Category Archives: Eco-Travel

Green Honeymoons

By Leah Kaminsky

For those of us who love the earth and romantic getaways, thoughts of our carbon footprint can turn those daydreams of exotic destinations into guilt. This is especially true with honeymoons, a time when eco-conscious couples want to live life to the fullest without feeling eco-guilt. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to be green while honeymooning. We’ve compiled just a few below.

Couples that seek a green honeymoon have a world of options

Stay Close to Home

That far-off destination doesn’t actually have to be so far off. Couples that live in big cities can find a whole new world in a vibrant neighborhood on the other side of town, or head out into the countryside or regional hot spots. This will keep the travel footprint low and the bill low, too.

Honeyteering

For the idealistic couple a volunteer honeymoon is a great way to go. Get to know the locals by helping build rain barrels. Or, explore the world’s best organic farms when you volunteer with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). You’ll eat great food, learn about a foreign culture, and help promote sustainability all at once.

Eco-Retreats and Eco-Hotels

As eco-retreats increase in popularity, so, too, do the variety available. Explore the Honduran rainforest or spend the night in a treehouse in the Norwegian woods. Or simply look for hotels that promote sustainable practices, like not washing sheets every day and recycling toiletries.

National Parks

For outdoorsy couples, national parks make a great option. Spend your honeymoon exploring all the natural wonders these parks have to offer and learning about the Earth’s many beauties.

Couples that seek a green honeymoon have a world of options and a little research a romantic green honeymoon is well within reach.

Why Biking is Good for the Planet and for You

By Leah Kaminsky

It’s been nearly a year since I packed up my studio in Seattle and moved down to Austin. And I’m ashamed to report that my bike sat in its shipping packaging for most of that time. Because, you know…unpacking requires effort.

Fortunately, a recent getaway to the Hill Country changed all that. Just a few minutes riding past wildflowers in full bloom and I was extolling biking’s myriad health benefits. Sure, it was a great way to mix up my regular cardio workout, but I also found it cleared my head, relaxed me, and was just a great way to get around.

Since I’ve returned from my trip, I’ve been into my bike, discovering all sorts of new treasures I’d passed a million times in a car and never noticed. It’s so much easier to get in a workout when I combine it with a commute, and I love skating around traffic jams. Plus, as someone who’s still relatively new to town, it buys me a ticket into a whole bike culture here, helping me meet people as I spin away.

Biking is a culture that’s growing as many green cities try to cut down on their carbon emissions and clear out clogged highways. Bikes help us reduce our dependence on gas, produce no more emissions than what we breathe out, and need fewer parts repairs.

Still, biking is unappealing to many people as it can be quite dangerous in cities that are built for cars. You’ll have to look out for aggressive drivers, opening doors, cars that don’t notice you when making turns, and blind spots when riding next to a truck.

If your city is in particular need of a reform, try forming a bike advocacy group and lobbying the city for larger, more visible bike lanes, particularly dedicated greenways and wider streets.

Yes, I know if you’re reading this from your home in San Francisco I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But for the rest of you, I say, give biking a whirl. It’s a great way to get exercise, reduce emissions and get to work in one go. You just can’t say that about walking or driving.

Make Your Summer Hours More Green

By Leah Kaminsky

Are any of us actually productive on a sunny day? We didn’t think so. That’s why so many kind-hearted and wise companies switch to summer hours during sun-kissed months, allowing employees to skip out early just as long as they get all their work done on time.

Summer is a great time for rest, relaxation and fun, but for the eco-minded office worker, it can also be a time for green activities. Here are our top three picks for the best green ways to spend those extra summer hours.

1. Go berry picking

Whether you’re on a mission to recreate the children’s book Blueberries for Sal, or you just can’t resist a freshly picked strawberry, berries are an irresistible glory in the summer months (as are all summer fruits). Do a little web research into what kind of fruit will be ripe in your area, skip out on that lunch meeting and head out to a local farm. You’ll have plenty of pie-making and canning opportunities waiting for when you return home.

2. Make a Rain Barrel

There are few things greener than water conservation, especially if you live in one of the many areas around the country that experiences terrible droughts. Make a rain barrel out of an old trash can and use what you capture to water your plants, garden, trees and yard. It’s easy and fun to do, especially for kids.

