Traveling Green

It happened again. I hung my once-used towel to dry on the rack in my hotel bathroom, and trusted that it would be there for me when I returned at the end of the day.  Hanging right next to it was the hotel’s placard declaring that I could do my part to help reduce water use by re-using my towel.  You know these notes, the ones that say if I need my towel replaced I should leave it on the floor, but if I hang it up the housekeeper will leave it there for me to use again.  But yesterday, staying at Boston’s Fairmont Battery Wharf, my towel was gone and in its stead was a freshly laundered and folded towel.  This scenario is, unfortunately, not unusual.

Traveling is inherently resource intensive, but through the years I’ve developed a few tips that I try to follow to reduce my impact while away from home:

  • Hang the “Do not disturb” sign on your hotel room door while out for the day.  Yes, this means that housekeeping won’t empty the trash or make the bed, but it also means that they won’t change the sheets or replace towels.  In my experience, it’s the only way to go green – very, very few hotels actually follow the promise stated in their literature.  Unfortunately during my recent stay at Fairmont there was no such tag to hang on the door handle. As an aside, I should note that there are a few hotels that encourage this practice by offering rewards, such as dining credit, for skipping housekeeping.
  • When making your reservation, ask for a room with two queen beds rather than a king-sized bed.  The sheets are smaller and require less water and energy to wash and dry.  You don’t really need all that space anyway.
  • Avoid those little bottles by bringing your own shampoo and soap, unless you know that the hotel has switched to bulk dispensers.
  • Why use energy to heat or cool the room when no one is there?  Turn off the heat or air conditioning while away from the room.  While you’re thinking about it, adjust the curtains to allow sunlight in during cold weather or to keep it out during warm weather.
  • Find out where the stairs are and take them as much as possible (and certainly on your way to the hotel gym!).
  • Hold onto your money, and leave the bottled water for some other fool. Remembering to pack your own water bottle reinforces this habit.
  • While you’re at it, keep a set of plastic or wooden utensils in your bag so that you don’t need to depend on disposable ones while traveling.  (Corollary: Order ice cream in a cone, not a dish.)
  • When you’ve arrived at your destination, avoid cabs and use local mass transportation. Usually light rail or subway gets you to your downtown destination just as fast (or faster) than a cab for about one-tenth the price and a small fraction of the energy use.  It helps to do a little research before leaving home so that you know what your options are.
  • For a little extra adventure, try using the bicycle rental options available in a growing number of cities.  Even if you have a car, using a bicycle for local appointments can keep you from circling the block looking for a parking spot.  I’ve used Madison, Wisconsin’s B-cycle on numerous occasions and loved it.
  • If you must fly, and most of us must, look for direct flights and fly coach.  A disproportionate amount of a flight’s energy use comes during take-off and landing.  Flying is always energy intensive, but keeping it to one flight segment makes it less so.  Purchasing carbon off-sets can also ease the impact.

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