How to Go Green: Spring Break

Spring Break Green Beach Sunglasses Photo

Image source: iStock

What began as a spring training trip in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for college athletes, has turned into a huge, money-making, right of passage for students and families across the United States. If you're among these ranks, after slogging through a long dreary winter, dreaming of sunshine, t-shirts, bathing suits, and flip-flops. You may want to just get away, forget about your troubles (like how you bombed your last midterm), and be completely self indulgent for a week. Or maybe you're looking for that solo road trip--experiencing the freedom of the road, just you, your car, maybe a booze cruise down to Cancun. Worrying about the state of the planet or your carbon footprint might be the last thing on your mind at this point; maybe it seems like these two ideas couldn't be further polar opposites. Even Lewis Black recently debated (with tongue fully in cheek) the two ideas on his Comedy Central show "Root of All Evil". But having a green spring break isn't as hard as you think.

Spring Break: Think Green Before You Travel

Just because you're avoiding the party scene doesn't mean you're off the hook. Even taking a trip to an eco-locale can itself harm the area, particularly as sensitive areas are overrun with tourists. Not to discount the value of tourism--as many developing nations depend on these dollars‐there can be benefits to foreign travel, if done right. Travel can also encourage and ignite climate stewardship as exposure makes the "other" suddenly real and gives it value. The goal instead is to make sure that your dollars match your goals.

Actually having a good time on vacation doesn't have to mean leaving your ideals at the door. A little planning never hurt to ensure you go green from the start. Even if you've already got the plane tickets in your hand, there are ways to green the trip like choosing green beach products and using carbon offsets to account for the plane trip. Before you jet set to far off lands and leave responsibility behind, we have a few tips to help you have a good time, unwind, and still stay green.

Spring Break: All in the Family

Spring break isn't just for college kids. If you're trying to think of something to do with the family this week but don't want to spend a lot of money, consider making your own green break using local resources. Or take your family for an experience they won't soon forget, either volunteering in the wilds somewhere, or try one of our Green City Guides to choose from the best that civilization has to offer.

Will these opposing ideals of gluttony and responsibility ever merge? Of course they can. This guide is here to show you how to do just that.

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Green Spring Break Tips

  1. Take a Spring Break Eco-Trip
    You might get a cheap air deal to the coast, but those emissions will cost you. The biggest carbon footprint for your week more than likely is your transportation. But, you have a yearning to see the beauties of the world that won?t go away, so instead choose an eco-friendly spring break destination. This may involve sustainable housing, low-impact activities, and supporting local artisans and restaurants.

  2. Find Fair Green Spring Break Air Fares
    Darn it. Your airplane tickets are already purchased, so there is no way to avoid those awful carbon emissions your flight will generate. Now what's a green guy/gal to do? Now wait just one second because carbon offsets are one way to take care of all of the CO2 you will generate. Another helpful option is to use tips to Green your Air Travel to make your time on the flight itself as green as possible.

  3. Take a Classic Spring Break Road-Trip
    The open road, or maybe just free housing in a friend?s timeshare, is calling your name. Pack as many people into that car as it will hold, to pack the biggest punch in reducing your personal carbon footprint for what will surely be a memorable week. Better yet, why not rent a hybrid car while you?re at it. You'll save on gas as well as save wear and tear on your car. Many car rental companies now offer hybrids among their fleet of rentals.

  4. Take Your Bike To Go
    It'll take a little more planning, but traveling by bike for a week is definitely the greenest way to go. Hop aboard a bus or train to a city or town you've never been in and spend the week learning the area, hanging out with the locals and just cruising around on your two wheels. Make sure you take a map with you and maybe a weird pair of biking shorts, and get ready to see the town on an up close and personal level.

  5. Enjoy a Green Spring Break Party Scene

    If you?re headed down to the beach and the party scene, remember that there are myriad ways to go green when you imbibe, whether you prefer beer, wine or cocktails. And if you hit it off with someone, and things get hot and heavy, keep it safe with these healthy, green between-the-sheets tips. Remember, enjoy everything in moderation, and keep it all legal, please.

