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Traveling on an Environmental Budget

2008 August 19

About the author: Viccy Salazar joined EPA in 1995. She works in our Seattle office on waste reduction, resource conservation and stewardship issues.

It is summer. I want to take my family on vacation but given all the focus on climate change, I am very concerned about how my travel plans might impact the environment. So, I sit down with my family and ask them – what do you want to do on vacation and how can me make it “green”? Of course, the first question was – what is a green vacation? Here is the list we came up with:

  • It is fun and we can all be together
  • Minimizes traveling
    • Car is better than airplane
    • Biking or Walking is better than car
  • Can cook for ourselves using fresh ingredients
  • Doesn’t damage existing natural resources
  • Can stay in either a tent, a friends house or one room together
  • Measure our carbon emissions and offset them

My kids wanted to know if this ruled out Disneyland. Not completely but it did make it harder to go. We would have to make choices about how we would get there, where we would stay, what we would buy while we were there and how we could offset our emissions.

Other trips we considered were camping at a lake, a train trip across Canada, the beach and a staycation – staying home and touring our own city, Seattle. Eventually, we decided to do a combination of camping, the beach and a staycation. When the kids looked at both the environmental and financial costs of all of the choices, they realized that they were getting more vacation for their resources if they stayed closer to home and chose less high profile activities. We decided to use some of the resources on EPA’s website to figure out exactly how much impact our vacations did have – tracking mileage, evaluating hotel stays, and figuring out how much we can recycle.

When I look back on the conversation, I realize that I learned lessons too. 1) being green means making substantially different choices – not just figuring out how to do the same thing using less, 2) my kids care about the environment and see it directly affecting their future and 3) it can be done but it isn’t easy. We are off on our vacations and staycations next week. I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are all having both a fun and green summer too. I’d love to hear how you are making your vacation green.

The Sierra Club has a more detailed comparison of cars vs. planes.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

47 Responses leave one →
  1. ken nyoto permalink
    September 15, 2008

    Read your articles, i like your idea to have a theme family vacation.
    aha.. i will do like what you did on my next vacation. Thanks for the idea. Lucky to browse and find your article. Have a nice day.
    BTW you can stop by at my traveling blog and write article like this over there.

  2. manuel permalink
    October 4, 2008

    nice article. lets say to our kids “save the planet” with “green vacation” :)

    manuel

  3. Caleb permalink
    October 9, 2008

    Good points about green vacations. However, beyond transportation, I can see the difficulty in assessing the carbon footprint of a family vacation even semi-accurately. There are a lot of variables involved that may be confusing for the average family.

    I am a big fan of the camping vacation, as I believe it is not only a perfect example of a “green” vacation, it’s a way to for people to become more aware of environmental issues, including the need for wilderness protection. However, even camping can have environmental issues you wouldn’t expect. I happen to blog about hiking and backpacking, and as someone who is experienced in those types of recreation, I’ve become familiar with Leave No Trace ethics. Many serious backpackers do not build campfires unless a fire is required in an emergency situation. All the same, most of us will admit there’s nothing lovelier that staring at a campfire on a fall evening in the wilderness. Of course, campfires are perfectly acceptable in established campsites (unless the wildfire danger is high). But a campfire, over the course of a camping trip, may unleash the equivalent pollution of a 200-mile car trip.

    One more thought. You have mentioned the choice between cars and planes. What happened to rail? I think it’s unfortunate that our passenger rail system is so inadequate for most vacationers in the US. This ought to be changed. I think it’s going to require the commitment of government at all levels to make that change and build a modern passenger rail system for the US. I lived in Germany for a time, and was impressed with their rail system. A family in Stuttgart can take a high-speed train and in a few hours be at the seaside, and a family in Berlin can take a high-speed train and in a few hours be in the Black Forest. Their trains are very eco-friendly, most running on a combination of overhead electricity and diesel. Granted, we have distances far more vast than densely populated European countries, but we have the potential to make all travel – not just vacations – greener by improving our passenger rail system.

  4. ipank permalink
    October 23, 2008

    Great share…I love your opinion…

  5. Glen Malloy permalink
    November 14, 2008

    An excellent point. Given the state of the economy right now combined with what are sure to be soaring oil barrel prices in the future, we need to move away from fossil fuels and pay close attention to our carbon footprint. While a potential innovation to help us move away is still in all likelihood far away, these are the ideas we need to start considering in preparation. There are many alternate forms of transportation to daily driving, and they are only going to get more and more efficient as interest increases.