3. Go for a Hike

One of the best ways be green is to be out in green. Pick the kids up from summer camp, lace up your boots and head out to a local trail. Use your hike as an opportunity to teach kids about wild life and plants, or perhaps even as a lesson in how to forage. The whole family will get a good dose of fresh air and maybe even a lifelong love of the great outdoors.

There are more green summer activities than there is time in the day. Use your extra summer hours to their eco-max.

 

Tips for Traveling Green This Summer

By Leah Kaminsky

For the eco-conscious traveler, staying green on the road can present a wide range of problems. There’s little to buy in the airport that isn’t vacuum-sealed with plastic and unfortunately, bottled water is a necessary evil in developing countries. That said, there are still many options available, just as long as you consciously apply those green principles you use at home when you’re traveling.

Choosing a Hotel

Many hotels are slapping the word “green” next to their name these days, so be sure to use a resource like the Green Hotels Association to find properly vetted places. If you can’t find one in your destination and price range, take preventative measures, like leaving a note asking housekeeping not to change your sheets and towels unless you ask them to. Also, bring your own reusable water bottles and toiletries so the staff won’t have to throw out your partially used soaps at the end of your stay.

Just like at home, turn off all lights and electronic equipment, switch off both heat and air conditioning when you leave for the day and take short showers.

Getting There and Back

By far, the place where travelers have the highest environmental impact is on getting to and from their destination. You can offset some of those emissions by using a carbon exchange, by opting for the train if you’ll be traveling a particularly short distance (especially in Europe), or by renting a hybrid or electric car. No matter what mode of transportation you choose, packing light will use less fuel.

Once You’re There

Get to know the local culture by shopping for snacks in farmer’s markets, and make sure the products you buy really are local. Don’t take any brochures or maps unless you’re sure you’ll use them, and instead, use your smart phone when you can. If you’ll be out in the wilderness, stay on the trails and don’t touch the wild life. And, most of all, get around on your own two feet. Walking and also biking are great ways to immerse yourself in a local culture. Using public transport is another good option and will get you oriented to you new surroundings much more quickly than a cab ever will.

Staying green while you’re traveling is well within your means, as long as you think it through ahead of time and stay on your toes. Happy trails!

Aluminum Foil Can Do WHAT?

When you envision a dorm room, what do you see on the walls? Posters with witty sayings? How about aluminum foil?

Well, that’s just what I saw nearly eight years ago when I walked into a friend’s room. He called it the spaceship. It was weird, but also so wonderfully warm.

Thanks to a honeycomb structure, aluminum foil is sturdy, light, fire resistant, and highly moldable. That means it’s one of the most versatile materials around, with many surprising applications. And it’s both recyclable and made from recyclable materials, too!

Sure, you know foil is great for grilling veggies, but what about cooking salmon in the dishwasher? Yep, that’s right. Your dishwasher gets hot enough to poach a fish. Just make sure to wrap it several times and leave out the soap so your guests don’t remark, “What a nice detergenty taste.”

Crave a nice grilled cheese sandwich when you’re on the road? Just wrap two slices of bread and cheese in foil and give it a good iron somewhere between that dress and those pants – which, by the way, iron more effectively with a little foil as well. Steam silk or wool, too, by wrapping them in foil and choosing the steam option. Wrinkles, be gone!

Your furniture is a big fan of foil, too. Lay it beneath the legs of a heavy couch to slide it from one carpeted room to the next. Then rap the sides to prevent cats from scratching. Birds also find the reflection of light and crinkly sound utterly distasteful so dangle strips from fruit trees to prevent nibbling.

And the best thing of all about aluminum foil? The way British people pronounce it. Seriously, just give it a try. Al-oo-MIN-ee-yum foil. What will those crazy royals think of next!

So get cooking, ironing or wrapping. Aluminum foil is your surefire way to be sustainable while you do just about anything!

Additional references

The Real Carbon Costs of Hybrid and Electric Cars

Doing right by the planet can be tough.  Electric vehicles, for instance, cut down on gas reliance at the pump but may mask hidden carbon costs at a coal-burning electricity plant down the line.  Considering these externalities, how do hybrid and electric cars really compare to gas-powered vehicles?

First, we must consider how much carbon it will take to manufacture, recharge, and dispose of a vehicle.  The efficiency of batteries sharply declines over time, and they also require a significant amount of energy to produce and transport.  Hybrids have lower carbon costs than their gas counterparts overall, but waste energy in lugging both a regular engine and a battery pack.  Additionally, once the car switches to using its gas engine, all the regular inefficiencies apply.

