By DONNA DeFORBES/ecoRI News contributor
Ah, summer. Time to leave the office, load the car and hit the road. Many of us may not think about maintaining an eco-friendly lifestyle while on vacation, but there are plenty of ways we can.
BEFORE LEAVING HOME
Shut down the house. Unplug appliances and electronics; even those left in standby mode use energy. Turn off the valve to the main water supply to prevent potential leaks or a flood. Invest in a programmable thermostat with which you can keep your house at 85 degrees while you’re gone and have it automatically go down to 72 the day before you arrive home. Use timers to turn on lights in the evening. Stop newspaper delivery. Have a neighbor water your garden, or attach a soaker hose to a rain barrel to keep your veggies watered.
Buy green gear. You can aid the earth by investing in eco-friendly travel gear such as refillable BPA-free containers for shampoos and lotions, solar-powered device chargers, reusable water bottles, bamboo travel blankets and/or backpacks made from recycled content.
Pack light. Less stuff means lighter loads for traveling and less laundry.
Choose greener modes of travel. If you’re attending a local event, is there a way you can walk, bike or carpool? When traveling longer distances, buses and trains produce less greenhouse-gas emissions than airplanes. And economy seating is greener than first class, which doubles your carbon footprint. Look for eco-friendly transportation options at your destination: city buses, light rail lines or bike-share programs.
Drive efficiently. Service your car and properly inflate those tires before you leave. Travel at off-peak times to avoid idling in traffic. Go the speed limit — driving at 55 mph can save you 10 percent to 20 percent in fuel consumption. Avoid hard braking and jackrabbit starts, which increase emissions. If you frequently travel by car, invest in a hybrid or electric vehicle.
Buy carbon offsets. While flying is necessary for some vacations, you can ease your travel guilt by purchasing carbon offsets, which support renewable-energy and resource-conservation projects.
Go with green hotels. When booking your vacation, you can choose to support properties that use sustainable practices in water and energy conservation. Some examples include building with local materials, composting, cleaning with eco-friendly products and eliminating bottled water. In New England, view lists of green lodging in Connecticut, Maine and Vermont.
Be an eco-responsible guest. Whether or not your hotel is green, you can still properly dispose of trash, recycle — bring items home if there’s no recycling onsite — reduce laundry by re-wearing items, conserve water, and limit your energy use by turning off the lights and the AC when you leave the room. Respect the local environment by staying on marked paths and not disturbing any plant or animal life.
Get outside. Camping might be the ultimate in eco-friendly lodging.
Support the local economy and culture. Buy locally made food and souvenirs, with minimal packaging. Use community-based tour guides and companies. Depending on where you are, you may find eco tours of a local wildlife sanctuary or conservation area.
Choose a “working” vacation. Make your trip one that also educates and assists with environmental projects. Options abound from organic farming to sea turtle conservation to joining scientists on an expedition.
Rhode Island resident Donna DeForbes is founder of Eco-Mothering.com, a blog that explores ways to make going green fun and easy for the whole family. She is a contributor to Earth911, MammaBaby and author of the e-book “The Guilt-Free Guide to Greening Your Holidays.”