  6. Find Green Spring Break Hotels, Hostels and Housing
    To get a better sense of the local flavor and possibly get a personal invite to area events and celebrations, stay with a establishment. Rooming with locals will give you a better flavor of the local community, as well as clue you in to unknown treasures around town. You will also be supporting the local community, where tourism dollars are often a major source of income. If that's not an option, choose to stay in a sustainably certified hotel.

  7. Get Your Hands Dirty
    The concept might seem counterintuitive, but many students these days are choosing to join in on what is known as known as an Alternative Spring Break. Most colleges organize volunteer opportunities, either partnering with Habitat for Humanity, or with local community groups painting schools, planting trees, or engaging in another worthwhile green activity. Other opportunities include traveling out of state, or even out of the country. Sometimes you can even get college credit for your week spent "working." Check with your local campus community service and/or volunteer office to see if they have anything in the works. Don't worry--you don't have to clean up garbage in some polluted swamp. There are plenty of alternative trips--going to Cancun to protecting sea turtles, for example that hardly seem like work at all.

  8. Eat with the Locals
    Avoid fast food and support the local community by eating a "slow" cooked meal and laying off the grease. After a night of fun with your friends, your stomach is probably begging for a hangover cure, so do yourself a favor and opt for something you won't regret later. Plan ahead and find the local farmers' market to stock up for the week--you can find the closest market to your destination at Local Harvest. What could be better than taking chilled fruit to snack on while laying out at the beach under the hot sun?

  9. Be a Local Tourist
    Chances are, if you've spent your entire semester studying and working on campus, you have'?t had much time to explore the area outside of prison, er, school. If that's the case, enjoying a staycation is the way to go. Spend the week checking out area museums, concert venues, parks, and other local hidden gems. Local alternative newspapers, and our very own Green City Guides, offer plenty of tips for fun local activities that'll teach you the finer things about your own backyard. So sleep in late, and then enjoy your own, local treasure hunt.

  10. Take the Kids
    If you're staying local and still need plans, museums and other educational organizations often offer (Spring Break week "camp" options with daily activities and outings for kids. While many of these do come at a price, they ensure daily (planned) activities, outings and entertainment for your children for the entire week. Or, instead of taking the family to Disneyland, why not take them someplace they will remember for years (and later use on college admission essays) like trekking through Mayan ruins or swimming with sharks in Belize. These activities don't have to break the bank and also support local communities that often are dependent on tourism dollars.

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Green Spring Break: By the Numbers

Numbers, stats, and figures that put your Spring Break actions in a greener context. Compute, learn, enjoy, repeat.

  • 130: The number of different organizations certifying green travel. But only a few of the 100,000+ hotels and resorts around the world subscribe to any sort of sustainability plan.

  • 70,000: Tons of waste that cruise ships produce in just the Caribbean each year.

  • 90: Number of countries, out of the 109 that contain coral reefs, that have damaged reefs due to cruise ship anchors and sewage, harvesting of coral to sell to tourists, or tourists harvesting their own coral.

  • 2 million+: Number of students, depending on the week, on Spring Break travel.

  • 100,000: Number of college-age kids traveling during Spring Break.

  • 65: The average dollar amount a student at the beach for Spring Break spends per day, compared with the $22USD a regular vacationer spends each day, on average.

  • 83 percent: The percentage of developing countries that list tourism as their principle export.

  • 1 million: The number of reported cases of skin cancer in the United States each year.

  • 1,000: The number of people who die of skin cancer each year in the United States.

  • 30 percent: The average difference in price between conventional alcohol and organic alcohol.

  • 29: Percentage that organic beer sales grew in 2007.

  • 13: Percentage that organic wine sales grew in 2007.

Sources: New York Times, The International Ecotourism Society, MSNBC, Panhandle Parade, National Cancer Institute, Green Living Ideas.

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Where to Get Green Spring Break Deals

Here's the low-down on where to go next for green Spring Break deals and more.
Green Travel/Medical Insurance
Gales Creek Patriot Green Travel Medical Insurance offers travelers insurance with green options--mostly carbon offsets for your travel.

