Before You Book: Eco-Friendly Hotel Or Just Greenwashing?

can of green paint and brush

velo_city, Flickr

We’ve all stayed at hotels that proudly boast, via little signs on the bed and/or bathroom sink, that they’re doing their part to save the environment. Don’t want towels changed in order to save water? Just hang ‘em up, and the housekeeper will know that you’re a carbon footprint-savvy traveler.

Sure. I can count on half of one hand the number of hotels that have actually paid attention to the location of my towel. I’ve seen countless housekeepers dump the contents of in-room recycling bins into their trash bags. I don’t have any expectations at motels, but when it comes to boutique, “eco-friendly,” or high-end properties making these claims, I find it infuriating.

My focus as a writer and traveler is on sustainability issues, and I’m overjoyed that an increasing number of hotels are more aware of their environmental impact. What doesn’t thrill me: the amount of greenwashing, or false eco-claims, that take place in the hospitality industry. This problem isn’t unique to hotels, but it’s prevalent.

African man holding fish

safari_partners, Flickr


We’re living in an era of climate change. Lowering our individual and collective carbon footprint should be something we do, to the best of our abilities, on a daily basis. Hotels are hip to the fact that an increasing number of travelers have an elevated eco-awareness, and they want to capitalize on that.

In the absence of a word-of-mouth or written recommendation, it can be difficult to ascertain a hotel’s eco-integrity (although certain chains are well-known for their green policies; a 2012 Reuters report cites chains like Six Senses Resorts & Spas, Taj Resorts, Kimpton Hotels and Marriott).

Sites like Green Traveler Guides, however, (full disclosure: I’m a contributing editor) exist as unofficial industry watchdogs, reviewing properties and assessing their green policies. If you’re looking for a hotel or resort that’s genuinely green, sites like GTG feature properties that are both green and great, as well as provide tips on how to be a more eco-minded traveler. Other resources include sites like Green Lodging News.

hotel with exterior living wall

Rev_Stan, Flickr

For a quick study, here’s a checklist of what to look for when researching hotels:

  • If the only mentions refer to buzzwords like “organic,” “local,” “eco-friendly,” “eco-lodge,” or “environment,” caveat emptor. There’s no law that prohibits the use of green jargon; it’s up to you as a consumer to do your homework.
  • Is there a bona-fide recycling (bonus points for composting) program?
  • Does the property employ locals/incorporate and support local culture and community? How?
  • Is the property built and furnished with natural and/or reclaimed or renewable materials wherever possible?
  • Are there green options for guests, such as bike rentals and local culture-based activities?
  • Does the property have green certification from a legit international or domestic organization or program?
Laurel Miller, Gadling
  • Does the property use alternative fuel or electric carts for guest transit on-site and off?
  • Are bathroom amenities and cleaning agents chemical-free? Bonus points your in-room goodies are locally made.
  • If there’s on-site dining, is the food seasonal and sourced locally whenever possible (which reduces fossil fuel output as well as promotes local food security)? Do family farmers, ranchers and fisherman supply ingredients? Is there a chemical-free on-site rooftop or other garden from which the restaurant sources product?
  • Does the property have a “living roof” or walls?
  • Is the property using alternative resources for operations? Examples include solar or wind power, geothermal heating and reclaimed water systems.

Slideshow: Souvenir Travel Clothes That Don’t Translate Back Home

We’ve all done it. Caught up in the excitement of a great trip, we find ourselves “going local,” and buying an article (or wardrobe) of indigenous clothing to show our love for a place. Sometimes, as with vintage aloha shirts, pretty kurtas, handcrafted leather sandals or Latin American peasant blouses, these looks play well back home. At their worst, however, they make the wearer resemble a clown, costume party-refugee or garden variety idiot.

I understand the urge to wear groovy clothes that scream, “I’m a world traveler!” But more often, bad sartorial choices are the result of too many margaritas, too much pakalolo or the shopping frenzy that results from visiting foreign craft fairs and artisan markets. God knows, I could stock a Goodwill with past purchases. But, like cornrows on white girls, male sarongs or anything from Hilo Hattie, most wearable souvenirs are better off left in their place of origin.

View the slideshow for a selection of frequent travel fashion violations.

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Flying With Your Dog: New Class Makes Canines Better Airline Passengers

Some people are naturally better travelers than others; so it is with pets. But whereas humans can temper their anxiety or irritation at the airport bar or by downing an Ambien, dogs don’t have that option (although, to be accurate, your vet will prescribe a travel sedative for your pet if need be).

