Girl Planting seeds

Green Travel by Julie Kanfer

Safety, responsibility, and fun are three key components of any family vacation. Recently, however, they have started to come in the ever-fashionable shade of green -- green travel, that is. Commonly referred to as “eco-tourism” or “geo-tourism,” this environmentally friendly trend has quietly been weaving its way into hotels, tour packages, and transportation options for the last few years.

“As in so many other industries and aspects of our lives now, in travel anything that has to do with being environmentally friendly and efficient in terms of resources is trendy right now,” said Kate Appleton, online editor for Budget Travel Magazine’s website. “It’s both a marketing blitz and something that people are genuinely feeling.”

Getting to and from a vacation destination can be costly, whether flying in a jumbo jet or taking to the highway- yet what few travelers neither realize nor tend to acknowledge is that these methods of transport are also costly for the environment. Aside from gobbling up gasoline, both cars and airplanes emit carbon dioxide and other harmful gases into the atmosphere.

To help offset this damage, concerned travelers can visit websites like and Both sites offer the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets, which aim to counteract an individual’s “carbon footprint” by planting trees and supporting renewable energy and energy efficient projects.

A survey conducted this past summer by Starwood Hotels and Resorts showed that most people check their eco-friendly habits at the door when they are on vacation, leaving lights on and water running far longer in hotels than they would at home. Yet when the accommodations are inherently green, environmentally responsible behavior can be nearly impossible to avoid.

Green Hotels

“It’s so important to get the guests involved because you give them encouragement,” said Patricia Griffin, who started the Green Hotels Association in 1993. “We’re often asked, ‘How do you know a hotel is green?’ If a hotel is going to market itself as green, the guests are going to hold their feet to the fire.
One way to tell if a hotel is green is by your sense of smell. Carpets in rooms and hallways should not overpower you with fragrance, which may contain hazardous chemicals. Likewise, bathrooms should not smell like ammonia or chlorine. Strong chemicals and fragrances can be especially irritating to those with asthma and other respiratory problems. Of course, The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center offers the award-winning Greening the Cleaning® program and products for the hospitality market. (The Center welcomes referrals, so if you smell something, say something to the management.)

The Environmental Center also partners with the Green Hotels Association which has dedicated itself to searching out environmentally friendly water saving, energy saving and solid waste reducing ideas that apply to the hospitality industry. Involved hotels, which range from small bed and breakfasts to large chains like Best Western and Sheraton, provide cards for guests to indicate whether they’d like to reuse sheets and towels. Other green options include installing devices like a toilet-tank fill diverter, which saves about 3/4 gallon of water per flush; hair and skin care dispensers that offer shampoo and soap at the push of a button; and guest room recycler baskets.

Griffin’s hope is that the responsible behavior they see in hotels will inspire guests to act on their own. “They have to understand the difference that what they do every day is not only going to protect that destination that they’re fortunate enough to visit for a few days, but also their own community,” she said.

The practice of planning vacation activities that focus on sustainability and nature, also called “responsible” or “zero-impact” travel, is becoming much more prevalent; in fact, Lonely Planet, one of the world’s leading travel guides, recently published an edition called “Volunteer: A Traveler’s Guide to Making a Difference Around the World.” This version of travel encourages contribution to social and economic development by purchasing local goods, helping to preserve natural environments through volunteer efforts, and taking the time to learn about particular customs and traditions.

“People are looking at travel in a whole new way,” Appleton said. “It’s really a time for education and thinking about how your travel impacts the environment and the community as well.”

According to, some of the more popular “green” vacation activities include trekking through the dense jungles of Palau, and “conserv-acations” in Costa Rica, which include trips to volcanoes, waterfalls, and remote villages. Stateside, tour operators like O.A.R.S. (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists) run professional, “leave no trace” trips on the Colorado River and elsewhere, emphasizing their commitment to lessening human impact on the environment. They also actively support various organizations devoted to environmental causes.

So while the summer travel season may be coming to a close, it’s never to soon to think about an off-season trip somewhere “green” or to plan an eco-friendly vacation for the upcoming holiday season, which, like the green travel boom itself, will be here before you know it.


Julie Kanfer is the New York Supervisor for the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer and manages all of the charity’s contributions. She is also the former Associate Producer for the "Imus in the Morning" program. Julie lives in Greenwich Village and is working toward her Master's degree in Journalism at Columbia University. She frequently argues with people about the importance of conservation, is nauseated by the sight of SUVs, and recycles avidly.


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