How can you take a green vacation?

Planes, Trains and Automobiles -- Carbon-neutral Travel

Once you reach your destination, ditch carbon-emitting automobiles and rent bikes to get around.
Once you reach your destination, ditch carbon-emitting automobiles and rent bikes to get around.
John-Francis Bourke/Getty Images

The best way to travel green is to catch a bus or take a train. If you use these to methods of transportation, you'll reduce the energy and fuel needed per person to reach your destination.

But flying may be your only option for many destinations. Unfortunately, air travel is not the most carbon-friendly mode of transportation. Although a cross-country road trip might require the same amount of fuel as a flight, air travel does more damage because it releases gases into the atmosphere at a much higher altitude. One possible solution to this problem is carbon-neutral travel.

To travel in a carbon-neutral way, you first need to calculate your carbon footprint, which is the amount greenhouse gases, measured in units of carbon dioxide, produced by each person on your flight. Then you can buy offsets, donations for projects that will produce energy without burning fossil fuels or emitting greenhouse gases. This green energy will cancel out the carbon footprint created by your flight [source: NY Times].

In 2006, Expedia and Travelocity introduced programs to offer carbon offsets to customers. Expedia, through a partnership with Terrapass, offers passengers on a medium or long-haul flight a "carbon-balanced flyer" luggage tag. The charge is $5.99 for a round-trip flight of up to 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers) to offset 1,000 pounds (453 kilograms) of CO2 emitted per passenger during the flight. A cross-country trip of up to 6,500 miles (10,460 kilometers) costs $16.99, while an international flight of up to 13,000 miles (20,921 kilometers) costs $29.99 [source: Terrapass, NY Times]. Terrapass uses the money to sponsor projects that produce clean energy. When you purchase an offset through Terrapass, your money will go to one of three types of projects: wind farms, landfill gas capture or farm power like dairy farm methane digesters.

Even though ­offsetting is a relatively new phenomenon, it's become a popular way to justify air travel. In the U.S., everyone from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to Sen. Dianne Feinstein is reported to regularly purchase offsets [source: USA Today]. While the jury's still out on whether these programs will have a significant impact on climate change, carbon offsetting certainly can't hurt.

Now that you've arrived at your destination, what can you do to make your stay green?