Now, there’s a class available for canine air passengers that’s aimed to keep them calm when going through airport security and in-flight. According to MSN, Talaat Captain, the president and CEO of the world’s largest “aviation-themed film studio,” Air Hollywood, was inspired to create the Air Hollywood K9 Flight School. Given a dog’s acute sense of sight, hearing and smell, it’s no surprise that blaring announcements, crowds, hovering strangers in uniform and turbulence can make for a stressful experience.

For $349, Air Hollywood puts pets and owners through a real-time simulated airport and flight experience (using an airport set and fake fuselage) in order to prep and desensitize both parties to the process. The certification class is focused on in-cabin travel, rather than cargo: Depending upon the airline, dogs under 20 pounds may be allowed to fly stashed under the seat in carrier; service dogs fly free and lie at their owners feet.

If your pup is panicky when taking to the skies, perhaps the above video will help convince you that heading back to school is a good idea.

The Joys of Traveling Solo

woman with suitcase
Rob, Flickr

As travel writers, taking solo trips goes with the territory, so to speak. Sometimes, we’re able to take along significant others or friends, but that’s the exception. For my part, I prefer to travel alone, be it work or pleasure (which, given my occupation, generally turns into work in some form).

I just returned from a two-week-long solo assignment in Hawaii; it was my 15th visit, 14 of which have been made solo. In the early and mid-90s, I lived on Maui, and those experiences are what really cemented my love of traveling by myself, even in a place marketed to, and dominated by, couples. Sure, it can be lonely or a bit depressing at times to be a lone nomad, but I prefer to focus on the numerous advantages:

  • You generally get more of a cultural immersion when you’re by yourself. Depending upon where you are, locals may either pity you or find you an object of curiosity. This results in invites to dinner in private homes or to local events, and other experiences not easily had when you’re a twosome or in a group.
  • There’s no one to get pissed off at you when you inevitably get lost.

Salar de Uyuni
Laurel Miller, Gadling
  • You’ll likely get more out of your trip, because you can focus on your interests.
  • Even without someone to watch your luggage while you purchase train tickets or run to the bathroom, it’s usually less stressful to travel alone. Bickering is inevitable, no matter how great your relationship, be it romantic or platonic.
  • Locals are usually happy to show you the sights. Again, this depends upon where you are, but by way of example, on a recent trip to Paraguay, I encountered palpable national pride among every single person I met. Everyone was eager to show me why their country is incredible (and it is).
  • Per the above, you’ll see things “tourists” don’t, like hidden waterfalls, swimming holes, sacred sites, rituals, festivals, etc. As with accepting an invitation to someone’s home, you need to use good judgment so you don’t compromise your safety, but without question, my best travel experiences have come about in this manner.
  • Watching a sunset alone on a deserted beach is highly underrated.
  • You may save money; single rooms can be less expensive and cover charges are often waived for women.
  • While I don’t often go out alone at home, I usually love to grab a drink at a dive bar when I travel. It’s a great way to meet locals as well as like-minded fellow travelers (who are always happy to share tips).
  • I find I push yourself more when I travel by myself. My friends aren’t as adventurous or outdoorsy as I am (they might use the term “dirtbaggy“), so hostels, janky buses and ferries, extreme sports, weird street foods and backpacking are out. I happily partake in these activities on my own, which has also been a big confidence-builder.

At The Aspen Animal Shelter, You Can Rent-A-Pet On Your Vacation

hikers with dog
Courtesy of Aspen Animal Shelter

If you’re a frequent traveler as well as an animal-lover, there are two scenarios that likely describe you: petless and sad about it, or pet-owner, but usually forced to leave it at home or board it. Neither is a happy option, but the always-innovative Aspen Animal Shelter has a furry, feel-good Band-Aid for you.

The for-profit, no-kill shelter offers a Rent-a-Pet program that allows visitors to borrow dogs from two hours to an entire weekend. Explains Director Seth Sachson, “Our motto is ‘Exercise your heart. Walk a dog or cuddle a cat.’ It’s meaningful for a shelter to have this type of program, because these are adoptable animals, and visitors and volunteers are helping the dogs get exercise and develop socialization skills.”

Rent-a-Pet, which is also open to residents, pairs pet-friendly people with dogs (or cats) to ensure a good fit. If your desire is to spend a full day out on the trails, you’ll get an athletic animal that’s up to the task. Casual strolls may find you with a more mellow mutt. And, bonus: like most ski towns, Aspen is incredibly dog-friendly, so you’ll find that many hotels (including the toniest of properties) welcome pets.