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There is nothing like a trip out of town to see how much waste is generated in the world. Over the last several years, I’ve been traveling to visit my two daughters away at school. Vacations are wasteful! Are we doomed by unsustainable traveling?

I create more garbage than usual when I’m on the road. But there are ways to get around that.

Green hotel sign

Green eating when staying in a hotel

First of all, eating out is not environmentally friendly. Food is not generally organic or local, which means the meat was fed GMO grain as a diet. Portions are so big, the leftovers get thrown out at the restaurant or taken back to the hotel for munching on later (that would be me). As green as that seems, the to-go containers are all petroleum based products – plastic. Five days in a hotel, and non-biodegradable garbage really piles up in the trash!

I bring food from home in a cooler and shop at local supermarkets. Most rooms have small refrigerators, so it’s possible to eat what you want. If you’re in luck, there’s a food co-op or farmer’s market nearby for fresh organic food. Organic produce is getting more common in mainstream supermarkets now. Hopefully you can combat the restaurant trash cycle by buying your own snacks, which will be healthier, too.

Mealtimes while away on vacation

I always stay in a hotel that serves continental breakfast. I bring some extras to my room for snacking on later. This would work for hungry young kids, too. Yogurt, muffins, bread, bagels, fruit, hard cooked eggs and cereal as well as condiments like butter, cream cheese, peanut butter and jelly can be stashed for later, saving a trip to a restaurant or a convenience store. This saves waste twice – some of that breakfast food would be thrown away in the hotel kitchen, and you save the trash created at an eatery from leftovers or to-go containers.

I bring my own coffee cup. Instead of using the paper or plastic cups they give you, bring your own and wash it out. Bring silverware, too, so you are not consuming plastic. If you do use the hotel’s items, rinse and reuse them. Just because they are disposable doesn’t mean you have to dispose of them after one use!

Packed lunch

Green housekeeping practices at your hotel

If you are staying for more than one night, don’t have housekeeping change your sheets and towels every day. You don’t do this at home, so why do it at a hotel? Some hotel chains ask patrons to reuse their towels and only replace the truly dirty ones. I also bring a beach towel from home to use at the pool. It’s bigger than the hotel towel, and the laundry responsibility is mine.

Use the hotel soap and shampoo. If you don’t, they get thrown away. Imagine the trash accumulated from throwing away soap that got used once and half-empty shampoo bottles! These leftover bars and bottles have come in handy at home when I’ve run out.

Keep your lights turned off when you leave the room, your heat settings low and air conditioning temps high. Think of all the empty rooms in a hotel that have to be heated and cooled all the time! Saving energy in yours can help, although it seems like a small thing to do.

Find a green hotel

Find a green hotel from the Green Hotels Association®. By saving water in the laundry and kitchen, installing efficient heating and cooling, using CFL lightbulbs, recycling and ordering products with less packaging, member hotels are reducing trash and saving thousands of dollars a year! Some are offering organic tea and coffee along with healthier food for breakfast, instead of doughnuts and pastries. Hotel restaurants serve water only when it is ordered, and they are more mindful of portions and waste. To-go containers are recycled and recyclable.

More environmentally friendly travel is camping or staying with friends, but if you have to shack up in a hotel, be as mindful of your waste there as you are at home. Of course, the greenest travel is to stay home and enjoy what your area has to offer. More on that later.

It just takes a little planning and effort to save our resources and still have a great vacation!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.