How to Make Your Travel 'Greener'

Being "green" doesn't mean you have to stay put. You just have to find a greener way to travel.

You can reduce your carbon footprint -- the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases your daily activities emit -- by purchasing carbon offsets and choosing low-carbon transportation both en route and at your final destination.

Offsetting Your Travel

Whether you fly or drive to your destination, your trip will increase your personal carbon footprint. One easy way to assuage your guilt is by buying carbon offsets. The idea is to offset the greenhouse gas emissions caused by your travel by financing projects that add clean energy to the power grid and reduce the overall demand for fossil fuels.

Both TerraPass and Native Energy sell easy-to-use travel-specific offsets. Both companies offer offsets that support wind energy, farm power and landfill gas capture.

TerraPass offers a standard portfolio that is a mixture of the three types of alternative energy projects, but you can build your own portfolio if you prefer. With Native Energy, you can choose 100% wind power, 100% methane or a 50/50 split of wind power and methane.

TerraPass and Native Energy use slightly different methods to calculate your carbon footprint. To review their specific methodologies, check here for TerraPass; go here for Native Energy and follow the link for "How do we calculate this?"

TerraPass calculates your carbon footprint in pounds. Flying one person roundtrip from Boston to Kingston, Jamaica, creates 1,791 pounds of CO2. To offset the damage with TerraPass would cost $11.90.

Meanwhile, Native Energy calculates carbon emissions in tons, at a cost of $12 a ton. That same trip from Boston to Jamaica, according to Native Energy, would emit 1.375 tons of CO2. Since Native Energy rounds up to the nearest ton, the trip would cost $24 to offset.

Native Energy allows you to add legs to a trip so you can calculate the impact of driving to the airport, flying to a major hub, taking a train or bus to a smaller city and then driving to your destination.

While TerraPass doesn't offer that option, it does allow you to select your airline and your class of service; flying first class is more carbon heavy than flying business or economy class, since you're taking up more room in the plane.

Flying from New York City to Miami in first class would emit 1,048 pounds of CO2 ($11.90 worth of offsets), while a seat in coach would emit 682 pounds of CO2 ($5.90 worth of offsets).

Renting Green

Once you reach your vacation destination, find a low-impact way to get around. How about a hybrid car? EV rental cars has a hybrid-only fleet at locations throughout California and in Phoenix.

Major rental car companies including Avis ( CAR), Budget and Hertz also are adding more hybrids to their fleets.

But be warned -- you may have to pay extra for a hybrid (up to $80/day). What's more, hybrids aren't available at all locations, so be sure to call ahead. Hertz also offers a number of EPA SmartWay-certified cars that get at least 28 miles per gallon.

If you can't get a fuel-efficient car -- and even if you can -- consider offsetting your rental car's emissions. Enterprise, which also owns Alamo and National, offers an optional carbon offset purchase with your rental.

Some destinations may offer unique local options. If you're heading to Maui, for example, check out Bio-Beetle Eco Rental Cars. The company's entire fleet -- including Jeeps, VW ( VLKAY) Beetles and Jettas -- runs on 100% biodiesel.

In some places, a scooter or moped might be more fun -- and practical -- than a low-carbon car. Moped rentals are popular on islands including Key West and Hawaii, but you can also find them in less tropical settings, including Chicago and Europe.

If a car service suits your travel needs, hire a hybrid limo. Boston-based Planet Tran serves the New England area as well as San Francisco. In New York, hire OZOcar to take you around town.

Ecolimo serves Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. In San Francisco, look up Green Car Limo and Hybrid Limo, which even offers a stretch Toyota ( TM) Prius. (Whether that last one fits your environmental principles is up to you.)

Bike and Walking Tours

Sometimes the best -- and certainly the most eco-conscious -- way to see the sights is on your own two feet. To find walking tours throughout the U.S., the Caribbean and British Columbia, Canada, check out In San Francisco, hook up with San Francisco City Guides to explore the city's neighborhoods, gardens, museums and historic districts for free. In New York City, Big Onion Walking Tours will take you on adventures throughout the city for $15 a person.

If you'd rather get around on two wheels, look for a biking tour. In New York City, Bike the Big Apple offers tours of all the major sights. Tours range from $70 to $90 (for an on-demand tour), with a $10 discount if you bring your own bike. If you're heading to the Windy City, take a tour with Bike Chicago for $25-$30.

If you're off to the nation's capital, tour the monuments or sniff the cherry blossoms (in-season) with Bike and Roll. These tours run between $32 and $40. On the west coast, tour San Francisco (including the Golden Gate Bridge) with Blazing Saddles. You can join a group and a guide for $65 or use one of their detailed maps of the Bay Area's bike routes to make your own adventure.

If all of this planning seems a little overwhelming, find yourself a "green" travel agent. Just look for the American Society of Travel Agents' Green Member logo.
Kelsey Abbott is a freelance writer in Freeport, Maine, where she lives with her husband and their dog.

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