In a few days my family and I leave for a 6 day trip to San Francisco and Napa, and so I thought now would be an appropriate time for a practical guide on how to ‘green’ your next vacation. This isn’t a complete guide, of course, but simply a sort of framework to give you ideas on how to plan your own eco-friendly vacation.
In a previous post I discussed The International Ecotourism Society’s list of ways to conserve energy while traveling, and so that’s a good place to start today’s guide. We are flying to California, so we will be sure to pack light in order to reduce carbon emissions. Usually packing light is somewhat of a challenge for my family, but this time it will be easy since we want to leave plenty of room in our suitcases for souvenirs (read: wine). Unfortunately, because of time constraints we won’t be staying in any hotel room for more than one day, so on this trip we can’t reuse our sheets and towels the way we normally would when travelling. We can, however, turn off the lights and the air conditioning whenever we’re not in the room, so we’ll still save some energy, and every bit counts–even if it doesn’t feel like much. As for using greener ways to get around, we can take the trolley and taxi’s when we’re in San Francisco, but we will need a rental car to get out to Napa and Sonoma–and finding an eco-friendly rental car can put a large strain on your budget. For example, it’s possible to rent an electric car (the Tesla) for $25 an hour (not steep) or $500 a day (quite steep) if you’re in the San Francisco area. Hybrid cars are much cheaper (a quick search on travel sites like Orbitz and Travelocity shows a range of about $400 to $700 for a week-long rental), but still much more expensive than a standard or even premium car (another quick search on the same sites showed a range of about $150 to $400 for standard and $200 to $400 for premium).
After considering how you’re going to reduce your energy consumption while traveling, it’s time to look for environmentally friendly activities and restaurants. I started my research simply by Googling “ecotourism California,” and I came up with several useful sites. SustainLane was at the top of the results list, and by clicking on “advanced search” I was taken to a page where I could search for local restaurants and businesses in San Francisco (or any city you enter into the “search locally” box). One of my travel goals was to eat some fresh sushi while in the city, and through SustainLane I was able to find a well-reviewed, organic Japanese restaurant called Minako Organic Japanese Cuisine. Since I love shopping even more than I love eating, I then searched for eco-friendly clothing stores in San Fransisco, and got a fairly long list of green businesses that included small local boutiques as well as chains like American Apparel. So now I have a list of organic restaurants and a list of shops–I’m ready for San Fransisco!
Next I did some research on Napa Valley, which I started in pretty much the same fashion: by Googling “Eco-tourism Napa Valley.” The first site that popped up was the Ag-Eco Tourism section of the Napa Valley website, and while it had some nice activities I don’t think we will be partaking in any of them. Balloon tours, for example, are not really my family’s thing, nor are bike tours or really any kind of group tours.
After a bit more digging, I found the Bay Area Green Business Program site, which lists green businesses (their criteria for green businesses can be found here) in and around San Fransisco. A search for green food and drink businesses in Napa came up with several wineries, including Stag’s Leap, which I had been planning on visiting already, as well as a coffee shop (essential for us coffee addicts) and a few restaurants, all of which can be considered environmentally friendly. You can also search for environmentally friendly hotels, winery tours, shops, and spas from all around the bay area, making this a useful site if you’re thinking about planning your own trip to California.
Of course, if you aren’t planning your own trip to wine country, I hope my “guide” can still be helpful, if only in that it shows how easy it is to find ways to green your trip. A few Google searches is really all you need to find eco-friendly lodging and restaurants that serve locally-grown food, no matter where you are going. Even if you can’t do everything (like rent an electric car or eat only organic meals), the small things you can do add up. Any little thing you can do to be more environmentally friendly is important, and it’s not difficult to find at least a few ways to conserve energy or a few sustainable restaurants at which to eat. Also, it’s important to remember that you cannot rely on everything you find on the Internet; these sites might point to environmentally friendly and sustainable businesses, but on the other hand sometimes you need to do a bit more digging to make sure you’re finding good information.