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.

I pulled these 14 books from my bookcase to represent the books I bought on vacation that got lost in transit.
I pulled these 14 books from my bookcase to represent the books I bought on vacation.

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.

Fourteen 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 (they were lost in transit).

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 – Take the Bus

Riding the bus is good for the planet and your wallet.

Enjoy your vacation and cut your travel carbon emissions 55-77% by opting to take a bus instead of flying. Let’s embrace vacationing and protecting the planet.

On a recent vacation, my mother and I chose to travel by bus instead of flying. This post chronicles my experience riding on a long-distance Greyhound bus for the first time. It was better than I expected.

Getting from Point A to B

Last year, I told my mother I would be willing to take a vacation with her as long as it did not involve airplanes because flying has a huge environmental impact and I do not like any aspect of air travel.

A few months ago, she proposed the idea of going on motor coach tour that would take us to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks. I was excited about the prospect of visiting the national parks and looked forward to spending time with my mother.

With the decision made to go on the tour, we now needed to work out our travel logistics.

First, I would need to get from where I live in San Luis Obispo, CA to my mother’s home in Los Angeles several hundred miles to the south. We then needed to travel to Scottsdale, AZ where the tour began and later get back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas, NV where the tour ended. Lastly, I needed to get back home.

For the first and last legs of the trip, I could have driven my car, flown out of and into our small airport, or taken a bus. I chose to take the Amtrak train because I could stretch out and relax.

Getting to Phoenix and back to Los Angeles on the Greyhound bus seemed feasible so we booked the tour, bought our bus tickets, and arranged for transportation from Phoenix to Scottsdale.

Riding the Greyhound Bus

At 7:30 a.m. on the morning of our Phoenix-bound Greyhound trip, one of my mother’s friends dropped us off at the tiny Claremont bus station a few miles away from her house. Check in was easily accomplished but I had forgotten the free voucher for my second piece of luggage so I had to pay $15 for it.

The bus originated in Los Angeles and made one stop before arriving in Claremont several minutes past its target arrival time of 8:05 a.m. A few people got off and then the bus driver checked our tickets and loaded our luggage under the bus.

We walked to the third row and I managed to shove the tote bag carrying our lunch through the bungee cords into the overhead storage rack, which in not as roomy as airplane overhead bins. We kept our filled reusable water bottles and a knapsack containing snacks, reading material, and outerwear at our seats. I anticipated the air conditioning might make it cold on the bus but it was a pleasant temperature throughout the trip.

The safety belt equipped leather seats were about as comfortable as airplane seats with a tiny bit more legroom. The seat could recline, but like on an airplane if you reclined more than a little bit it would be unpleasant for the person behind you. There were two electrical outlets in each 2-seat row and free Wi-Fi throughout the bus. The windows were large and tinted. We settled in for the seven-hour ride, which would take us through mostly desert terrain on our way to Phoenix.

San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm Near Palm Springs, CA
San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm Near Palm Springs, CA – Photo Kit Conn

There was an onboard restroom, which we did not use. Perhaps I should have at least looked at it for research purposes but I supposed it was like an airplane lavatory, minuscule and sometimes not too clean.

As I looked about, I noticed that the bus driver cockpit was backed by what looked like a thick plexiglass divider and that a full height plexiglass gate had been pulled across the aisle separating the driver from the passengers.

A mother and her small daughter were sitting across the aisle entertaining themselves with a collection of dolls outfitted as various Disney characters. The background noise increased as the day wore on and more people boarded the bus but it was still a lot quieter than an airplane.

In Riverside, the man who had been sleeping in one of the front row seats got off the bus so my mother and I moved up front. Being in the front row made the journey more enjoyable but I think the third row would have been okay too.

Our first chance to leave the bus for a few minutes was at the San Bernardino station. I got off to use the restroom and stretch my legs. The station was larger and could accommodate several buses letting off and taking on passengers at the same time. We were the only bus at the station but it was busy with people at the counter and milling about the waiting room.

Our final stop before reaching Phoenix was for a lunch break in hot and windy Blythe near the Arizona state line. The Blythe bus station consisted of a few picnic tables outside of a gas station with a sizable minimart. I wrestled our lunch out of the overhead rack and we ate it outside while trying to keep everything from flying away.

After lunch, we gained one more passenger, a woman lugging an inordinate amount of carry-on totes and bags. The bus driver informed us that if all went well we would arrive in Phoenix on time in a little more than two hours.

Entering Arizona from California on Interstate 10
Entering Arizona from California on Interstate 10 – Photo Brandy Jenkins

The rest of the journey was uneventful and we did arrive in Phoenix on time at about 3:15 p.m. Our luggage was immediately available right next to the bus. The Phoenix station was large with space for about a dozen buses and inside there was even a security line. We met our ride outside the entrance and headed to the Scottsdale hotel where we would later meet our tour group.

From the time we left my mother’s house in the morning until we exited the Phoenix bus station with our luggage, we had invested about 8 hours in traveling by bus. Had we flown, getting to the airport, waiting, flying, and collecting our luggage would have taken at about 4 hours or more if the flight was delayed. So either way, we would have devoted a day to travel.

Unseen circumstances foiled our plan to take the Greyhound from Las Vegas back to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, my mother became ill during the tour and a long bus ride home with a layover in San Bernardino did not seem like it would be good for her wellbeing so we ended up flying from Las Vegas to Ontario and taking a cab to her house.

In the end, even though we did not completely accomplish our goal of no air travel, we had a good time and did substantially lower our travel environmental footprint. I also discovered that bus travel is more pleasant than I anticipated.

The next time you are planning a vacation, consider the taking the bus. It is good for the planet and your wallet.

Featured Image at Top: Greyhound Bus Interior with Passengers – Photo by Greyhound Lines

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