    In the meantime, efforts must be made to get remaining fossil fuel based vehicles off the road for good. A very socially efficient way of doing this is donating vehicles to charity to be sold at auction for scrap materials. The proceeds go to a good cause, the donor gets a tax deduction, and the environment is better off for having one less car on the road. Here are some good basic starting pointers on how to donate your car to charity

  6. grand van donk permalink
    November 15, 2008

    great share for travel holics
    budget is the main problem when talks traveling but when we can arrange it we can go anywhere as we want.

  7. Nick permalink
    December 13, 2008

    Everyone knows there are things they should–and shouldn’t–do to help the environment. Even so, most people aren’t going to completely avoid planes as a way of reducing greenhouse gases. I love nature

  8. Nemanja permalink
    December 14, 2008

    Hi,

    I didn’t think about green travel and vacation at all. Must say that when you consider how many people are traveling every day and how many fuel are burned day by day then you can find it very disturbing.

    But I can’t imagine that one would travel 5 days by car or 2 hours by plane people don’t have much time these days on their hands, so I think this is the main factor.

    take care :-)

    Nemanja

  9. simon paul permalink
    January 30, 2009

    Might I suggest for a trip off the beaten path you can take along a camping toilet. The one I got is a piston flush type and uses biodegradable solutions. When you are out in the sticks it is a blessing trust me.

  10. Richardson permalink
    February 5, 2009

    However, even camping can have environmental issues you wouldn’t expect. I happen to blog about hiking and backpacking, and as someone who is experienced in those types of recreation, I’ve become familiar with Leave No Trace ethics

  11. jack permalink
    March 24, 2009

    that good article and good option to travel with our kids.

  12. James D permalink
    March 25, 2009

    its summer and time to traveling. But in the crisis like now i know that budget is the main problem. Lots of people cancel their plans because of budget problem

  13. Kayla permalink
    May 5, 2009

    I don’t think that anyone is going to be impressed with any “environment- friendly” ways to have fun with the family. I do think that it is a lot more efficent than ‘muddin’ in a desil truck.

    Camping is an experience in itself.

  14. Jack Daniel permalink
    May 8, 2009

    great article. this great for a budget trip that needed in this economy. we should the some time to relaxing our body, mind and spirit. travelling indeed can fulfill this.

  15. Ethan Michael permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Nice articles for family vacation idea. Finally I found article with same interest with mine. Lucky to find this article. Have a nice day.

  16. Kusuma permalink
    July 1, 2009

    Right now in my country it is a holiday for children and my child ask me to vacation and after I read your article I got the idea to setting their vacation and it will be vacation dreaming for them

  17. John permalink
    July 4, 2009

    For me, work hard and play hard. Vacation is a must. setool

  18. gadis permalink
    July 11, 2009

    I spend vacation with my family, like play games or listen to ringtones

  19. Belajar SEO Para Pemula permalink
    July 21, 2009

    i like your idea to have a theme family vacation.
    aha.. i will do like what you did on my next vacation. :D

  20. helen permalink
    July 27, 2009

    have never used to travel with kids before, but now decided to try it. just read a lot on the topic in the books I found with the help of http://www.picktorrent.com engine or heard the experience of my friends. sounds pretty easy to employ. Thanks so much for the depth and understanding at which you covered the topic. it’s a useful piece of information not only for me but for many others

  21. rif permalink
    July 29, 2009

    good information..
    thanks for information

  22. james permalink
    August 19, 2009

    Good articles. I like travelling, read your articles, i have idea for vacations with my family and gf. I agree with ur word” Car is better than airplane”. Because car is cheap than airplane right ?
    thanks for ur information usefull

  23. Bin Tang permalink
    September 8, 2009

    i like your idea to have a theme family vacation.
    aha.. i will do like what you did on my next vacation. :D

    Nice..thanks for the great share.. :D Regards,

  24. gadis permalink
    September 19, 2009

    I think vacations are for refreshing and fun :)

  25. Euro Trains tickets permalink
    October 20, 2009

    I like to find a good balance on my vacation. This year for the feastive season we are thinking of travelling to Europe the fashionable way. Travel in Europe has been hugely modernized by the introduction of high-speed rail, which has replaced and is preffered to air travel on some major routes.

    CO2 is cut by ten times by rail, however trains carry far many more passengers.

    The United Kingdom has had an underground train tunnel leading to Europe, it was opened over ten years and has recently been improved.

  26. marie loris permalink
    November 19, 2009

    that good article and good option to travel with our kids.

