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Because you can't spend all day every day journeying around IgoUgo, editors round up the highlights: members' notable trips, newest reviews, favorite destinations, contests, and more. Have a question or idea? Let us know!

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How to Plan a Green Vacation

How to Plan a Green Vacation Photo

Photo by SeenThat

Posted on August 18, 2008 in Travel Tips

For many IgoUgo members, planning an eco-friendly vacation is an easy trade: in return for the local color they enjoy, they leave behind a trail of green by minimizing their environmental impact with simple steps. Here’s how they go (away) green with just a few guidelines, including, "if all other work is done, cuddle with the monkeys."

They choose easy-being-green destinations
While you can adopt green-travel habits anywhere, certain destinations pioneered ways to allow visitors to cover a lot of ground without blazing a trail of carbon footprints. Being eco-conscious in places like Copenhagen and Portland means living like a local, and with handy bike-rental stations and a grab bag of environmentally aware hotels, traveling green in such cities requires very little advance planning.

“Copenhagen offers a taste of the old, the new, the exciting, and the unusual,” says Scubabartek, making “this eco-friendly gateway to Scandinavia a wonderful place to visit.” He says that the compact Danish capital is “best explored on foot or by bicycle” but that “public transportation is absolutely first-rate.”

Green is practically synonymous with Portland, according to IgoUgo members who label it “green, green and clean, clean” and praise its “parks, gardens, and other green space,” especially the many “undeveloped places meant for viewing (and preserving) wildlife and nature.” A favorite place to stay is the eco-committed Hotel Monaco Portland; when it’s time to head out, visitors hop on what Portland fan Migin calls a “fantastic mass-transit system.”

But you don’t have to stick to cityscapes to support an environmentally conscious locale; many tropical destinations are naturally suited to go green, perhaps none more than St. John, where two-thirds of the island constitutes a US national park. “Nowhere else in the Caribbean, and perhaps the entire world, has tourism been kept in such harmony with nature like has been accomplished at Maho Bay Camps on St. John,” says Jose Kevo. This embrace of nature is not unusual on the US Virgin Island, where at Maho’s Concordia Eco-Tents, Kevo says, “visitors are encouraged to throw food scraps and biodegradable waste off the decks for the volunteer maintenance crew, a variety of crabs who faithfully patrol the hillside.”

They book eco-friendly accommodations
No matter where you’re headed, chances are you can find an environmentally concerned (or even certified) hotel where you’ll sleep well knowing your dollars have been spent responsibly. From the most luxurious digs (à la San Francisco’s Hotel Triton) to budget-friendly options (eco-hostels like the Grampians YHA in Victoria, Australia, are IgoUgo favorites), hotels around the world are catering to guests’ desires to tread lightly. So whether your classic taste calls for a lodge or your modern sensibilities gravitate toward the unusual, IgoUgo members can lead you to a home-away-from-home featuring solar panels, local materials, low-flow water features, and more. In the Philippines, for example, writeonthespot espouses the Enigmata Treehouse Ecolodge as an "advocate for environmental and cultural awareness and consciousness" that is simultaneously "affordable" and "unique."

They get around responsibly
Oregonian ecubedwa drives a Prius to his scenic destinations; Chicagoan jemery has been “carless since 1984.” IgoUgo members rise to the El, take the S-Bahn to pick up bicycles, and tip us off to where public transportation is free for visitors. They’ve boarded vaporetti, seen the sights from city buses, and hopped on many a metro. In addition to cutting down on gas emissions, travelers say that some mass-transit systems offer “stunning views” (Prague) and others are “not as dirty or dangerous or confusing as you've heard” (New York). Committed Californian onesundaymorning even joins other commuters and visitors on efficient public transportation in Los Angeles.

