Over the River and Through the Woods: 7 Sustainable Holiday Travel Tips

Thanksgiving marks the official beginning of the happily hectic winter holiday season, including some of the most-traveled days of the year.

Here are some tips from the Ecocentric team to help you enjoy – hopefully – sustainably traveling to enjoy the holidays with your nearest and dearest, and be sure to check out our green tips for those of you hosting these weary travelers. Here’s to safe, fun journeys!

1. Fill ‘Er Up – Your Reusable Water Bottle, that is! – Robin Madel

Bring your own refillable water bottle with you when you travel. In America, we discard almost 34 million tons of plastic every year, most of which (86 percent) goes to landfills or ends up in our waterways and on our lands; plastic water bottles are a huge part of that waste. Do yourself, the animals and the environment a big favor by bringing your own bottle and skip the single-use plastics. Just make sure it’s empty when you go through the security line at the airport. (Kristen adds: “Seriously. As in bone-dry. I lost a favorite stainless steel model this summer in Oakland’s airport TSA line because although empty, there were still audible drops in the bottom.”)

2. Ward off Powerful Vampires – Kai Olson-Sawyer

When you’re maniacally doing that last-minute check before leaving for your great aunt’s house, don’t forget to turn off and unplug your lights, TVs and other electrical items. If left plugged in, those gadgets and gizmos can act like vampires sucking up electricity and unnecessarily add to your utility bill. To find the biggest energy wasters, go to NRDC’s Household Savings Calculator and use power strips with off switches to avoid one more holiday gorge fest.

3. Stock Up On Snacks Before You Go – Dawn Brighid

Having fun snacks in the car is part of the complete road trip experience. If you are driving or flying to visit family and friends for the holidays, it’s best not to rely on the gas station or the airport for healthy and sustainable options. Plan to stop by a co-op, health food store or your favorite grocery store before you head out. You can always check Eat Well Guide to find a store near you! Fruit, hummus, popcorn, or fair trade chocolate are all much healthier, sustainable choices than that.50¢ hot dog that’s been sitting for days (weeks?) at the rest stop gas station.

4. Planes, Trains or Automobiles? – Peter Hanlon

Let’s be clear: There’s no such thing as “sustainable” when it comes to flying around the globe. Air travel has by far the biggest climate impact per distance traveled of any other forms of transportation. There are efforts to run planes at least partly on biofuels which is fine as long as you’re talking about fuels derived from certain waste products, but as of now such supply is limited and most biofuels present big concerns when it comes to sustainability.

What to do this holiday season? If you can, stay grounded! Trains and buses are cheaper than planes and usually drop you off right downtown as opposed to often remote airports. Or you could carpool with friends or family. (Traveling alone in a large car racks up a carbon footprint equivalent to flying!) If, however, you have to make a long trip and you don’t have the time to travel by roads and rails, check out the “green” ratings of major airlines before you book. To cut down on fuel use, keep your luggage light and – we promise this is true – go to the bathroom before you step onto that plane and soar to 30,000 feet.

5. Cars and Drivers – James Rose

Check out these quick tips from our new “Doing More with Less” energy efficiency guide for the 91 percent of you using your own transportation – read: cars – to join in this year’s holiday fun:

  • Check your tire pressure. Under-inflated tires get poorer fuel economy and can be at risk of a blowout.
  • Keep a trash bag on board to collect the refuse you build up on a long trip. It’s also handy in case you have a carsick child.
  • Maintain your vehicle. Changing your oil and replacing the oil filter will improve fuel economy, and keeping your car well-tuned will help you save about 10 percent more gasoline.
  • Lighten your load. Hauling heavy items reduces fuel economy. If you don’t need to take a heavy object with you on a trip, leave it at home.
  • Avoid lengthy idling. If you have to stop somewhere for more than one minute it’s more efficient to turn off the engine rather than letting it idle. So don’t prolong those holiday goodbyes; get in the car and go.

6. Green Lodging – Kristen Demaline

If you’re skipping the bumpy rollaway and staying at a hotel, check out TripAdvisor’s GreenLeaders Program, developed with ENERGY STAR, that “identifies hotels and B&Bs that are committed to green practices like energy and water efficiency, recycling, and alternative energy.” Most big chains are already skipping the daily towel and linen replacements unless you specifically request otherwise.

7. Shop Sustainably On the Road and When You Get to Your Home-Away-From-Home – Dawn Brighid

If you are spontaneous and up for an adventure, or didn’t plan your road trip snacks in advance, find some along the way! Type in your starting and ending zip codes to find sustainable options along your route with our Eat Well Everywhere travel tool! Time your pit stop to hit a delicious sustainable restaurant half way to Grandma’s or find a store to pick up some organic milk (or a hostess gift) once you get to town.

Any more sustainable travel tips we missed? Share yours in the comments!