For the eco-conscious and frugal people out there like myself, the topic of vacation has always been a bit of a challenge. Don't get me wrong - I love getting away and taking a break from "normal" life - but I often choose not to because of how expensive it can be. Until recently, I feel that the environment was an important consideration when it comes to vacation, but I'm starting to think otherwise. Think of the waste inherent in resorts and hotels, the carbon footprint left behind from any air travel, the questionable practices used by the tourism industries in most vacation destinations and the low quality foods you would most likely be ingesting during your stay. And this doesn't even take into account the quality of the alcohol in the place that you are visiting - if you drink - because in places like Mexico, the alcohol is of a much lower standard so has far more impurities than in the US or Canada.
There are a few ways to make your vacation more eco-friendly, and many ways to make it less expensive. There is a movement towards eco-tourism, which is billed as responsible travel that can be educational, low impact and usually small scale. I have not taken any eco-tours, so I can't say much about them, but they are an option.
Something I am more interested in is agri-tourism, which seems to be more along the lines of where my passions are. There is something called WWOOF ("World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms") where you can go and work at a farm and in exchange receive food and lodging. Some will charge a fee and some won't, depending on the amount of work that you are willing to do! This is an invaluable way to learn more about how to grow your own food and feel more connected to the earth. Many placed that you would visit are removed from city life and have the peaceful, relaxing feeling of a place you might visit on vacation, you just will do some work each day. I figure since it's not the work I do for a living, it probably won't feel like real work. Plus there is just so much to learn.
Another idea, if you are interested in meditation and/or yoga, is to escape to a Buddhist meditation retreat. I am leaving for a five day silent meditation retreat on Denman Island today, which I am looking forward to immensely. The accommodations are rustic (I will be staying in an 8' x 10' hut with no heat, water or electricity, but the main facilities have all of these things), but the purpose is to learn about meditation and yoga, which I think would be a terrific thing to do for a few days. There is no requirement that you be a Buddhist to attend, and the retreat is by donation. So you give what you can (and only at the end after you can properly evaluate the usefulness of the experience). I love the idea and I'll let you know how it goes.
Finally, one last idea I've come across which I would love to do if I could get more time off work is to do a vacation where you go somewhere exotic and volunteer at a sanctuary of some sort. For instance, in Costa Rica there is a sloth rescue where you can volunteer and for $30/day receive food and lodging. You would work from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day and have one day off per week, so it is not a vacation for the unmotivated amongst us! There is a minimum stay required of two weeks, but for $420 plus travel costs, you can have a truly rewarding trip! I'm definitely keeping that one in mind for the next time I have some extra time off!