If the term "green travel" makes you think of ultra-luxe ecolodges, carbon offset fees or expensive suitcases made out of hemp and recycled plastic, you might imagine that being an eco-friendly traveler is a bit out of your price range. Luckily, that's not necessarily the case -- in fact, going green could actually help you trim costs on your next trip.
From packing and planning to shopping for souvenirs, we've come up with eight green travel practices that are easy on your wallet and on the environment.
Got your own money-saving green travel tip to share? Post it on our message boards!
Packing and Planning
1. Pack light -- especially if you're flying. The heavier the plane, the more fuel it burns and the more toxic gases it releases into the atmosphere. Stick to a carry-on only and you'll not only help lighten your plane's load but also save money on airline baggage fees.
2. Instead of buying a new guidebook for every trip, borrow one from your local library. You won't have to pay $20 for a book you'll only use for a week or two, and you'll be helping the environment by reusing resources and reducing waste.
3. Everyone knows it's cheaper to buy in bulk -- so why throw away money on travel-size toiletries that cost much more per ounce than the larger bottles you use at home? Instead, pick up a set of empty travel-size bottles and fill them with your favorite shampoo, conditioner, sunblock and other products. By reusing the bottles on multiple trips, you'll quickly recoup the five bucks it cost you to buy them, and keep dozens of travel-size bottles out of landfills.
4. Get around town by walking, biking or using public transportation. All of these options lower your carbon footprint, cost less than taking a cab or renting a car, and offer great opportunities for interacting with locals.
5. If you need to rent a car, book a small one -- or a hybrid. A growing number of car rental companies are offering hybrid vehicles (see our Green Travel Resources for a list), and while they may cost a little more than standard vehicles, you can often make up the difference with your savings on gas. If a hybrid isn't available, rent the smallest car that's realistic for your needs -- compact cars are almost always cheaper and more fuel-efficient than their larger brethren.
6. Taking a road trip? Prepare your vehicle beforehand to optimize your fuel efficiency and reduce gas costs during your trip. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and your engine is tuned up, and get rid of all that heavy, extraneous junk you've been hauling around in your trunk or back seat. For more ideas on improving your car's fuel efficiency, see Gas Prices Got You Down?
During Your Trip
7. Wherever you are, buy local. Pick up fruit and snacks at farmer's markets, and buy souvenirs made by local artisans. Goods produced nearby are usually cheaper because they don't have to be shipped in from somewhere else -- and the fact that they haven't traveled far means these purchases have a smaller carbon footprint too. (Note: Not all local goods are eco-friendly. Avoid buying souvenirs made of elephant ivory or other products made from endangered species. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has a useful list of animal souvenirs to avoid.)
8. According to the Sierra Club, every year billions of plastic water bottles end up in landfills, where they will take up to 1,000 years to decompose. As a traveler, you can help reduce this mountain of waste -- and save money -- by bringing your own reusable bottle and filling it multiple times. If the tap water in your destination isn't safe to drink, visit the local supermarket and purchase a gallon-size or larger container of purified water to keep in your hotel room; as with toiletries, buying water in bulk is cheaper per ounce and uses less packaging. Another alternative is to purify the local tap water with a SteriPEN or water purification tablets. You may pay a higher price up front for these products, but after a few trips you'll see how much you save over purchasing dozens of bottles of water.
This tip applies not when you're traveling but when you're between trips. Taking steps to make your own home more environmentally friendly -- such as installing energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs and low-flow showerheads -- can help you reduce your monthly bills and your carbon footprint at the same time. Best of all, you can put the money you save toward your next green vacation!
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--written by Sarah Schlichter