Greening Your Vacation – Souvenirs and Shopping

We cannot shop our way to a sustainable world.

Free up your time for actual vacationing and reduce your environmental footprint by greening your souvenir and vacation shopping habits.

If you are like most people, you probably have between two to four weeks to go on vacation each year. That is not a lot of time for connecting with your family and friends, seeing new sights, revisiting favorite places, relaxing, and refreshing your spirit.

So, why would you or I spend our vacation time shopping?

I posit that consumerism is so entrenched in our society that we will use our limited and precious vacation time for shopping without really thinking about it.

Nowadays, even rural areas and national parks have gift shops and visitor centers so we can shop even while we are “getting away from it all.”

Besides using up our vacation time, buying at the American or Western level is using up the planet’s resources at a faster clip than Earth can renew them while wreaking environmental havoc on people and other living things.

After a recent trip to Oregon with two long-time friends, I decided to evaluate my souvenir and vacation shopping from that trip. Below is a synopsis of my findings. At the end of the post, you will have an opportunity to evaluate your own souvenir and vacation shopping habits.

My Souvenir and Vacation Shopping Evaluation

Interestingly, at least to me, it was non-souvenir shopping that tripped me up the most.

Souvenirs

Souvenirs Bought on Vacation

My ideal souvenir is a refrigerator magnet so I was on the lookout for one with a quilt on it at the Sisters outdoor quilt show. I did not find one, but I did spot and buy a lovely quilted postcard donated by a quilter for a Sisters High School scholarship fundraiser.

I found my souvenir refrigerator magnet in the Crater Lake National Park visitor center. It has a beautiful photo of the deep blue almost purple colored Crater Lake. Showing some restraint, I did not buy a Christmas tree ornament, jigsaw puzzle (I love puzzles), coffee mug, a book about Crater Lake, or a hat I eyed for a while as I stood in the checkout line.

Near the end of our trip, while we were walking through a Chinese garden in Portland, we came across a young woman playing a Chinese zither. Her music was captivating. I saw she had CD’s for sale and I snapped one up.

Lavender Farm

On a sweltering day in the upper 80s, my friends and I decided to visit a lavender farm. The couple who own the farm shared their knowledge about lavender freely and offered us ice-cold lemonade and melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies.

I was not interested in buying a lavender item in their small store, but I felt obligated somehow to buy something from these delightful people. Also influencing me was my desire to support small and local businesses. Why did I feel that just thanking them as we were leaving would be inadequate?

In the end, I purchased a small metal tin of tea with lavender justifying to myself that it is consumable.

Metal Tin with Tea and Lavender Bought on VacationThis is just one example of the millions of purchase transactions occurring at any given moment where the buyer does not really want and/or need the item but is purchasing it out of a sense of obligation either to the seller or to a person they intend to give it to.

Sigh.

Quilting, Book, and Cross-Stitch Stores

One of my friends is a quilter and the three of us like reading and cross-stitching so we often build browsing at quilting, book, and cross-stitch stores into our vacation plans.

In the two quilting stores we visited, I admired the fabrics, tools, and sample quilts with no desire to buy anything, whew.

Unfortunately, I began a book-buying binge in Sisters with the purchase of a used book at a library sale and a new book signed by a local author who was signing copies of her books in a bookstore. I purchased four used books in Corvallis and eight more in Portland.

Pile of 14 Books Bought on VacationFourteen books would not fit in my luggage so I ended up mailing the books to myself from a post office in Eugene before I boarded the train to come home.

I am a book lover so by not establishing a self-imposed limit on book purchases up front and then visiting multiple bookstores, I unintentionally set myself up for excessive book buying.

We visited two cross-stitch stores during our trip where I bought materials for two projects and a few embellishments (I could not resist the happy face buttons).

Materials forTwo Cross-Stitch Projects Bought on VacationThe weird thing is that I actually prefer finishing one cross-stitch project before buying materials and starting a new one. So, how did I end up with more projects? I think it was partly because, again, the store owners were friendly, helpful, and small business owners. Another and more interesting factor is that many cross-stitch enthusiasts, including my two friends, routinely have multiple projects going at the same time so even though no one told me I am a loser for doing one project at I time, I allowed this to influence me and purchased supplies for projects I am not ready to start yet.

Hmmm.

The Bottom Line

Evaluating my purchases and thinking about why I made them was an eye opening experience. The bottom line for me is that as a person trying to live happily with fewer possessions, I sure bought a lot of stuff on my vacation.

Consumerism is a powerful force that is difficult to overcome, even for a committed environmentalist like me.

Humans excel at justifying our actions and I even wrote a whole paragraph justifying all my purchases, like how I will donate the books to the library after I read them. I later deleted that paragraph. The thing is regardless of how much pleasure you or I might take in the stuff we buy on vacation (or any other time), we cannot shop our way to a sustainable world. Changing our relationship with stuff and shopping less is critical to maintaining a habitable planet now and in the future.

