Treading Lightly: 8 Eco-Conscious Tips for Vacations That Leave Behind Mostly Memories
Some ecotravel destinations, along with ideas on how you can protect the environment while enjoying a relaxing vacation--no matter where you go
FAMILY VOLUNTEERISM: Antigua, Guatemala A one-week family vacation organized by Global Vision International. On this trip, travelers stay in the colonial town of Antigua and travel to local communities to help families build energy-efficient stoves to replace open cooking fires. This decreases smoke inhalation, provides cleaner air, and reduces the deforestation that comes with burning wood. 20 hours of one-on-one Spanish classes are included as well as a half-day adventure such as mountain-biking or climbing or hiking on nearby volcanoes.
Photo courtesy of Global Vision International.
ECO-ADVENTURE: Baja California peninsula, Mexico You can spend four days watching and learning about the California gray whales that gather in the San Ignacio Lagoon on this trip, which involves camping at night. The whales congregate to mate and calve before making the long swim north to their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic Ocean. Recognized as an important breeding ground for young whales, San Ignacio Lagoon stretches 16 miles (25 kilometers) inland, is about five miles (eight kilometers) wide, and is part of the protected El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve. This trip provides an economic lifeline for the local community because the less than 100 lagoon residents depend primarily on whale watching and fishing as their means of support.
Photo courtesy of Discovery Initiatives, Ltd.
SHRINK YOUR TRAVEL "FOOTPRINT" A growing number of travel groups are selling so-called "carbon offsets" designed to compensate for travel-generated emissions by reducing levels of greenhouse gases through a variety of environmental programs. For example,
Expedia offers Flight TerraPass, a $5.99 charge to offset 1,000 pounds (455 kilograms) of carbon dioxide--about the amount emitted from a flight of up to 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers). Your money goes to projects such as capturing the methane from landfills or turning cow waste into fuel in biodigesters. And Continental Airlines launched a program that lets passengers see the carbon footprint of their itinerary and contribute to Sustainable Travel International. STI then distributes funds and partners with several programs, including MyClimate, that create renewable energy in developing countries. For instance MyClimate will[plans to?] set up a program to replace diesel boilers with solar power to heat water in schools in Costa Rica.
(More info about several carbon offset programs at www.carbonoffsets.org) ©istockphoto.com
ECO IN THE CITY For those who want less outdoorsy adventure and more indoor chic, turn to the urban eco-hotel. One example is the
ALT chain of hotels in the Canadian province of Quebec that employ a long list of energy-saving features, including geothermal heating and cooling, energy-efficient lighting, and special water-saving toilets. The site EnvironmentallyFriendlyHotels.com lists and rates eco-hotels around the world by green trees rather than stars, a system determined by how many of 29 criteria, such as use of composting or promotion of green living, they meet. Photo courtesy of ALT Hotels, Groupe Germain. Advertisement
SIX-DAY POLAR BEAR EXPEDITION: Manitoba, Canada Canada's Natural Habitat Adventures takes travelers to the edge of Hudson Bay to witness the world's greatest concentration of polar bears, just outside of Churchill, Manitoba. From the safety of tundra vehicles, scientists from the World Wildlife Fund discuss climate change and polar bear life. Travelers also see Arctic foxes and hares and, at certain times in the year, the northern lights. This is more of an "awareness" of nature trip--where travelers can learn about and see one of the more iconic victims of climate change.
CROSSWATERS ECOLODGE AND SPA: Guangdong Province, China Set in the Nankun Shan Mountain Reserve of southern China is the Middle Kingdom's first eco-lodge. The owners wanted to protect the existing land, but also support the local Keija community. Designed by a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., architect, Hitesh Mehta, and a feng shui master from Hong Kong, Michael Chiang, the 49-room lodge and spa is made of indigenous bamboo, which thrives without the use of pesticides. The boardwalks linking the resorts' buildings are made of railway ties, and roof tiles are recycled from razed buildings. The gardens include lotuses, rice paddies and organic vegetable patches, and the surrounding forest is home to owls, woodpeckers and 175 species of butterflies.
Photo courtesy of Crosswaters Ecolodge & Spa.
RIDE THE RAILS All modes of travel produce carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas causing global warming. So why not choose the least CO
2-intensive path and take a train? It consumes less energy and produces less pollution per passenger-mile than driving, boating, cruising or flying.
Europe launched a biodiesel train in 2007, and Japan’s leading rail company, East Japan Railway, has developed a hybrid train with a combo power plant comprising an electric engine powered by lithium batteries and an improved diesel engine that cuts back on energy and pollution. And Montreal-based Bombardier is testing out a new passenger train in Sweden called the Gröna Tåget, or Green Train, that is outfitted with energy-efficient gadgetry, including a way for the driver to monitor and optimize the traction force. This train is not only very fast (up to 183 miles, or 295 kilometers, per hour) but consumes up to 30 percent less energy than average trains.
Innovation in the U.S. rail industry appears to be missing at present, but that may change soon, because Congress passed a bill in October 2008 authorizing $13 billion in funding to Amtrak over the next five years, to expand services, railroad repair and improve safety features. Photo courtesy of Bombardier.
MAHO BAY AND ESTATE CONCORDIA PRESERVE: Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands The Maho Bay Campground is one of the world's oldest eco-resorts, founded in 1976. Over 100 one-room, wood-and-vinyl tents sit along wooden platforms perched aboveground, set into a hillside next to Virgin Islands National Park. The resort boasts 25 solar-powered tents that contain composting toilets and private showers supplied by collected rainwater. There's no recycling system on the island, so instead of having bottles and paper carted out on boats, the founder created a crafts center called Trash to Treasures. There, staff melts discarded bottles in a propane furnace set at 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit (1,260 degrees Celsius) and turns them into decorative vases and sculptures. Scrap pallet wood from a nearby dump is used to fire a ceramics kiln. And used office paper is mixed with water and laundry lint to make paper for painting or other art. Trash to Treasures generates more than $200,000 in revenue each year from sales to tourists visiting the island, enough to pay the staff and power the facility.
Photo courtesy of Maho Bay Camps Inc. Advertisement Advertisement