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Offset your carbon footprint with tips for an eco-friendly vacation

Greener Travel

Sage advice for an eco vacation.

For some people, planning a vacation involves more than snagging the best flight and hotel deals, and counting down the days until you say bon voyage. But what if you wanted to make travel a bit greener? After all, a single passenger generates more than one metric ton of carbon dioxide on a round-trip flight from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, according to the online calculator at Add in the hotel stay, rental car and other travel needs, and your vacation is putting a lot of extra emissions into the atmosphere. 

Luckily, there are lots of ways to make travel greener, for every budget. “Anything from ultra-budget to ultra-luxury, in this day and age, you can find something that’s sustainable,” said Brian T. Mullis, CEO and founder of Sustainable Travel International.

Share and share alike: :“Sharing existing resources, rather than continually buying new ones, is one way to help the environment. This extends to travel, too,” said Keghan Hurst, director of product marketing for “It’s incredible how collaborative consumption is wonderfully eco-friendly,” she said. For instance, allows its members to trade homes for their vacations, rather than stay in hotels. Home-exchangers also have the option to trade cars. Another sharing alternative is Airbnb, the online marketplace for listing and renting accommodations around the world. According to 2014 research from Cleantech Group, Airbnb guests in North America avoided the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 33,000 cars. They also saved water, recycled and were more likely to use public transportation than hotel guests. 

Offset your carbon: Airlines and other travel produce huge amounts of emissions, but purchasing carbon offsets can help reduce your environmental impact. “Offsetting emissions from travel is easier than you think,” said Jennifer Weiss, communications director for Climate Action Reserve, a carbon offset registry for the North American carbon market. Carbon offsets provide funding to projects like forestry initiatives that either remove or prevent emissions from entering the atmosphere. Consumers can purchase credits to offset all or part of their trip, but the credits should have a few things in common: They should be for real projects and should be “additional,” meaning that they go above and beyond business as usual. The projects should also be verifiable, enforceable and result in permanent emissions removal. “You want to make sure that you’re investing in something that does what it says it’s doing and is benefitting the environment,” Weiss said. One organization to check out is, which counts JetBlue, Amtrak and Virgin America among its travel industry partners. 

Go local:  Whether it’s enlisting a local guide to show you around her neighborhood or frequenting the farmers’ market to get an authentic taste of your destination, supporting local business is good for both the environment and your travel experience. “If you’re spending your money with a locally owned business, most of that dollar is going to stay in the local economy,” Mullis said. “Localized economies are synonymous with sustainability.” Supporting local farmers, for instance, means that you’re buying foods that didn’t have to be shipped from far locales, as well as helping the farmers financially. It’s good for travelers, too. “They’re going to have a more immersive experience, arguably a higher quality experience,” Mullis said.

Choose green destinations: “People are increasingly are looking for destinations that are engaging in sustainability when they’re making decisions,” Mullis said. For instance, Costa Rica has aimed to be the world’s first carbon-neutral destination. Australia boasts 19 EcoLodges in places like Tasmania, Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef, according to the nonprofit Ecotourism Australia. Look for destinations, tour operators, attractions and lodging that are working toward sustainability. They also might be members of organizations like the International Ecotourism Society or have certifications from third parties, such as Biosphere Responsible Tourism.

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