Travel tradeoffs: The green, the bad, and the ugly


O.K., one more post about my trip to New Orleans and then I’m done. (It’s just that the food was SO GOOD. I can’t stop thinking about it.)

Not a half-bad-looking city, either.

We love to travel. And yet I recognize it’s a luxury, and that inevitably it does carry a footprint above and beyond the impact we normally have. As I said before, the act of driving to New Orleans was in itself a huge part of that footprint. On the other hand, we didn’t drive much once we got there—just walked, mostly, which is different than if our destination had been, say, a national park. (We wouldn’t have driven at all had an orthopedic convention not been in town, monopolizing all the hotel rooms in the French Quarter. I love partying with doctors!)

The whole trip represents those kinds of tradeoffs.

Stuff we did that reduced our trip’s impact: We camped one night of four, meaning we used no electricity, or heat/AC—just a little propane for our lamp. We took water bottles and a lot of food with us from home, so we didn’t have to buy as many packaged snacks on the road. We took the stairs in the hotel. We ate local seafood (I’m counting that as green because of the transportation aspect, but I don’t know enough to vouch for the way the stuff was caught). And we put a "do not disturb" sign on our hotel room door to prevent unnecessary use of water in cleaning and unnecessary replacing of towels, plastic cups, individually wrapped soaps, etc.

Low-impact entertainment.

But it seemed the tourism industry was sometimes out to thwart our attempts. Our room got cleaned anyway. We were served drinks in plastic cups even when sitting down for meals—once, my water came in two plastic cups. One of the signature New Orleans drinks (the HAND GRENADE) comes in so much plastic you could melt it down and make a Lego set out of it. Friendly servers piled on the plastic bags and plastic-wrapped plastic forks and fistfuls of napkins when we ordered carryout.

And though we stayed away from buying throwaway sourvenirs, there were, of course, all those beads.

What have you done to ease the impact of your travels? Where have you been thwarted?