Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Five Tips for Nurturing Trips

Travel practices tested enough to hold up to a deep greenie’s scrutiny and nurturing enough to hold up to a comfort-seeker’s good taste need to go beyond superficial suggestions. For me, they better keep green on the planet and in my wallet.

Travel represents one of the biggest ticket items in your annual spending and also offers the opportunity protect the planet and your loved ones. You vote with your dollars every day—supporting businesses that share your values—and you can do the same on vacation. More than ever before, it is possible to take a green vacation without compromising your lifestyle or your values.

If the idea of green travel gives you greenfatigue, take a vacation that supports your health and the health of the planet without all the guilt and marketing hype. The world of green travel is no longer limited to “eco” safaris, camping, and yurts. There’s an array of options from eco-cheap to deluxe, combining modern amenities and principles for social responsibility. World-class standards now come without the loss of local character and care. And here's how to spot them:

1. Avoid the Bird's Eye View. Take Staycations
2. Look for Truth in Travel
3. Small is the New Big
4. Expect a Sense of Place
5. Get Breathing Room

1. Avoid the Bird’s-Eye View.
On a staycation you can drive, take a bus or rail - not fly. One flight can produce as much carbon as an entire year of driving a Toyota Camry. This is one reason many travelers choose to vacation close to home, as opposed to jetting off to exotic destinations.

If you're driving from California, Utah, and Arizona--the Candlewood Bed and Breakfast Retreat in Clarkdale, AZ offers an ideal staycation with it's sweeping views of the Black Mountains and services to pamper--including massage and the opportunity to see, first-hand how going green does not have to compromise your lifestyle. Owners Rennie and Andrea went further than a light green amenities—they show true eco consciousness by protecting the natural landscape with permaculture and operating their meeting and guest rooms completely off the grid. Twenty years of walking their talk in the healing arts and architecture makes them the ideal hosts for a family eco holiday.

Stoneman Lake Lodge in Flagstaff is also completely off the grid and nestled away in a wilderness setting next to the national forest with a lake that draws wildlife for miles. With giant decks and spacious rooms, the lodge offers plenty of privacy. You may feel you have the run of the place yourself. Make sure to ask if the lake has water, some seasons in the desert it can dry up.

One has to look no further than the directory of Small Luxury Hotels or Andrew Harper’s Top Hideaways to find nurturing accommodations going green within driving distance of many major cities. Dr. Michael G. Matthews recently visited Paws Up, a ranch resort in Montana–posh enough to make both SLH and Harper’s lists and concerned about protecting the local economy and environment. “Kyle and I are cowboy types who do rugged, outdoor things but at the same time we're also all about luxury and being spoiled too. Paws Up offered the best of both worlds."

2. Truth in Travel. “Eco” destinations often do more harm to the local economy and environment than the good they do educating us about nature. And many hotels have jumped on the green bandwagon simply by posting signs for guest towel and water use programs. While compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) can cut energy use, they alone do not a green lodging make. Plus the bulbs contain mercury, more of which we don’t need leaching out of landfills into the water supply.

The practices of many companies fall short of the images and claims and ultimately, are more about greenwashing than they are about responsibility. Truth seekers may need to look a little deeper to see what shade of green the travel vendor wears--the almighty dollar or true responsibility.

Ask what makes the lodging green. Responsible accommodations can usually demonstrate five or more ways that they reuse and recycle waste and reduce energy use and consumption. This is often called the “three Rs,” Reuse, Recycle, Reduce. An establishment that is serious about health and responsibility will have written policies, see a good example on my website or use the checklist from the National Geographic Society Office of Sustainable Tourism to pick out what’s important to you.

3. Small Is The New Big. Smaller footprints mean bigger savings, sometimes for you and definitely for Mother Earth. Think boutique hotel instead of a chain. Think vacation home instead of resort. Using the Internet to find an eco-friendly vacation rental turns up private home owners and vacation rental sites, including VRBO and Vacation Rentals 411. HomeAway offers guarantees for the properties listed—protecting renters from disreputable home owners, allowing you to go green with peace of mind.

4. Sense of Place. Deluxe can be predictably cookie-cutter, could-be-anywhere, with corporate furnishings and marble bathrooms. Look for lodging that offers genuine atmosphere without losing its connection to the environment and community— in the post-modern world, luxury goes local.

Los Poblanos Inn, in Albuquerque, New Mexico with its 25 acres of lavender and organic vegetable gardens, ponds, stone walkways, and flawless comforts is just one of many travel companies revising the standards of excellence upwards by including responsible practices.

The policy at Poblanos lists 12 practices demonstrating their commitment to “ecological consciousness,” including hosting a CSA (community supported agriculture). No surprise this destination tops many lists for the best B&B in Albuquerque and took Sunset Magazine’s Best of the West award and is one of my top five places to sleep, other than my own bed.

5. Breathing Room. Go green by staying in healthy homes and hotels that use green cleaning practices, provide RO (reverse osmosis) filtered water, and are designed with natural finishes and furnishings. One of the hottest amenities in hotels is “pure” rooms that are hypoallergenic. But you don’t have to have allergies to benefit. Indoor air is two times more polluted than outdoor air. It lurks in flame retardants in mattresses, upholstery, and electronics, and in carcinogenic and respiratory irritating VOCs (volatile organic compounds). It oozes formaldehyde out of drywall, plywood, and carpeting, and emits phthalates from products including shower curtains. These pollutants can cause nausea and dizziness or harm the liver and kidneys.

Even if you don’t have allergies, avoiding this stuff can only be a good idea. You can sleep soundly knowing the air and bedding is pure at places committed to health environments like Joie de Vivre hotels in California and EcoLuxury Lodging in Florida. Or check listings on the website Smoke Free Hotels.

This blog is for bottom-up dispensers of cool who enjoy eco-travel deals and healthy living. We feel that "the small, the slow, the local, and the personal" will build the new economy. Your comments will help enrich this information for all of us.

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