You know the routine. Plastics and glass and other recyclables into the blue bin. Remembering the shopping bag for the grocery store. Taking your refillable water bottle to work so you don’t have to buy H2O in plastic.

It’s the everyday thing, right? That’s why they call it routine.

But then one day, blessedly, there comes that icing on the cake, cherry on the sundae, pearl in your oyster. Vacation time! When life is suddenly an upbeat commercial … happy soundtrack, no worries, freedom.

And for too many of us, it also becomes a what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas kind of moment. The bets are off, the rules are for breaking. The routine is for forgetting.

But hey, you, up in the clouds. Stop and think for a sec. Are you the eco hero at home who behaves like an eco villain on the road?

You don’t bother to recycle...You don’t think twice about grabbing that bottled water in the hotel mini-fridge...You don’t care about switching off the lights when you leave the hotel room...You don’t worry where your food comes from or what chemicals are on it...You don’t even think about walking, biking, or riding the bus instead of putting the pedal to the metal on that rented convertible?

Hmmm. Consider this, then, from a recent New York Times article: “For many people reading this, air travel is their most serious environmental sin. One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10. So if you take five long flights a year, they may well account for three-quarters of the emissions you create.”

Get that? If you’re taking an “eco-less” holiday, not only are you not contributing to the environmental health of your vacation destination, but you’ve also made some serious carbon footprints just to get there—especially if you arrived by plane.

Instead, here’s how to do it: If you must fly, choose a direct air flight if you can. These spew less carbon into the atmosphere than flights with stopovers (it’s not just the extra flying miles—takeoff is the most fuel-intensive segment of any flight). Take longer (and fewer) vacations instead of short getaways to reduce air travel. Offset the carbon emissions your trip creates with a reputable carbon offsetter (There are tons of offset programs out there, and they can be difficult to sort out. We say let someone else do that. Sierra Club, for instance, endorses Native Energy.) Find green lodging and green restaurants (our Green Traveler Guides is great for that) and, if you must rent a car, consider a hybrid or super-fuel-efficient model. Pack your own organic toiletries in reusable containers to take home again, and take that refillable water bottle and a green shopping bag or day pack to carry your stuff and purchases.

In other words, be the eco hero that’s the real you. And then, wherever you are, vote with your dollars to support the good guys and gals whose businesses are also doing the right things.

After all, going green is not a punishment. It doesn’t take away from your good times. Think of it instead as a fun vacation challenge—one that pays off by helping you, and all those around you, thrive in a healthier, cleaner space.

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About The Author

Gary Diedrichs's picture

Gary Diedrichs is publisher/editorial director of, which sleuths out and reviews the world’s best green travel experiences. He’s authored guides to Hawaii and Jamaica for Fodor’s and Bantam Books, and is a former magazine editor and a novelist. His fondest childhood memories are of waking up to morning chores on his grandparents’ “organic” (before we knew what that meant) farm in Ohio. His fondest more recent memory is meeting his future wife, Peggy, who now shares the publisher role on their website.

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