Road trips: Stepping out of town with a small footprint
The snow has melted, the cherry trees are blooming and you're restless from being cooped up all winter -- thank goodness spring break is here (with summer vacation around the bend). If you're planning a road trip, make it a green one. Here are seven eco-friendly travel tips I picked up on recent cross-country drive from Washington to Colorado:
Use fuel-efficient transportation. Confession: I drove a Jeep. But if you can, opt for fuel-efficient transportation, such as a smaller car with good gas mileage. If you'd rather rent, you can test-drive a hybrid. Or, better yet, consider public transportation. Greyhound is going green with a fleet of new buses that generate nearly three times less carbon dioxide per passenger per mile than a hybrid. And Amtrak, which claims it is 28 percent more efficient than auto travel, is committed to recycling.
Educate yourself. If you're going to spend long stretches of time on the road, you may as well educate yourself on a green topic. I popped in the audiotape "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. It takes an in-depth look at the state of our country's food industry and the importance of sustainable farming (and it certainly squelched any desire to swing through McDonald's). But consider yourself warned: The reader's voice is, well, soothing. At times he nearly lulled me to sleep. For a pick-me-up, I switched to Jim Gaffigan (no green messages in his comedy routine, but definitely good for laughs).
Forage for food. Speaking of sustainable farming, conduct a little Internet research before you hit the road to scout out positive food choices in the cities you'll visit. The Web site EatWellGuide.org will help you find local listings that range from healthy restaurants and farmers markets to co-ops and coffeehouses. In Nashville, Tenn., I stopped by the Frothy Monkey, a restaurant committed to conscious consumerism, and in Sante Fe, N.M., I opted for Cafe Pasqual's, which serves traditional organic New Mexican cuisine.
Beware of bottles. Bringing your own travel mug for coffee, tea, and water is a given, but if you're not careful you'll find lots of opportunities for "bottle waste." You know those mini shampoos, conditioners and lotions in hotels? Skip them in favor of your own refillable bottles. Which reminds me -- don't forget your reusable totes. Otherwise, you'll wind up with plastic bags from purchases made along the way.
Respect the land. Our beautiful country offers plenty of sites to explore. To start, leave the motor-powered recreation options behind in favor of eco-adventures that will allow you to tread more gently and in harmony with nature. Experiment with hiking, biking or horseback riding (check out SierraClub.org to read up on how to green your sports). Because I was traveling in February, I trekked through the Rockies on snowshoes and then spent a few days hitting the slopes at Wolf Creek, a Colorado ski destination that runs on wind power and uses 100 percent biodegradable hydraulic oils in its heavy equipment.
Enjoy an eco-massage. Sitting in a car for seven hours a day isn't great for your back. Or hips. Or neck. If you want relief from stiff joints and aching pains, a number of spas that are working to lighten their environmental footprint. TheGreenSpaNetwork.org can help you find Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified resorts that use nontoxic lotions and oils. I was in heaven at Santa Fe's Ten Thousand Waves. To loosen your muscles before hitting the road, try D.C.'s own Nusta Spa (nustaspa.com).
Offset your carbon emissions. Carbonfund.org, a nonprofit organization, will help you calculate, reduce and offset your carbon emissions.
Where to rest your head
Finding an eco-friendly place to rest your head might present more options that you imagined. There are green hotels, yes, but there are also family-run B&Bs, working farms, and -- if you're adventurous -- tree houses, yurts and teepees.
bbonline.com It's easy to find lots of cozy, romantic B&Bs on this site. For green inns, narrow your search to the "eco-friendly" option in the amenities box.
goglamping.net You like the idea of camping if only it wasn't so camplike. Try glamour camping with a visit to one of this site's luxury yurts, teepees or safari tents.
greenhotels.com The Green Hotel Association can hook you up with places dedicated to saving energy, conserving water and the principles of recycling, reducing and reusing.
greenseal.org This independent nonprofit organization gives its seal of approval to lodging areas that meet its green criteria.
pafarmstay.org Feed alpacas, collect chicken eggs or simply hang out and enjoy the scenery at these farm stays spread throughout Pennsylvania.
thetreehouseguide.com The "accommodations" link on this site will connect you to a handful of places in the United States where you can sleep with the birds. For more options, try a Google search.