Plan a Green Vacation

Summer is vacation time for many gardeners and their families, but there’s no reason to abandon your concern for the environment and interest in gardening when you vacation. Modify your vacation plans slightly and you can discover a new and fascinating world on a green vacation.

“Green” has a number of meanings for a gardener. It’s the obvious color of choice for strong plants, it’s a synonym for someone young or inexperienced, and it identifies someone who cares about preserving and protecting the environment. With a little foresight and dedication, your travel plans can encompass all that “green” has to offer.

Let me offer an example. Last year my wife and I traveled to San Diego, California. Before we took our first step westward, we committed to minimizing our impact on the environment while maximizing our vacation experience. Our goal was to make it green, and in the process to enjoy that highlight.

We traveled west by train along with hundreds of other travelers who wanted to avoid airplanes or cars, wanted a cheaper transportation option, or, like us, wanted to sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery that the desert Southwest displayed, like a never-ending art museum mural.

While diesel locomotives burn fossil fuel and emit exhaust, it is minimal compared to the total auto fuel and exhaust if each of the train passengers had traveled by auto. From that first mile to the last, we used public transportation, or our feet, to venture from one location to another. We never rented a car.

Taking the Train

We planned our excursions based on the available transportation and what was within walking distance of our hotel or from a bus or train stop. There wasn’t anything we wanted to do that we couldn’t. Our hotel was within walking distance of the train station in San Diego. That was part of the original plan. We were two blocks from a major bus and tram hub. One of the first things we did was to purchase a multi-day public transportation pass.

What may be considered a limitation by some seasoned California travelers actually opened up new experiences for us. Both my wife and I have lived in California and have traveled extensively throughout its expansive area. Like most, we always drove the highways. Traveling by train opens up whole new vistas. Our public tram and bus ride from San Diego to La Hoya enabled us to travel city streets and routes and see architecture and scenery we would have otherwise missed, and the final beach destination was the same, regardless of the mode of travel. Our tram ride to the east county area to visit friends was eye-opening.

We walked to the bay and toured the USS Midway, a real aircraft carrier. Throughout the week we walked throughout the historic Gaslamp Quarter and enjoyed wonderful meals and people-watching. We walked to the Air & Space Museum to see one of a handful of SR-71 Blackbirds on display in the U.S. and one of only two Apollo space capsules west of the Rocky Mountains.

We walked to the San Diego Zoo and took the bus back. The walk allowed us to enjoy beautiful Balboa Park, to soak in the amazing gardens and architecture. We had our pick of 15 unique museums and a handful of wonderful restaurants. Our lunch at Prado was one of the best we had during the entire week in San Diego.

The zoo is a gardener’s nirvana. It is divided into many different habitats for the respective animals, and the plants are authentic to those habitats. Unique flowers and bushes and trees abound. There was flora of every size and color to examine and touch that previously was only available as a picture in a book or online site. I enjoyed walking through forest recreations and discovering jaw-dropping plants more than seeing the animals.

Riding the tram over the zoo

The city of San Diego encourages beauty and every street in the downtown area exploded with plantings on the sidewalks, on building balconies, and in store and restaurant windows. The city’s concrete, steel, and glass often disappeared momentarily because of an expanse of Bougainvillea or a lemon tree on a street corner.

A lemon tree on the sidewalk

We had begun developing our concept of a green vacation the year before with a trip to Seattle, Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. We walked extensively throughout each city, experiencing shops, museums, and eateries. We used a rental car, but with specific destinations in mind: to visit Butchart Gardens, a stunning experience and one of the premier garden destinations in the world; to drive through a rainforest on the way to the west coast of Vancouver Island; and to explore the lavender fields of northwestern Washington. All were amazing journeys, especially for someone who loves plants.

Exploring Butchart Gardens

This year we’ll follow the green theme in France. The train will be our primary mode of transportation. As we venture around the country each of our lodging choices are close enough to the center of each  town that we’ll be able to walk to the primary tourist interests. We plan to rent bicycles for excursions into the countryside. For the week we’re in Paris we’ll enjoy public transportation. We’ll take it to Versailles to bask in the world-famous gardens. I selected our lodging because it’s within walking distance of Notre Dame Cathedral, Georges Pompidou Center, and the Louvre.

Another green aspect on such a vacation is to eat local food whenever possible. Local vegetables, fruit, meat, or fish make a smaller environmental footprint than food that is trucked in from a distant source. And local food almost always tastes better than large restaurant chains.

We’ve found that planning and taking a green vacation has made them more enjoyable. Our creativity explodes. Instead of doing all of the mundane touristy things that everyone else is doing, we seek out unique offerings that you might only see when you’re taking your time, walking, and enjoying the experience. It’s easier to duck into a shop, museum, or garden when you’re strolling along a sidewalk or path than it is when you’re speeding down the highway.

Not to be hypocritical, we have taken and do take other, more traditional American vacations. They involve driving and fast food and touristy activities. There is a time and place for such things. But it seems we’ve gained much more satisfaction and enjoyment from the green ones. Maybe it was due to the awareness that our actions served a good, global purpose. Maybe it was because the green vacations included gardens as a destination. Maybe it was because we’ve slowed down in our old age and are literally smelling the roses.

My wife Janelle at Butchart Gardens

Whatever the reason, a green vacation is an idea I want to share. We told all of our friends about the first one and were met with amazement, awe, and applause. A natural reaction was that it must have been difficult. On the contrary, it was quite easy, so easy that everyone who vacations should try at least some aspect.

Take a train, take a bus, take a tram, ride a bike. Walk instead of driving. Eat local food. Visit gardens. Try green options as you slow down and enjoy the journey.

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