On the positive side, electric batteries are far more efficient at producing energy than a classic internal combustion engine and charging doesn’t add any more onto your energy bill than running your air conditioner overnight.  Several car companies have launched campaigns to develop recharging stations relying on sustainable energy sources, which cuts out the coal power station altogether.  Once your energy company starts making these kinds of switches, too, the external costs for your hybrid or electric vehicle will shrink even further.

The answer, then, to a savvy green consumer’s dilemma is that you must consider your own situation carefully. How often will you be driving your vehicle, and from where will you be sourcing your electricity?  Given the pace of innovation in this field, you may find purchasing an alternative vehicle is a better option in a year or two.  In the meantime, you can always cut out the bottom of your car and use your own two feet like Fred Flintstone!  That’s the caveman green.

Additional References

Life’s Lessons in Sustainability

How about our ability to sustain? That’s sort of what I’ve been working on for the past six months. Whew! Should I even bother telling you that it’s kept me from writing this blog? I’ve started a draft or two but life continues to intervene.

In March we welcomed two new baby lambs who – for the first time – needed hands-on help (we’re talking tube feedings every four hours throughout the night for two weeks). Especially fun at 1:00 a.m. and then again at 5:00 a.m. with the wind, rain, and coyotes howling. It was hard, but it worked. Despite the odds, we saved both little guys.

Lesson 1: Know your limits and commitment to small farming before you jump in. Saving young lambs and other farm jobs take work. A lot of it. 

Then came April, and a sudden call back to the finca (my eco guest house on Vieques island in Puerto Rico) which ended up with me running the place solo, throughout spring break and serving thirty-plus guests a day. Luckily, they were mostly families, which meant flexible, forgiving folks with wonderfully inquisitive kids. I played eco- educator to the kids, teaching them how the finca operates as simply and with as little impact on the environment as possible. I traded their help hanging the laundry with lessons in tarantula catch and release!

Lesson 2: Whenever possible surround yourself with others who want to learn as much as you do and learn from each other. We’re all learning this simple living thing together.

Four days after I returned, my 91-year-old mother had a stroke. She was the person absolutely responsible for giving me my (apparently) diehard commitment to living as environmentally conscious as possible. She “walked her talk” up until the very, very end. She gave her body to science when she passed away at the end of the month, one last expression of her deep, deep commitment to bettering the world, and minimizing our impact in it. Sad yes, I miss her more than I even knew I would. But almost 92 years on this planet surrounded by friends and family, sharing with them the fruit from the trees you’ve planted – it’s a pretty wonderful and fortunate thing. Which somehow balances out the sadness.

Lessons here? Oh, so many. Simply put, as mom would want it: learn as much as you can from your mom while you can. And when it’s real, your walk and your talk are one – and more walk than talk is always best. (That’s 2 of about 2000 lessons learned in April).

Then, a week after my mom passed away, my oldest son was seriously injured in a Jet Ski accident. He’ll be okay – but it has been, and will continue to be, a long, hard haul to recovery. As a commercial fisherman, he isn’t used to hanging around the house, certainly not in a wheelchair. So I’ve been helping out where I can. Somehow in addition to dishes and laundry and lawn mowing, my role as solid waste manager has emerged. I’m coaching him on the cost, and environmental savings of sorting the recycling, yard waste and compost out of the garbage. A sweet backyard garden has emerged. I celebrated by buying them a carton of red worms for the bin.  I may make an urban farmer out of him yet.

Lesson learned? Silver linings abound.  Even in the face of enormous issues, physical or environmental, we are better able to deal with them if we start with optimism and hope.

And then there was July. The month my daughter was supposed to get married, my fortieth high school reunion, and a large family reunion in my mom’s small hometown in Utah. Well, the first event has moved to September (stay tuned for green wedding blogs!) and the other two were perfect punctuation points. Milestones in a year’s seemingly relentless lessons. They were more good opportunities to reflect on it all: what matters, how much it all matters, and what we can do to help. I’m just left wondering – does living actually ever get simple? If so, I’m ready! I’ve somehow sustained!

Lesson here? Yep…I’ve learned it’s clear you can turn just about anything into a lesson – if you’re up for learning.

