shopping bags and a cooler to transport groceries to the rental house and take home excess food. We made our meals at the rental house and ate way more snacks and sweets than we usually do.

The rental did not have a composter like we have at home but we did find a recycle bin in the garage so were able to continue our recycling habits on vacation.

Exploring the Redwoods

Redwood Forest in Northern CaliforniaEach day we drove to a different trailhead and hiked 5 to 8 miles along ocean paths, through lush green forests, or among the majestic and fire-scarred redwood trees. There was something magical about the redwood forests and walking among trees that had lived for over a thousand years.

Some days we saw a lot of people on the trail and others only a few. It was heartening to see people of all ages and levels of fitness enjoying being outdoors.

A Dichotomy

One hike involved driving down a dirt road for 7 or 8 miles to reach the trailhead. There was a fairly constant stream of vehicles churning up dust coming and going. The plants and small trees growing next to the road were coated with a layer of brown dust. This was a disturbing sight that stuck with me. I wondered how else the road had impacted the ecology of the area.

Were we wrong to drive through this forest for our own pleasure? Maybe. On the other hand, I believe it’s important for us to visit wild places and see their beauty in person. Perhaps it inspires and moves us to act to protect the redwood forest or our own place on earth. That is a good thing.

Back Home

To me, the best thing about vacation is family togetherness and exploring the history and beauty of our cities, beaches, and mountains. Mission accomplished. We arrived home to find our weekly CSA share of fresh produce sitting on our front porch.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

One thought on “Not So Green Vacation”

  1. Missed your blogs while you were on vacation. Sounds like you had a diversified holiday discovering city wonders and natural beauty among the redwoods. Enjoyed hearing the many ways you maintained your “saving the planet” disipline while away from home. I agree that it is vital for us to get out and about to witness the beauty that surrounds us to that we will continue to take seriously the ways in which each of us can help maintain what we now take for granted. Glad that you arrived safely home.

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