Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Simplifying My Travel Packing List   Leave a comment

When I was a kid and we packed for trips I was a “what if” person. I packed ALL KINDS of contingency items, extra items, and superfluous items. Of course I didn’t necessarily see them that way at the time. I wanted to put my best foot forward around strangers or infrequently seen family/friends, but was too insecure to really know what it was. I remember a family reunion where my dad yelled at me for packing hair spray. At the time I just kind of rolled my eyes because I was well aware that hair spray was not close to being the most excessive thing that I had packed, I mean at least that was something I used at the time!

Fast forward to today. When I travel I’m probably flying rather than road-tripping, and therefore having to deal with luggage and liquid restrictions. I don’t yet have children. I’m secure in who I am and much prefer to just travel as “me” and not some put-together facade. Oh, and one minor change is that with my desire to live more simply I just have less stuff to pack. All this results in a leaner packing list, and a slightly easier travel experience both in the sense of lugging the luggage and finding things inside it. This does result in the debate about luggage: when everything fits into a carryon-sized suitcase is it a better travel experience to check it and then have to wait for baggage claim or carry it on and have to carry it down the aisle of the plane and lift it into the overhead compartment. I haven’t decided yet, although usually default to just carrying it on the plane.

The best way to simplify what personal care products are needed when traveling is to simplify personal care routines. At home I use a cream cleanser at night for my face, and just cold water in the morning; but when traveling for 3 days there’s no reason not to just use water and a washcloth and not have to find a way to transport the cleanser. This is a two-birds-one-stone situation as well since it means there’s no need to pack a moisturizer for my face either. For my hair I do have a pomade that I got when I cut off my long hair but since I’ve used it less than a handful of times in the month and a half since getting the haircut it was no problem leaving it at home. So hair care required nothing more than a comb. (Note that I don’t wash my hair every day, so just rinsing my head in the shower was fine for a 3 day trip.) Deodorant was a bit more tricky since I’m in the middle of almost a year of experimenting with alternatives (which eventually I’ll write about), but putting a small scoop of coconut oil in a little jar worked for me, and also provided me with a backup moisturizer if needed.

Where do I not simplify? Teeth and eyes. I get headaches when I wear my glasses all day when traveling or at work, so I absolutely have to take my contacts, case, and cleaner. And while I’ve tried leaving my tongue scraper at home, even on a two day trip I’m desperately feeling the need for a good tongue scraping, so along it comes in all its awkward dimensioning. For the purposes of avoiding the purchase of a mini-tube of toothpaste to get me past security I did just bring a baggie of baking soda instead, but that’s not really simplifying.

Where did I REALLY not simplify? Clothes? No, wore 1 pair of jeans all weekend and an easy-to-pack outfit to the wedding. Makeup? No, only brought the makeup that I actually wear on a regular basis. It was reading materials. I brought my entire stack of magazines, plus the Tao of Fertility book, plus the Mists of Avalon book, plus my journal, plus my computer. My shoulder and back do not thank me. They say: next time choose between the 2+ inch thick book and the stack of magazines, and make it an unplugged computer-free weekend. All of my time that wasn’t on a plane or waiting to get on a plane was spent hanging out with family anyway.

Anything that I missed having with me? Shoes, actually, but that’s mostly because I don’t have a really good pair of pant boots right now. I only took my pant boots and my calf boots for dressing up, so when my aunt suggested going for a walk one morning my heels and arches complained for about 2.5 miles of the approximately 3 mile walk. I rarely pack my running shoes since they take up so much space, but my current everyday boots are horrible shoes for any significant amount of walking.

Posted April 3, 2012 by mayakey in personal care, simple living, travel

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Yeay For Unwashed Towels!   Leave a comment

Sounds funny, but this week I have been extremely happy about unwashed towels. I am at a conference, staying in a hotel, and they are actually not washing the towels. I could have done a little happy dance when I walked into the room the first day and peaked in the bathroom to see the towel still hanging where I left it. Sure it may be common now for hotels to advertise that they are “green” by not washing towels that you leave hanging, or washing sheets only every 3 days or on checkout. However, in my experience, they don’t follow through. I always hang my towels back up so that they don’t get washed, and usually come back into the room to fresh towels. It’s hotel greenwashing. I mean seriously, at home the towels get washed weekly so I think I can live without daily fresh towels at a hotel. And it’s not just about the water use, although that is significant, it is also about all the bleach used to keep them white.

