Finding a Place to Lay Your Head

In my first blog post, I defined the parameters of what ethical travel means to me. The first point dealt with transportation and following two points focused on how to act once you arrive in a place. This post will focus on lodging once you arrive at your destination.

Any given destination usually has a multitude of accommodations to choose from: hotels, campgrounds, houses, cottages, or cabins to rent, hostels, homes of friends, relatives, or even friendly strangers. So which of these options can be classified as the most efficient with the smallest environmental footprint?

Personally, I’m a big fan of camping whenever possible, and that’s primarily because I’m drawn to nature-oriented vacations in the first place. Camping also has the added benefits of being one of the cheapest options for a place to spend the night and campgrounds are usually not too hard to come by.

When cost and environmental impact are concerns, staying with a friend or relative or crashing on a couch through Couchsurfing is a great option. It’s basically free and you get to visit someone whom you probably haven’t seen in a while (or have never met at all). Plus, if this person’s schedule allows for it, you might just end up with an awesome tour guide or at least someone who knows the place well and can give you tips about how to act like a local while you’re visiting. Whatever your lodging, ethical travel is most successful when you can blend into the local lifestyle (but that’s a discussion for another time).

What I would consider the next best option (if your budget allows for it) is renting. Renting is a great way to stimulate the local economy or even just support an individual family. When my family took our trip to Montana, which I wrote about in my first post, we stayed in a vacation rental apartment which a family had built over a garage they had on their property. In a rental like ours, you have your own space to cook, amenities like bedding and towels are provided, and you have a lot of privacy.

My family has also stayed in rental cabins where we have provided our own bedding, towels, food, etc. and while that means more packing for us, it also cuts down on the waste of restocking a rental facility and the excessive housekeeping practices of many hotels and some rentals. An added benefit of rental cabins is that they have allowed us to stay right in the forest; you can’t get that with a hotel.

Hotels are typically the least environmentally-friendly option because they generate the most waste, but the expansion of the “green tourism” sector has also led to an increase of green hotels which strive for environmentally-friendly practices such as cutting down washing linens, energy efficient lighting, heating, and cooling, and low-flow shower heads and toilets, and recycling or composting programs.

Green hotels are given a rating by agencies like The Rainforest Alliance and The World Wildlife Fund. So, searching for this environmentally-friendly option when choosing your destination is another good thing to consider.

Lastly, if you end up in a regular hotel, here are some tips for minimizing impact.

  • Set your air conditioner or heater to the most efficient temperature and turn it off if possible when you leave for the day.
  • Always turn off your lights and unplug appliances when you are not in your room.
  • Ask that your sheets and towels are not changed each day. (You don’t change them that often at home anyway.)
  • Find out if your hotel has a recycling program. If it doesn’t, then save your recyclables and take them home with you to dispose of properly.
  • Avoid using any disposable items in your room that are regularly replaced. This even goes for the trash can liners. If you dispose of garbage yourself in an outside dumpster, the trash can liner will be changed less often.

As far as my trip to Colorado is concerned, I’ll be staying a friend’s house in Loveland and tenting in Estes Park.

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