Going with the New Year’s Flow

a simple breakfast comes from foraging

a simple breakfast comes from foraging

I love milestones. And the changing of the year is one of the biggies for me. Time to celebrate. Time to take stock. What’s working? What’s not? What do you want to keep from last year and take into the next? What can you do better? (aka New Year’s resolutions). Never thought much of the “resolutions” aspect. Just the word sounds like drudgery you’re resolved to perform; or at least attempt. And aren’t resolutions all pretty much the same for most of us? Let’s see…get more exercise, eat better, slow down, spend less and live greener.

A friend just asked me what my resolutions were going to be For 2011 – and I had the funny realization that this year it’s backwards. It’s more about my life changing me, rather than me trying to change my life.

I’ve just kicked off a two month stint as tropical innkeeper. This alone will probably cause me to exercise more, eat less, slow down considerably, spend almost nothing and overall live a lot more sustainably – just by way of the island of Vieques, and its lifestyle.

I can’t call it a “sabbatical” or even a working vacation. Because it’s all work and no vacation! I don’t know if I’ll get a day off for the next two months – honestly. I’ll be making beds, fixing toilets and doing tons of laundry and email. But nonetheless, it will be spent in a vacation destination and yes, throughout the day, palms will rustle, tropical frogs will chirp, and I’ll return calls from my swaying hammock. So while it is work, it’s work I love. The kind where you see the fruits of your labor – from hanging laundry to painting a table, or pointing guests in the right direction to a quiet beach or great little local restaurant. And therein lays the best part of the job: working with guests.

Maybe it’s the mother in me, or maybe it’s that I always wanted to be a teacher – but I sort of cherish the guests’ learning as a key aspect of the finca. So in running the place as simply as possible, it’s a goal that folks leave their stay with us seeing how easy it is to live more simply. Call it “greener,” making do with less. Here at the finca, you can’t help but see that you, in fact, don’t need to use, buy, and do all the stuff we usually fill our lives with.

So while it’s on-the-job training for me, it’s on-vacation-simple living-training for the guests. They’ll be doing without a lot of things they are used to, and loving it.

For the next two months I’ll live in a tiny cabin next to a small banana grove. We have electricity, hot water and two gas burners to cook on. We’ve even added a bathroom so it’s not really “roughing” it – but it is simple. Furniture is expensive and hard to come by. And really, why bother when you’d rather be outside anyway? Nature and the climate are in charge here. If it’s pouring we don’t work outside. We work early before the heat of the day. When it’s really raining and blowing hard, we’ll even close the doors that are usually open all day and night. No AC, no TV. No WiFi or movies, dishwasher or dryers.

We recycle everything we can and reuse the rest. A wooden box makes an end table, a palate makes a deck screen, old beach towels make cleaning rags. Think I’ll learn to crochet with those darn plastic shopping bags the stores still use here with reckless abandon. Down the road there’s a bar with a patio canopy made of beer cans. I didn’t pack any jewelry and I doubt I’ll miss it. Don’t need to wear makeup (do we ever?) or go shopping for anything other than groceries for two wonderful laidback months. Heck – even at the stores here, you buy, cook and eat what was delivered in a week. No other place to go – so you make do, and learn to get really creative with rice and beans.

So what does this all have to do with new years? And resolutions?

Allowing myself to simply “go with the flow,” to learn, and love that I’m not in charge, is my highest New Year priority; to take advantage of this amazing place and opportunity to its fullest potential. Somehow I feel confident that all those other classics will fall right in line: Get more exercise, eat better, slow down, spend less and live greener.

Simple Living, Caribbean Style

The Natural Giveaway to our Natural Getaway

The Natural Giveaway to our Natural Getaway

I’m my own guest blogger today. Instead of writing about sustainability at TheNatural Store.com, I’ve got my innkeeper hat on. This post is coming from the half of me that runs the finca…la finca caribe, the place on Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island that together, with TheNaturalStore.com, is giving away a week-long eco-adventure for two.

It’s been sort of wild to watch the interest in our “Natural Giveaway to the Getaway” sweepstakes climb so rapidly over just a week or two. Hopefully those signing up are interested in more than just the free trip. I’m hoping they’re interested in living greener, eco travel and all that other good stuff.  Because, dear readers, if you think you signed up for a luxury week of Puerto Rican golf and spa…better think again. This is eco travel; simple living, Caribbean-style.

