Vacation or Staycation?

low angle shot of a child held by woman and man

to stay or to go

When considering the impacts humans have on the environment, many often think about the products we buy rather than our activities. We are encouraged to buy reusable products to reduce waste, buy eco-friendly cars to reduce carbon emissions, or eat sustainably sourced foods. However, common actions have just as much of an impact on the environment as the products we buy.

Activities like driving, flying, going out to eat, and staying in hotels have major environmental impacts. Vacations are a common occurrence that many people do not consider the environmental ramifications for, but an easy and more environmentally conscious
replacement would be taking a “staycation” instead.


taking a vacation vs. taking a staycation

Carbon Footprint Infographic

an alternative

If you have to take a trip, for example to see relatives in a different place for special occasions — consider purchasing carbon offsets through your airline or other sources! They are a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. For anyone finding themselves having to take flights or other extensive forms of travel, this purchase can work to offset the impact of your travel on the environment! We recommend stay-cations over vacations any day, but for special circumstances here are just a few ways that carbon offsets work to alleviate the impact of your trip’s carbon footprint.

carbon offset project methods:

By capturing and destroying a greenhouse gas that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere from landfills, car emissions, and more.

By producing energy using a clean, renewable resource that eliminates the need to produce that same energy from fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases.

By capturing and storing greenhouse gases to prevent their release into the atmosphere. This includes projects that plant and maintain health forrests!

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how to travel more sustainably

Whether a vacation is international or domestic, there are several different components that cause it to be harmful for our planet. Carbon emissions and excessive waste are difficult to avoid during any trip. The two main means of transportation -airplanes and vehicles- have a disastrous carbon footprint because they are used every day by nearly every person on Earth. By using those methods to travel, we are needlessly contributing to atmospheric pollution.

the problem with planes

When going on vacation, it is very common for families to take a plane to their destination. However, whether that destination is domestic or across the seas, significant amounts of carbon dioxide are emitted and the atmosphere suffers for it. If one person took an airplane from New York to California and back, it would equate to 20% of the carbon emissions their car emits every single year. With three billion passengers flying annually, carbon emissions from the airplanes have skyrocketed in recent years. 11% of all emissions from transportation come from the aviation industry, which equates to 16.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere every year.

the problem with cars

Unfortunately, cars are not better; while airplanes emit more carbon dioxide per trip, cars are more commonly used. The vehicles on the roads in the United States emit 24 pounds of carbon dioxide for every gallon of gas used. Even if the average family takes long road trips instead of plane rides, carbon emissions will continue to rack up and harm the environment. While fuel-efficient and electric cars have become more common in recent years, they are nowhere near being the majority of vehicles on roads.

the problem with waste

However, carbon emissions are not the only negative impact that vacations have on the environment; waste is also a major issue that is difficult to avoid when away from home. More waste is produced when travelling as compared to when you stay at home, because you have less control over how much is created and how it is disposed of.

Hotels often don’t offer a way to cook meals in the room, and doing so would require utensils and groceries that may be difficult to access. Naturally, eating the local cuisine is a big component of visiting a new place, but food is often put to waste when travelers eat out. Hotels are not the best place to bring your leftovers, especially when you could be leaving in a few days, so many tourists do not bother taking them back to their rooms. More often than not, the food waste is sent to the landfill where it cannot properly decompose. With plastic, dirt, and other trash being piled on top of it, the food does not have access to enough oxygen to biodegrade naturally. This results in methane gas being released from the waste during the biotic breakdown, which is three times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. 

Hotels are also a hotspot for plastic waste; plastic bottles, food wrappers, travel-sized toiletries, and forgotten items are thrown away. Many hotels will dispose of complimentary items after a guest has stayed in a room, even if it was used only once or not at all. Plastic key cards are also major contributors to plastic waste, because every single guest that checks into the hotel is required to get at least one. If you have to travel, a great alternative to hotels is staying in an AirBnB, because they will often have a full kitchen and less plastic waste.

alternatives to travel

The best alternative to taking a costly and harmful vacation is to take a “staycation” instead. This is an eco-friendly option where instead of travelling far away, you stay at home and take advantage of local activities. A staycation can still provide the relaxation that comes from a vacation, but without the unnecessary strain on the environment.  Instead of travelling far away by plane or car, you can explore your community and the activities near your house. Doing this will not only help the environment, but will save money as well. One trip to New York City on a mid-range budget could cost upwards of 200 dollars per person per day. Staying home, eating locally, and enjoying the activities available in your area, you will save much more than if you took that vacation. 

Beaches, local and national parks, rivers, and mountains all have beautiful natural landscapes that your family can explore. No matter where you live, there are many options that have yet to be discovered. Make a picnic in the park instead of going out to eat; research nearby campsites before booking a hotel; visit a national park near your home instead of travelling abroad. Being conscious of your impact on the environment does not necessarily mean you have to give up all of the things you enjoy because there are so many options nearby that you may not even be aware of. Having a staycation will boost your local economy, and allow for your children to experience all that their community and nature has to offer.

Haley O'Connor

Haley O'Connor

Green Actioneer Intern
UCF Political Science Student


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