They engage in sustainable tourism
Choosing tour organizers and activities with environmentally responsible practices has become second nature to many travelers—and can make a tough decision a no-brainer. A commitment to sustainability helped lcampbell choose a snorkeling boat on Maui: “There are multiple companies offering snorkeling trips to Molokini Crater, but I chose to go with Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) because it is a non-profit organization with all profits going to whale research, environmental education, conservation efforts, and political lobbying. Also, PWF uses eco-friendly fuel (100% recycled vegetable oil) in their boats. All of the staff have bachelor or master degrees, are trained in rescue, and are certified naturalists.”

MiriamMannak recommends visiting Edith Stevens Wetland Park in Cape Town not only because it's “a true oasis in the middle of the Cape Flats,” but because it “plays a key role in environmental education in the townships, along with social development and job creation.” And England’s major environmental must-see is the Eden Project, a charity-run complex of biomes—including the world’s biggest greenhouse—that serves as “an awakening and an education in the important environmental issues that shape our daily lives and our future,” in the words of travelwisdom. Plus, Cornwall’s global garden is a great place to escape the country’s famous fog.

They eat locally
Since eating and shopping locally are the primary aims of many travelers, supporting local growers and artisans is one of the easiest ways to travel responsibly. In Vancouver, sararevell snacked at Capers, “one of those lovely supermarkets that makes you feel like you’re saving the world just by shopping there.” And in her first month living in Washington, D.C., kwasiak paid admittance in non-perishable food to attend the Green Festival, where she tried a food court’s worth of local, natural foods. In addition to being the perfect places to grab a bite or a souvenir, local markets are a window into local food culture—even when the goods are (delightfully) fishy.

They add on a volunteer day
Leaving your destination better than you found it is as easy as adding one day to your trip to volunteer in a realm that appeals to you. Outdoors fanatic (and wildland firefighter!) lcampbell was on a monthlong journey in Guatemala when she found the ARCAS facility for animal rescue, which accepts volunteers for weeklong stays: “The sign said, ‘If all other work is done, cuddle with the monkeys.’ Having seen the adorable, attention-starved monkeys earlier in the day, the sign was just tempting me to sign up as a volunteer.” Closer to home, turf2 recommends volunteering at the Arkansas Heifer International Ranch.

Of course, if you have the time, dedicating an extended stay to improving a place is tremendously rewarding. Just ask our travel hero Norman, who trekked to the Pantanal in Brazil and Cape Town, South Africa, to volunteer for Earthwatch projects. Golem, meanwhile, swapped “suits and commutes for conservation work” in Madagascar’s Ankarafantsika National Park. And these are but two of the many inspiring people traveling for good.

They learn new things
Many IgoUgoers, especially those with children, make education a part of their vacation by visiting attractions that give them some environmental knowledge to take home. ARAMISmartinez took her family to Boca Raton’s Gumbo Limbo Nature Center (it’s as fun as it sounds), a complex dedicated to increasing public awareness of coastal and marine ecosystems. Her daughter found learning here “exciting” and she lauds the center for providing “a great experience for the whole family.”

Hal1026 was touched by the Little Cayman Research Center in the Cayman Islands, which he calls “a must-see while you're in this small part of the world, not only for divers and marine enthusiasts, but for anyone committed to environmentally friendly travel.” You can limit your visit to land, or, if you’re a certified diver, you can sign up for the DWAR program to dive with a researcher. All you need, says Hal, is “the curiosity to live like a scientist for a week.”

Many similar—and perhaps less difficult—opportunities are available around the world, with each offering a lesson unique to its destination, from a nene-goose refuge in Hawaii to a giraffe center in Kenya to educational hikes in Pennsylvania. Proceeds from these attractions generally benefit local preservation projects, but visitors reap rewards, too; vc81 says that the Langatta Giraffe Center, for example, is “not just a superficial animal petting center,” but that “every visitor, whether environmentally minded or not, will gain a valuable experience here.” And isn't that, after all, why we travel?

In what ways—small or large—do you minimize your environmental impact while traveling? Log in or register to join the discussion on our newest Forum: Green Travel.

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