 Guests at the finca often ask us what “eco travel” really means? For us, it’s always meant we run the place as simply, with as little impact on our environment, as possible. We’ve always, in our nearly 15 year history, used terms like “rustic,” “summer camp,” wilderness lodge” and “simple living” to convey the place and our approach. But now that the concepts of “sustainability” and “going green” haven taken hold, we now clearly spell out what we do, and have always done.  Some of the ways we go about minimizing our footprint on our tiny little island of Vieques is with:

  • our  wonderful solar water system for most of our outdoor showers
  • our non-chlorine, salt system pool  (I think we were the first folks on the island to put one in)
  • drying all our laundry on the line – rarely turning on the dryer
  • avoiding  any kind of pesticide or herbicide
  • cleaning with natural products  from de~luxe, seventh generation, method, dr bronners, and sometimes even just vinegar!
  • recycling and re-using everything we can
  • not using disposables, paper or plastic
  • encouraging our guests to bring their own our reusable water bottles (we HATE unnecessary plastic and land fill issues!)  
  • not offering  air conditioners  (you don’t need one with a simple fan and our tradewinds), TV or phone in any of the rooms and cabins
  • encouraging all guests to be part of our beach clean-up effort
  • using minimal water and electricity, and asking guests to do the same
  • re-using magazines, books and music; we even recycle the inn’s old towels for cleaning rags
  • discounting stays to environmental, educational and other non-profit community groups
  • and if you want more there’s our site: http://www.lafinca.com/eco-tourism.php

Otherwise, if the idea of a lizard, or even a beetle darting across your floor, and doing nothing more than listening to tropical frogs and watching the stars from a swinging hammock sounds good — then you’re ready for Simple Living, Caribbean Style.

 And like I say to all my friends, neighbors and everyone I met at GreenFest last week, “I hope you win!”

 Hasta la finca!

Viva Green Vacations!

eco-adventure sweepstakes

Click to Enter our Sweepstakes!

Hey, all you seriously green and natural shoppers out there, have we got a hot (as in tropical) deal for you! Have you heard about our sweepstakes – “The natural giveaway to the natural get-away?” 

We’re giving away a free week-long trip for two to la finca caribe, a private, rustic, eco-inn on Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island, dedicated to simple living and sustainable business practices.

la finca is one part funky summer camp, one part tropical wilderness lodge. So, if you enjoy life off the beaten path, simple living, hanging out in the natural environment, peace and quiet, a tropical setting and Latin culture – then this is for you.

It’s a pretty awesome sweepstakes – if I do say so myself. But before I start going on about it, I better disclose all. I’m sort of – actually really very – biased. You already know I work for TheNaturalStore.com. Well, oddly enough, I’m also the owner/innkeeper of, la finca caribe. My family and I started it 14 years ago, and since then I’ve run it (more or less) remotely from Seattle, until that lucky day when… (that’s another story)

For now let’s just say, as an innkeeper, I love to share it. So when I mentioned this crazy idea to the folks at work, they jumped at it – because so many of our guests at the finca are the same sort of folks who shop natural. So TheNaturalStore.com and la finca caribe are natural partners, teaming up to offer our shoppers a week at the finca next year! How cool is that?

The fact is we try to run the finca with as minimal a foot print as possible. We have no TV, AC, or phones in the rooms, use solar hot water in our outdoor showers, avoid chemicals in our natural saltwater pool, line dry the inn’s laundry, recycle and re-use everything we can. And of course we buy our cleaning products, soaps, and laundry supplies from TheNaturalStore.com.

So, if you’re one of those who like a little adventure; who like to leave behind all the comforts of home when you’re traveling, and you’re interested in the whole notion of eco travel and simple living, then sign up! (But I’m warning you – you’re apt to have a lizard or two dart across your floor)

(And – if you’re wondering why and how a working mother of three in Seattle would choose to buy and run an inn on a nearly undiscovered island in the Caribbean, don’t ask. I’m not even sure I know myself. I usually blame it on the kids. I think my 12 year old (at the time) had a lot to do with it. Now he helps me run it…but then they all do. (Have you noticed how kids are often the ones who expose us to the best and most challenging parts of our lives and selves?) Anyway, all good stuff for another post!)

For now, we’re thinking we know a lot of our shoppers would love to have a chance to experience old world/old school natural Caribbean life, folks who think swinging in a hammock under the stars, is just about as good as it gets. But then…like I said, I’m biased.

So, who knows?  Maybe you’ll be the lucky one. Just Go to our FB page and sign up! Hasta la finca! Viva TheNaturalStore.com…