Mar. 16, 2008— -- Assuming your vacation is more than just a hike, you're going to be making a carbon footprint.
That doesn't mean you should skip your next trip though. In fact, most environmentalists agree that traveling helps raise crucial awareness and appreciation of the earth.
Whether you love to drive your Hummer, or you're happy to pedal your bike, take these simple eco-friendly tips to change your habits while on the go.
All transportation requires the combustion of fuel, so the greenest thing you can do is use public transport. When possible, take the train or bus instead of flying. If you're driving, try to get as many people in the car as possible, instead of taking multiple vehicles.
If you have to fly, book direct.
"Taking off and landing requires a tremendous amount of fuel, so flying direct is greener than making stop-overs," explained TreeHugger and PlanetGreen.com editor, Meaghan O'Neill.
Before you leave the house, be sure to adjust your heating and cooling systems. Unplug all of your appliances and chargers.
O'Neill warned that many electronics, even while on standby, still use a huge amount of so-called vampire energy. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that vampire energy waste accounts for five percent of total electronic consumption in the United States.
Anything that recharges will continue to suck power out of the walls after they're charged. Plasma TV's, microwaves and chargers are the biggest culprits.
Travel-size packages might seem quick and convenient, but all that extra packaging takes a heavy toll on the environment. O'Neill recommends filling re-usable containers with the products you need instead of buying additional sundries.
Take a water bottle with you. It's difficult to find a recycling option when you're on the go. And besides, plastic does not biodegrade. If and whenever possible, take your re-usable version with you. Many models even have a handy carry strap too!
Travel light and take only what you need. This will make it easier to take public transportation and get around. Hopefully, there will even be room left over to bring home souvenirs, which are an important contribution to local economies.
Regardless of where you go, choose environmentally-friendly accommodations. New green hotels and resorts, from the bare bones to eco-luxury, are rapidly popping up around the world. Check out the "Green" Hotels Association for more ideas.
Seek out destinations that practice geo-tourism. Geo-tourism, according to National Geographic, is "tourism that sustains or enhances the distinctive geographical character of a place -- its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture, and the well-being of its residents." So far National Geographic's Center for Sustainable Destinations has already signed geo-tourism charters with Honduras, Norway, Romania, the Cook Islands, Arizona, Rhode Island, Montreal, Guatemala and Senora, Mexico, and is busily signing up more.
The Center for Sustainable Tourism also offers environmental scorecards. Click here how to find out how your next vacation spot ranks.
Bennett also encouraged travelers to "re-invest" in locations and avoid "drive-by tourism."
"Slow down and invest in a single destination," he said. Rather than spending two days in three different cities, choose one stop and experience it more fully.
"Don't check you green habits when you check in," O'Neill said. Just because you might be staying in a hotel, you still need to remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room, turn off the air conditioning and not waste food.
Once you're there, walk instead of hiring a car. Check if your hotel has a shuttle or try public transportation. If you have to rent, ask for a hybrid. O'Neill also recommended Zipcar.
Reuse your towels and sheets whenever possible.
"Hotels use a huge amount of energy for laundry," explained green blogger Olivia Zaleski.
She also recommended letting your hotel know you're grateful they offer greener service and encouraging those places that don't yet have a re-use option to adopt one.
Think about your impact once you get there.
"Try to minimize extractive activities and emphasize ones that help bolster the local culture," said Paul Bennett, a founder of Context Travel, an environmentally conscious travel agency.
For example, eating at a small mom-and-pop establishment is much better for the local economy than going to McDonald's.
Once you're back at home, even if you feel you've treaded lightly, there's still more you can do.
"Offsetting your flight is a quick and easy way to green your trip," Bennett said.
The basic idea is to compensate for your carbon footprint by enabling an equivalent reduction in greenhouse gas by donating a carbon offset coupon. Options range from investing in wind energy to planting trees. Prices range accordingly depending on the scheme.
Though carbon offsetting has its critics, it is still a responsible way to give back. Two well-known organizations that can help guide your donation are ClimateTrust.org and NativeEnergy.com.
Bennett also recommended re-investing in your favorite destinations to ensure their future.
"Look for charities or foundations that invest in the place and medicate the impact of tourism on it," he said. "Make a donation, or volunteer to help on your next trip."
Click here to visit the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Travel.
Click here to visit Context Travel.
Click here to visit Olivia Zaleski's blog on the Huffington Post.
Click here to read more about green lifestyle options in National Geographic's Green Guide.
Click here to learn more about vampire energy waste from the Department of Energy.