06/15/2011 03:10 pm ET Updated Aug 15, 2011

'Green' Travel Tips for a More Mindful Journey

What is "green travel" really?
Travel is inherently not green. "Green travel" is truly an oxymoron. One round trip plane flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco for one person emits 10,064 lbs. of carbon into the atmosphere. To put that number into perspective it is ¼ the amount of carbon that a mid-size sedan emits into the atmosphere in one year driving 8,000 miles per year. When every form of transportation is inherently polluting (and travel requires transport) what is really "green" other than pitching a tent in your back yard? I believe that "green travel" is taking a mindful approach to the impact of your travel on the environment and cultures that one encounters.

Mindful travel involves asking questions and making sustainable choices in how and where you travel and choose to stay. Why bother taking the time and energy to be more mindful and aware, you ask? The travel industry is one of the world's largest industry, with billions of people traveling globally. It is making a worldwide impact on the environment in terms of warming effects of carbon and more locally, in terms of its effect on wildlife, indigenous cultures, and cultural heritage sites -- from the destruction of coral reefs in the Caribbean to the accumulation of plastic waste in remote villages and parks.

It does not have to be hard or expensive to do some simple things to lessen the impact of your travel. It can also be a fun learning experience for the whole family.
Here are some tips to help you be a Mindful Traveler:

1) Carbon Offsetting:
This is making the impact of your travel carbon neutral by balancing out the impact of your carbon emitting travel source, be it by plane, train or car. You do this by paying an organization money to plant trees to offset the global warming effects emitted by your trip. It is a minor cost that is usually between $10 to $50 dollars depending on the length of the trip. The Internet is full of free sites where you can calculate your carbon footprint. My favorite is Terra Pass Carbon Footprint Calculator.

Once you have calculated your carbon footprint for your trip, you can use an organization like Trees for the Future to offset the carbon footprint of your trip. For other organizations for carbon offsetting you can go to Green travel resources page.

2) Choose an Eco-Friendly Hotel or Resort:

There are many website organizations that list and rate eco-friendly hotels, but sometimes it is hard to tell how sustainable they really are. The most important things to look for and ask about are the following:

Do they have a 'green' sustainability program? What does that refer to? Is it a recycling program, gray water, energy efficient lighting and/or alternative energy program or simply an optional guest re-use of towel and sheet program? To me the most mindful choice is the hotel and resort that is committed to giving back and supporting the eco-system, culture, and community that they are in. A non-profit foundation that supports the community is the mark of a truly committed sustainable eco- hotel or resort.

For a list of truly eco-friendly high-end hotels and resorts you can go to Eco Luxury .

For a list of budget friendly and truly eco-friendly resorts you can go to Green travel resources.

3) Be a mindful traveler:
In the words of Chief Seattle, "Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints." To do this be mindful of the following:

  • Walk, hike, bike or rent a hybrid whenever possible.
  • Be aware of water consumption by taking shorter showers and participate in towel & sheet reuse programs.
  • Turn off lights and air-conditioning when you are out of your room and remember to unplug chargers and small electronics that pull energy even when not in use.
  • When visiting, be aware of your impact on the environment leave nothing behind and do not remove anything like shells, coral or rocks.
  • Support the local community you are visiting by purchasing local goods and participating in service, give back programs where every possible.