  27. david permalink
    December 4, 2009

    ehm, i like this article. the content is important tour our kids journey.

    regards,

    david

  28. Andy permalink
    December 14, 2009

    Everyone needs to be concerned about climate change and it is good to see all walks of life starting to recognise this topic needs to be highlighted when it comes to travel. UK & Europe trains are the first choice for vacation travellers, business and schools all taking advantage of rail travel and not airline, as it works out much fast to get to the destination city. In Europe rail has been adopted by thousands of travellers and air travel is always going to be in use but we should look to cleaner greener rail routes where possible. Recently Helen Baxendale (star from sitcom Friends ) is the latest celebrities to travel to Europe by train from the UK, making a point of going by rail from London, She and thousands of campaigners from Friends Of The Earth meet in Copenhagen.

  29. Sammy permalink
    December 14, 2009

    That right Helen Baxendale is actually British so not supprising that she would go by train and not flight ! She travelled from St Pancras International she attended a green protest‎.

  30. deepman permalink
    December 16, 2009

    Nice article the content is important to our kids journey.

  31. Safe healthy for life permalink
    December 27, 2009

    Read your articles, i like your idea to have a theme family vacation.
    great article, hmm safe healthy for life i’ll do it in my next vacation

  32. Bruce permalink
    January 16, 2010

    I like your idea to have a theme family vacation.
    Thanks for the idea. Lucky to browse and find your article. Your blog is very awesome

  33. soobash permalink
    March 19, 2010

    Awesome article! Travelling with the kids is a great experience for a vacation and there are very good option of travelling to have a “green” vacation. Budget is the most important thing to consider when travelling. Now if you want to travel to UK a good london hotel is very important for the family and always look for the best deals according to your budget.

  34. cyberkempot permalink
    March 29, 2010

    n Europe rail has been adopted by thousands of travellers and air travel is always going to be in use but we should look to cleaner greener rail routes where possible. Thanks to post.

  35. NegeriAds.Com Solusi Berpromosi permalink
    April 2, 2010

    Everyone knows there are things they should–and shouldn’t–do to help the environment. Even so, most people aren’t going to completely avoid planes as a way of reducing greenhouse gases. I love nature.

  36. aan permalink
    April 11, 2010

    Excellent..
    I like your writing style. You explain me how to save my money in traveling. Thank you very much

  37. Will permalink
    April 13, 2010

    If a campfire during a camping trip can give off the same as a car on a 200mile trip what is the effect a backyard firepits have. they are a growing trend in my town and getting so many of them. on my street i see people on the weekends and weekdays having those things burning and fires very high, if not, more higher and bigger than most campfires would ever be. How do we regulate how big a firepit can be and how often one can burn. will there need to be a fee or licence people will need in the future to have one. Think the money made from getting a permit to have a fire pit every season, kinda like a hunting or fishing permit. would help make funds to build air scrubbers to clean the air or in time new ideas to reduce green house gases.

  38. Stacey Brown permalink
    April 16, 2010

    I am planning also to have a family vacation this coming summer. I was so busy this last few weeks from work, and I noticed that my children seemed to talked with me just like they used to do. Anyways, I should purchase website traffic first so that I can gain money to buy their wants.

  39. http://www.amplifiercars.com permalink
    June 13, 2010

    thank’s for the tips. it’s very helpfull

  40. http://www.amplifiercars.com permalink
    June 13, 2010

    after read it, i have many experience. i really need this tips and thanks for you because you write your tips in here

  41. dyah permalink
    July 7, 2010

    If only I have some time for traveling.. :(
    But I agree with your thought about environmental traveling. I also have concern about environment. You can visit my blog

  42. Argado permalink
    July 26, 2010

    Great for me…
    i not have a big budget for travel

  43. bali traveller permalink
    August 15, 2010

    Interest article and easy to be read when relaxing. It will be glad if you have time to be spent reading some articles for tourist destination in bali island; it would be great.

  44. Last Minute Deals permalink
    November 24, 2010

    Travel is one of the greatest pleasures in life. For many of us, seeing new places and meeting different people is the ultimate relaxation.

  45. Testking VCP-510 permalink
    September 20, 2011

    Congratulations on the new role and move, managing people can be a lot more fun sometimes. :-) Testking VCP-510

  46. July 12, 2012

    Awesome article!
    Travelling with the kids is a great experience for a vacation and there are very good option of travelling to have a “green” vacation.I like this site very much.Thanks

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