1. Choosing a green hotel
There are a number of websites that list environmentally friendly hotels, B&B's and lodges around the world; these are a good place to start. Keep in mind that each site has its own guidelines for rating properties, so you'll want to do your homework to make sure that the hotel meets the standards you're looking for.
A few questions to ask before booking your hotel:
- Is the hotel locally owned and operated? If not, is it at least staffed by local employees?
- What kind of recycling programs does the hotel have (aluminum, plastic, paper, gray water, composting)?
- Do guests have the option to reuse towels and sheets instead of having them changed every day?
- What programs does the hotel have to reduce consumption? Examples include energy-efficient lighting, low-flow toilets and showers, and alternative energy sources like solar or wind power.
- How does the hotel contribute to the local community?
2. During your stay...
Even if you're not spending the night in an ecolodge or green hotel, there are still several easy steps you can take to make your stay more eco-friendly.
- Keep your showers short, and shut off the water while you're brushing your teeth.
- When you leave the room, turn off the air conditioning, heat, television, lights or any other electric devices.
- Reuse your sheets and towels instead of having them changed every day. Many hotels will not replace your towels if you leave them hanging up neatly; if you're not sure, write a note for the housekeeping staff or notify the front desk.
- Bring your own toiletries and drinking cup rather than using the prepackaged ones provided. If you do use the hotel's toiletries, take them with you and use them at home or during the rest of your trip.
- Know your hotel's recycling program and sort your trash accordingly. If your hotel doesn't recycle, consider taking your empty bottles or other items home with you to recycle them there.
- Give your hotel feedback. Express your appreciation for any eco-friendly programs it currently offers — or if it doesn't, encourage the management to go green in the future.
3. Getting around
Transportation — particularly air travel — is where most travelers have the biggest environmental impact. According to USA Today, a flight from New York to Denver produces as much carbon dioxide per passenger as an SUV produces in a month. To minimize your environmental footprint, try the following steps:
- Offset the carbon emission produced by your flight.
- For shorter trips, take the train instead of flying — especially in Europe or other regions where train service is fast and frequent.
- When renting a car, choose the smallest vehicle that can comfortably accommodate you. Decline any "free upgrades" (which will cost you more in gas).
- Rent a hybrid car
- f your personal vehicle is large and not very fuel-efficient, consider renting an economy car instead. You'll save gas and avoid putting miles on your own vehicle.
- Whenever possible, use public transportation instead of a taxis or rental cars. Better yet, walk or bike.
4. Responsible sightseeing
When it comes to visiting the world's most beautiful places, the old adage rings true: Take nothing but photographs, and leave nothing but footprints.
- Travel with a tour operator that's environmentally responsible. Before you book, be sure to ask about group size (smaller groups tend to make less of an environmental impact), whether the tours are led by locals, how the tour operator gives back to the community, and what kind of lodging is included.
- When hiking, always stay on marked trails and maintain a safe distance from any animals you encounter. Deposit your trash in marked receptacles or take it with you when you leave. Light campfires only in established fire rings and be sure they're completely extinguished before you leave.
- When snorkeling, do not touch the coral or stir up sediment, as these actions can damage the reef's fragile ecosystem.
- Try to buy local products whenever possible instead of those that have been flown or shipped in from overseas. You'll support the local economy and get a taste of native cuisine. Do not, however, buy souvenirs or other products made from endangered animals or plants — in most cases you can't get them through Customs anyway.
- Treat the locals with respect. Learn a few words in the native language, be open to cultural differences, and read up on the area before your trip so you're sensitive to issues of dress and behavior.
- Consider taking a volunteer vacaton to give back directly to the place you're visiting.