Prior to my next vacation, I intend to set shopping limits for myself before I even leave my house.

Now, it is your turn to evaluate your souvenir and vacation shopping habits.

Evaluate Your Souvenir and Vacation Shopping Habits

Take a moment to think back over your most recent vacation and ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What did you buy for yourself and why?
  2. Did you buy gifts for people back home and if so what and why?
  3. Was most of your shopping for souvenirs or non-souvenirs (e.g. art, books, wine)?
  4. How much time did you spend shopping?
  5. Did you spend more money than you felt comfortable spending?
  6. Are you wearing, using, or otherwise enjoying the items you bought?
  7. Which items, if any, ended up in the trash, back of a closet, or in a charity box?
  8. Did you eat and drink the edible products you purchased and brought home?
  9. Were your traveling companions enthusiastic about shopping?
  10. What actions, if any, do you plan to take to curtail souvenir and vacation shopping on your next trip?

Now, imagine spending your next vacation actually vacationing.

Featured Image at Top: Souvenir Store in New York, NY with an ATM Sign next to a Replica of the Statue of Liberty (hmmm) – Photo Credit iStock/anouchka

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Green Travel – Aboard the Amtrak Coast Starlight Train

Besides being a green travel option, taking the train allows you to stretch out, relax, and switch into vacation mode as soon as you board the train.

In the first part of this 2-part post, Green Travel – Take the Train, we compared the carbon footprint, time, cost, and impact on one’s personal well-being of air travel versus train travel. This second part recounts our family’s recent experience riding the Amtrak Coast Starlight train from Paso Robles, CA to Portland, OR and back. We booked two 2-person compartments for the overnight trip.

Our Trip on the Amtrak Coast Starlight Train

Instead of getting up at 4:00 a.m., which is what we would have done had we been flying to Portland, we slept in, ate a leisurely brunch, and had enough time in the afternoon to finish packing.

Paso Robles, CA Amtrak Station - Photo: Loco SteveWe left our house about 3:30 p.m. to drive to Paso Robles in anticipation of boarding the Amtrak Coast Starlight train at 4:37 p.m. After easily finding a free parking spot, we toted our luggage about 200 feet to the station. By checking the train’s status on one of our phones, we learned it would be about an hour late. We passed the time playing cards.

When the train arrived, we walked to our assigned sleeping car, showed our ID’s and tickets to the car attendant, boarded, and stored most of our luggage in the downstairs luggage area and took a few small bags to our compartments.

We settled into our large comfortable seats thankful to have room to stretch out and relax. The car attendant came by to take our dinner reservation, explain the locations of the restrooms, shower room, and beverage area, and ask if we needed anything.

Amtrak Coast Starlight Dining Car Table with Dinner Selections - Photo: Carl MorrisonAt eight o’clock, as the train made its way to Oakland, we reported to the dining car for dinner. Several options were available for each meal and the food was good. Amtrak switched from china to recyclable plastic dishes, but they still use cloth napkins and stainless steel flatware. Recycling bins throughout the train encourage passengers to recycle.

Amtrak Coast Starlight Parlour Car Interior - Photo: Wikipedia

After dinner, we retired to the parlour car which provides drinks and snacks, meals, comfy lounge chairs, wine tasting, and movies for sleeping car passengers. We snagged a table and played board games we brought with us. This involved trash talk, some strategy, and a lot of fun.

Sometime after midnight, we returned to our compartments to sleep. The upper berth folds down and the bottom seats fold out to create two beds. Fortunately, my non-claustrophobic spouse allowed me to take the lower berth. I would not say the beds were comfortable but we did catch a few hours of sleep.

Amtrak Coast Starlight with Cascade Mountains, OR Scenery - Photo: Uncle BobBy 7:00 a.m., we were up and sipping our first cup of coffee from the sleeping car coffee urn. A couple hours later, we met our kids for breakfast in the dining car and enjoyed the scenery as we passed through the Klamath Falls area just over the Oregon border. We opted to skip lunch.

We dispersed to our respective compartments to play computer games, read, and watch the scenery, talk, and nap.

We arrived in Portland about 10 minutes ahead of our 3:32 p.m. scheduled arrival. We grabbed our luggage and headed to our hotel for the night.

Six days later, we made the return trip from Portland to Paso Robles. This time the train was delayed about two hours sometime during the night and never made the time up. We used the extra time to have lunch, kick back, and enjoy the afternoon.

Amtrak Coast Starlight Roomette - Photo: Jim LoomisOur train journeys took about 2 ½ times as long as flying would have taken but we were far more comfortable and relaxing, and completely hassle-free. The reduction in carbon footprint was significant, but the best part was having the time and space to relax, unwind, and take pleasure in spending time with each other.

The next time you are planning to fly somewhere consider taking the train. You may be pleasantly surprised to find the cost and sometimes the time comparable or even less than flying. Regardless, the planet and your personal well-being are worth it.

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