It’s Not Easy Being Green

Green. Forever, it has been my favorite color. Green this and green that. Kermit is green. The Pitons of St. Lucia are green. My face after a particularly rough night out with my friends might be green. But when did travel get so green?

Admittedly, I am not entirely on the environmental bandwagon. I could recycle more judiciously, and I probably ought to spring for those energy-efficient light bulbs. As for my SUV, well, I still have a few more payments on it. But suddenly all the travel world is green with environmental responsibility, and I suppose, being in the business, I ought to have an opinion on it.

And I do.

I have done a good deal of traveling to Europe and Asia in recent years, and I have taken notice of many of the differences between our culture and theirs. I find their historic places simply amazing and captivating. I find the food typically overrated (especially in Paris), and the service fairly mediocre. The wine is okay in France (but I think California has them beat), horrible in England and deplorable in Portugal – well, ok, I will give the port a pass.

But when it comes to environmental friendliness, the overseas crowd has the U.S. beat — hands down. Unlike Americans, they have been green for some time. In fact, it’s almost scary how wasteful we are when you see how serious other countries are about conservation.

Can we do a better job? Of course we can! Here are seven small steps to help keep the planet green.

Traveling light. Do you really need three suitcases for a one-week vacation? You know you’ll end up sticking most of your outfits in a hotel closet “just in case” you’ll need one. But the more weight you carry, the more fuel your plane, train or automobile will use. If we could cut back on all the extra weight that people carry around in their luggage, I bet we could actually lower some airfares. My advice: Pack your bags once, and then try to cut the weight in half.

Toilets. The rest of the world now has two types of flushers on their toilets: There is a small button to flush #1, and a larger button to flush #2. The #1 button uses a lot less water, a precious resource we need to conserve. Excellent idea, though I’m not quite ready to embrace the “latrine” method of conservation seen in many places in Asia.

Toiletries. Don’t bring them, or at least leave behind those that the hotel will likely place in your room as a courtesy. I was in the habit of buying those cute, sample-sized shampoos, conditioners, toothpaste tubes, etc. when it dawned on me that they are almost as much plastic as product. Besides, if you are off on your measurements, the TSA is going to take them away from you.

Lights. Just because you’re in a hotel doesn’t give you carte blanche to leave all the lights on and the water running in the shower. Well, maybe if it is a Motel 6 you can leave a light on — they like that. Producing electricity takes a huge toll on our environment, turn off the lights when you are out of the room. Actually, you might not have a choice. A lot of hotels now have light switches that operate off your room key. So when the key is out, so are the lights. I know hotel prices are high, but don’t fall into the stupid mindset of thinking you have to “get your money’s worth.” That’s just plain dumb and irresponsible.

Sheets. Most hotels will only change your bed sheets upon your request. Don’t request it. Use the same sheets for your entire stay, and if you are on a long stay, change them only occasionally. Same goes for towels. (Incidentally, the universal symbol for requesting fresh towels is to toss the wet ones on the floor. Sort of like Larry Craig’s symbols for restroom companionship — well, maybe not.)

Getting around. Take public transportation when you can. Subways, buses, trams, rickshaws — all are more efficient and environmentally friendly than private cars and the dreaded taxi. Taxis are expensive and a decided detriment to the environment. Ever been to Hong Kong? Ever witness a cab line at an airport? All of those exhaust fumes going into the air? So, if you can get there some other way, go for it. The added bonus is that you will be traveling like a local.

Food. Good news: The Fat Citizen Award, which Americans seemingly have won for more years than not, may have to be relinquished. The rest of the world is catching up pretty fast, with the Brits and the French right on our heels. Keep it up. Less food is good for the planet: fewer trees being cut for farmland, fewer trucks moving the products, and fewer pesticides, preservatives, and dyes polluting our bodies.

One person is not going to save the planet. But if we all do a little bit, we will ultimately make a difference. So, turn off the light, take a bus, reuse the towel, pack lighter, monitor your flushing, use the hotel toiletries and pass on that second Big Mac. Mother Earth will thank you!

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