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Planning a green vacation

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If you don't have to fly, consider another mode of transportation: coach buses are the greenest option, followed by trains, then cars. (©iStockphoto.com/Remus Eserblom) If you don't have to fly, consider another mode of transportation: coach buses are the greenest option, followed by trains, then cars. (©iStockphoto.com/Remus Eserblom)


By Rachel Bertsche for Green Goes Simple

I recently returned from a weeklong honeymoon. Aside from being in awe of Croatia's breathtaking scenery, delicious wine and fabulous seafood, I was struck by the little steps my hotel took to be greener. We had to use our key to turn the lights on in our room, which meant we could never leave the lights on when we weren't there. Brilliant! Also, the air conditioner only worked when all the windows were closed, so no energy was wasted. Genius!

The hotel's green tendencies got me thinking about what I could do to increase the eco-friendly factor of all my vacations. Turns out you don't have to sleep in a tree house to travel green. The International Ecotourism Society offers plenty of tips for making your trip safe for the earth, no matter if you're booking a five-star getaway or a rustic trek.

"People think sustainable travel means really roughing it, but there are a range of options and a range of opportunities," says Ayako Ezaki, director of communications for TIES. "You don't need to be one specific kind of traveler, and you don't need to be overwhelmed." Follow these tips for a green vacation everyone will love:

1) Before you book, call any hotels or tour operators you're thinking of using and ask them if they have any environmental policies and if they employ local citizens. Find out if they have any eco-label ratings or have won any eco-awards.

2) When choosing your method of travel, think about the hierarchy of transportation. According to TIES, air traffic is responsible for 10 percent of greenhouse gases worldwide. Coach buses are the greenest option, followed by trains, then cars. If you don't have to fly, consider another mode of transportation.

3) While you're there, support the local community. "The key words we often use are ‘local' and ‘authentic,'" says Ezaki. "Take advantage of the vast knowledge of the citizens by hiring local tour guides." Also, skip souvenirs that may have been manufactured thousands of miles away and instead buy gifts made in the community.

4) Once you're home, write reviews and give feedback. "The tourism industry is reputation-focused, so what each traveler can tell a business is more important than you may think," says Ezaki. "Your message as a consumer is saying, ‘I care about the environment; I want you to be greener.' That alone will get people to implement change."

Rachel Bertsche is a Web producer and journalist in Chicago. She's written for publications including O: The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Outside and Fitness. She's currently working on her first book, MWF Seeking BFF, which will be out in 2012. If you can't wait, check out her blog of the same name. 

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