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Happy Earth Day: Ten tips for greener travel

April 22, 2012|By Terry Gardner | Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Consider a destination that is bike friendly for greener travel. Amsterdam, for instance, has about twice as many bikes as cars.
Consider a destination that is bike friendly for greener travel. Amsterdam,… (Los Angeles Times )

As Earth Day directs our attention to how to live more gently, here are 10 tips for greener travel, gathered with the help of David Owen, author of the recently released book “The Conundrum,” and with eco-destination operators, hoteliers, travel experts and environmentalists from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

1. Make every trip count. “The environmental key to travel is not how you go, but how much you go and how far you go,” says Owen, whose book is subtitled, “How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency and Good Intentions Can Make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse.” Owen notes that trains aren’t necessarily greener than planes. “People are packed as tightly as possible in a plane, but on a train there’s a lot of space,” he says, adding, “Trains work in Europe because it’s compact.”  

2.  Try to fly nonstop. “Generally speaking, flights with more stops will require more emission intensive takeoffs and landings,” says Anne Banas, executive editor of, a travel resource website.

3.  Consider taking a group trip. “If you choose good companies, they do the work for you of selecting low-impact transportation, lodging, the best local guides and ways to give back to the communities you are visiting," says Marie Uehling, director of National Wildlife Federation Expeditions program. “And traveling as a group usually means a smaller carbon footprint.”

4. “Choose destinations where you can walk, bicycle or take public transit,” Owen says.  And when it comes to the environmental impact of driving, miles are more important than miles per gallon. He recommends the Walk Score website to calculate a destination’s walkability.

5. Chose an eco-friendly hotel, B&B or vacation rental. “Look for hotels and inns with a commitment to being green, though be careful of green washing,” Banas says. “Most truly green hotels will be proud to talk about everything they are doing for the environment, so I recommend calling the hotel before booking and asking a lot of questions.”

Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, Hyatt, Accor, the Palace Hotel San Francisco and Caesars Palace Las Vegas have active green programs to reduce their environmental impact.
Airbnb has created a collection of sustainable vacation rentals

6. Conserve light and energy along with reusing sheets and towels. "Air conditioning, heating and lighting use a lot more energy than washing towels,” says Bob Schildgen, a.k.a. Mr. Green for Sierra magazine. “And turn off the TV if you're not watching it.  The room shouldn't have to be any hotter than 60 or cooler than 78." 

7. Don’t waste water by dawdling in the shower or running the water while brushing your teeth. Talk to the maid or leave a note to ensure that housekeeping is letting you reuse sheets and towels.

8. Refuse bottled water, unless you are staying somewhere that may have unsafe tap water. "The world as a whole spends $50 billion a year on bottled water,” Schildgen says.  “I asked a couple of water experts what it would cost to bring clean water to the whole world.  Two million kids die every year from dirty water.  They said, 'About $50 billion.' What we spend on bottled water could save millions of lives.”

9. Go local, eat what the locals eat and encourage the local economy by hiring local guides. “Be less demanding of having a Western-style meal where they would have to truck things in from a far distance,” Uehling says.
10.  If you're not in a group and don't need a car daily, look for car-sharing options at your destination from Zipcar, Hertz On Demand  and Enterprise, which all offer electric car rentals.  Owen notes that driving an electric car isn’t necessarily greener, because we primarily burn coal to generate electricity in the U.S.

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