Traveling on an Environmental Budget

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.