Travel Tips

12 Tips for Green Family Travel

At one Portland hotel, Earth Day isn’t a once-a-year event.

Every day, The Doubletree Hotel diverts 68% of its waste stream from landfills, composts up to 17 tons per month and purchases more than half of their food products seasonally within a 500-mile region. You can even offset your travel footprint from the hotel’s website.

As more hotels become eco-aware, they’re offering choices to families concerned about the environment. And some changes adopted industry-wide – like the option to skip washing your sheets during your stay – also save hotel-owners money.

“Green travel has become part of mainstream travel,” says Brian T. Mullis, of Sustainable Travel International, a Washington State-based not-for-profit organization that helps visitors and worldwide businesses go greener.

We asked Mullis for tips on how to green your hotel stay, restaurant visits and transportation options. Here are his suggestions:


1. Cut your carbon. Use a carbon calculator to figure out your travel carbon footprint. Lessen or eliminate transportation-related carbon emissions, by offsetting emissions every time you travel.

2. Train your kids. Train travel requires half as much energy per passenger mile, compared to an airplane. In the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, Portland and Vancouver are all connected by Amtrak Cascades (and kids travel at 50% off).

3. Pack lighter. Apply the golden rule of packing when traveling by plane, train or car: Organize everything you want to bring with you, and then cut it in half. Why? Additional weight requires more fuel and produces more carbon dioxide emissions. You can always wash clothes while you’re away, read and swap books, and rent equipment (like camping gear or skis).

4. Seat yourself. Biking is another great, green way to see a region at a gentle pace. Or in some cases, to sightsee at the local’s pace, since bicycle transportation is very popular in some countries and in some regions of the U.S., like Portland.

Hotel Stays:

5. Waste not. Don’t add to the waste stream. Ask hoteliers to recycle any paper, plastic and glass recyclables that you leave in your room. Bring your own shampoo and soap. Or request that the soap, shampoo and other amenities that are provided only be replaced if they’re empty.

6. Chill out. Turn off your air conditioner or set it a few degrees higher when away from your room. If it’s a cool time of year, keep the heat thermostat reasonable — not set at t-shirt and shorts temperature.

7. Burn less. Turn off lights, television and other appliances when not in use, just like you do at home. Appliances and computers can leak up to 20 watts of energy even when turned “off,” so if you’re staying somewhere for a few days, consider unplugging appliances you don’t intend to use.

Dining Out:

8. Go local. Eat local foods at local restaurants, not chains, so that the money goes back to the local community. Choose local snacks and drinks, and you might discover a new favorite food. But this isn’t hard and fast – Portland’s Burgerville and McMenamins are both good examples of restaurant chains that have a heightened awareness due to their eco-savvy customers.

9. Buy organic. Pesticide- and hormone-free, certified organic food is better for the planet and your body. But organic certification isn’t available worldwide, and when it is, it’s often very expensive. This means that not every organic farmer is certified. Ask about organic practices and use your own judgment.

10. Choose sustainable seafood. Many species are falling victim to over-fishing with predictions of global seafood resources depletion by the middle of the century, if we don’t change our habits. Check out Seafood Choices Alliance, Seafood Watch or Ocean Wise.

11. Ask questions. The best way to find out if your vegetables are organic, your fish is sustainable, or your milk is hormone-free is to ask the waiter, the restaurant manager, the grocer or the farmer you are purchasing it from.

And most importantly:

12. Talk to your kids. Mullis suggests that when you make green choices, talk about your intentional decisions with your kids. Let the kids know why you’re turning off the lights or choosing one seafood dish over another. Hopefully, they’ll follow your lead.

Find more travel-green tips at Eileen Ogintz’s Travel green for Earth Day and read this article on long-haul family train travel in my article for E Magazine, “Riding the Rails.”

Do you have any ideas to share?

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.


  • Vivian, VIA’s virtual tour guide

    Great tips! Especially took to heart the reminder to talk to your kids about making green choices.

    Vivian is Virtual
    VIA Rail’s tour guide
    .-= Vivian, VIA’s virtual tour guide´s last blog ..Top 10: What to see & do in Montreal =-.

  • Carolina

    This is a good reference. I never thought about packing lighter as being green. Another good reason to stick to my carry-on rule.
    Also I’m starting to see how being more vocal at hotels and restaurants may start to make a difference. I really, really feel that all hotels should offer recycling bins in rooms.
    .-= Carolina´s last blog ..My Green Travel Resolutions (Revisited) =-.