If you do find yourself on a beautiful island, in need of a new suit this season, why not try an organic and/or recycled suit, like one from Aaron Chang, Ailin, or Kelly Barry. Guys can also snag a pair of recycled plastic board-shorts from Planet Surfwear, by surf companies that are members of the Action Sports Environmental Coalition and Project Blue has tons of eco-friendly gear that also goes to support Surfrider Foundation.

Green Partying
Marriott, Kimpton and Ritz-Carlton are among the hotels that now carry organic beverages in their hotel bars.

Alternative Spring Breaks
If following the crowd to the beach is not your scene, and you're interested in volunteering, there are plenty of organizations devoted to getting you there, like I to I Volunteer Travel, Break Away, and MTV Alternative Spring Break. also has a long list of sponsored Alternative Spring Break ventures if you want to get involved and can?t find a group on campus.

If you have time, try finding a local B&B, which will hopefully make you feel more like you?re in a home away from home. The Green Hotels Association focuses on hotels big and small, and also offers sustainability criteria that hotels must meet.

Airlines Providing Emissions Offsets
Most airlines these days offer carbon offsets with the purchase of a ticket, including cheap ticket sites like Expedia and Travelocity, as well as, airlines like Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways.

Kids Activities
Places like the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center offer Spring Break Camps for kids. You can also design your own green adventures in your community.

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Green Spring Break: From the Archives

Learn more about going green on Spring Break with these articles from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.

Not sure where to go? Try one of our Green City Guides and check out what several Green Travel Blogs recommend as their Top Eco-Destinations.

Once you've got the destination, then cruise on over to our guides for How to Go Green: Travel & Outdoors and our eco-friendly travel section to give you tips on getting the most green out of your va-cay. Need more advice? The TreeHugger Forums are a great place to ask for practical advice on choosing eco-resorts and whether eco-tourism has any benefit. A few more eco-travel tips include greening your general travel abroad routine and 5 easy eco-travel tips that make a difference. Thinking big? If you?re planning your own trip, but don't know where to go, why not choose one of these 500 amazing locales that are worth seeing before they disappear.

Desination? Check. Resources? Check. Transportation? Uh oh. Since everyone is shunning plane travel, check out our summer train travel guide to give you the skinny on how to get where you need to go. If you do happen to travel solo, consider renting a scooter and an electric one that you can plug in, if you can find one. If you're road-tripping, we have a few words of wisdom on packing smart. No matter how you choose to cruise, you can offset any mode of transport with our handy guide for How to Go Green: Carbon Offsets.

Once you get there, where are you going to stay? Here are 9 Questions You Must Ask Before Booking a Green Hotel as well as tips for finding green hotels when you're on the go. If your hotel was part of a package deal, not to fear; here are a few tips to green your hotel stay, no matter where you end up.

For your time in paradise, we have some advice to help your spring break party. Get the scoop on green cocktails, including recipes to make your own. Before getting creative with that cute guy/girl you've had your eye on all week, check out our tips for green lovin' in our guide for How to Go Green: Sex, as well as a some fascinating info on purchasing green sex toys.

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Further Reading on a Green Spring Break

Dig deeper into a green Spring Break with more information from these worthwhile sources.

Wanna learn more about eco-tourism in general? The U.N. recently published their Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, which outlines basic principles for the sustainable travel industry and aims to set standards for an industry that is, quite frankly, all over the map. The International EcoTourism Society can also help you identify sustainable hotels and eco-destinations around the globe.

If you're looking for someone to do all of the legwork organizing the trip, check out REI Adventures--they offset 100% of the carbon emissions for the trip--Whole Travel or Volunteer Match.

The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International both have offices devoted to promoting eco-tourism and can give you more background on how to plan your own trip. You can also use the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to calculate the carbon generated for your trip and then offset it yourself with their Green Tags program.

When the lights go down, The Huffington Post and Greenpeace both offer tips to help you between the sheets. The Huffington Post also weighs in on top organic booze options.

How to Go Green: Spring Break
What began as a spring training trip in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for college athletes, has turned into a huge, money-making, right of passage for students and families across the United States. If you're among these ranks, after

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