Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Trip to Californ-I-A

Last weekend my family caravanned south to our former hometown in California, which brought up the whole tangled issue of ecological travel. Isn’t that an oxymoron? It’s a definite sore spot with me that our highest profile “ecologists” spend so much time on private planes, which despite their small numbers produce more pollution than all of the private vehicles in America combined. I guess Al Gore would have a hard time selling books from his 20,000 square foot mansion, but the waste seems so hypocritical that I have a hard time taking him seriously. Now I’m feeling his pain; it’s hard to maintain the 100-mile diet when we’re a thousand miles away, but sometimes life beckons. I want to see the world without destroying it, so here was my plan for a green getaway:

Conserve Fuel: This was probably the biggest consideration for my super-sized family. We all know to take the smallest vehicle, but what exactly is a reasonable size for seven people? You can’t assume the compact car wins, especially when carting large groups. In our case, the two most efficient cars available get 18 mpg and the trusty minivan gets 28, so the larger vehicle is the most ecological choice (18x2=36 and 36>28). We are one of the few families that could justify driving one of those giganto SUV’s, but I think being a little squished is worth preserving the polar ice caps and infinitely more comfortable than breathing smog. Americans opt for comfort over fuel efficiency, but do we really need room for a quick game of arena football in the back seat? We have been known to rent a more fuel efficient vehicle; depending on how far we are traveling, this sometimes saves money as well as emissions.

Eat Normal Food: Another discovery: it’s hard to eat local when I don’t have cooking facilities or any idea what is local and where to purchase it. My remaining choices were: A. bring as much as possible from home and try to favor smaller establishments over corporate fast food, or B. give up and spend several days feeling my butt spread as I sit in the drove-through line. Option A is obviously more environmentally sound, not to mention cheaper and healthier. However, in the interest of family peace I aimed for one meal out per day, with the rest improvised. My kids got their Happy Meal fix and I (almost) kept my waistline.

Treat Hotels like a Home Away from Home--Literally: It seems logical until you put my otherwise sensible family in the alien surroundings of a hotel room and watch them go crazy. Air conditioners (or heaters, depending on the season) running 24/7, lights left on, showers that drain the hotel’s million-gallon tank. We’re paying for it, so why not enjoy it, right? But I don’t leave the earth behind when I leave my home—not this decade at least—so I have started pretending that I’ll be the one paying the electric bill and jacking that thermostat up to 80 where it belongs. I really wish we could have pitched a tent and avoided the temptation altogether, but we needed a roof, a shower, and preferably breakfast. Here are a few lists of green hotels to check out before you make reservations:


Entertainment/Souvenirs/Miscellaneous: Obviously the funeral and all of the related festivities were enough to occupy us, but if I had a spare moment I would have checked out local National Parks. I could also have searched my destination’s local newspaper for upcoming concerts and entertainment. Even the smallest community rarely sees a summer weekend with nothing to do. As for souvenirs, better than freecycling is not buying crap I don’t need in the first place. A picture makes a better memory and won’t end up languishing on the shelf at Goodwill. If we had absoposilutely required a tangible item, I would have gone for something edible. By the grace of God we managed to escape with only a few Happy Meal toys.

The best choice, had this been a pleasure-only trip, would have been to stay closer to home. Not only would we have saved gas, but we would have seen more of our new home state. But sometimes you want to, or have to, venture beyond your own backyard. The good news is that environmentally-conscious traveling is usually budget-conscious as well, which will leave you funds for buying my book when and if I manage to get it published.