I know that I’m not the only one with this gripe since I’ve had this conversation with fellow “greenies”. At least I haven’t ever gotten to the point of leaving the “Do Not Disturb” on the door all day so that housekeeping doesn’t come in at all, just so that the towels don’t get washed. Although, now that I think about it… my bathroom and floor at home get cleaned weekly so I could probably live without the daily cleaning at a hotel, too. It’s so much of a hassle to avoid housekeeping, though.

Posted March 16, 2011 by mayakey in travel

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Hypermiling Lesson   Leave a comment

Our road trip from Sacramento to Albuquerque this Christmas was a Hypermiling 102 class for me. I took Hypermiling 101 a year and a half ago when I last did the same trip. For anyone who hasn’t heard about hypermiling, it is a collection of driving techniques and strategies to get the best gas mileage possible. Some of those techniques and strategies are rather dangerous and not entirely (or not at all) legal, but there are other perfectly legal, safe, and sane techniques. Like not flooring it out of the gate. Keeping the tires inflated and the engine maintained. The specific strategies that I’ve started practicing on road trips are anticipation, reduced average speed, and keeping the power output constant, rather than accelerating/decelerating. On flat roads, cruise control is the best way to do this, which is why cruise control is considered by many to be the most fuel efficient way to drive. Cruise control, however, is very inefficient on hills. Since cruise control is all about maintaining a constant speed, the car coasts on the downhill and then accelerates on the uphill, fighting gravity the whole way.

I hadn’t really practiced driving with constant power output before my trip in 2009 since most of my driving is in the city or on flat highways. (Since driving with a constant power output on a flat road means driving with a constant speed, I’m really just talking about non-flat roads here.) On that trip, I left Kingman, AZ on the morning of the second driving day without gassing up. I know what my typical gas mileage and miles per tank is, and I looked at my 3/4 full tank and calculated in my head that I was perfectly fine on gas. Unfortunately, east of Kingman the freeway is extremely hilly. I was merrily barreling down the freeway, singing to whatever CD I had picked to start the day, and enjoying the morning, when I realized that I had burned about half of my gas WAY before the halfway mark to Seligman. After doing the calculations in my head, I started to freak out that I was going to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. I was mortified. The basic problem was that instead of getting 50 mpg, on those hills at freeway speeds I was getting more like 35 mpg. And that difference leads to a significantly different driving range per tank.

Remembering the articles I had read about hypermiling and the conversations at work about the constant power output strategy (aka constant throttle, but since my husband and I drive hybrids that’s not an accurate term for our cars), I decided that I needed to give it a try. So I dropped my average speed from 75 to 70, but most importantly I allowed my speed to fluctuate and instead kept the pressure on the gas pedal constant. On that trip it was pretty easy to drop my average speed since my choices were drive slower or run out of gas in the desert in the middle of nowhere. That is powerful incentive. My speed generally fluctuated between about 60 and 80 mph as I allowed my car to accelerate with gravity on the downhills and decelerate on the uphills. In order to drive like this, anticipation is a critical skill. The road conditions up ahead, including grade and relative positions/speeds of other cars, have to be accounted for constantly. For example, the amount of acceleration required on a downhill depends on the length and height of the uphill that follows, and also the number of cars on the road. There’s no point in picking up speed only to have to break behind someone going slower at the bottom of the hill. In my opinion common courtesy is also very important: no tailgating, no cutting people off, and no boxing people in if it can be avoided. Interestingly enough, on that section of the highway I soon realized that there were several drivers doing the same thing that I was. That made it fun and easier. And I made it to Seligman with plenty of gas to spare, averaging 40 mpg for the Kingman-Seligman stretch (I gassed up anyway).

On this trip we were driving my husband’s Highlander instead of my Prius. His Highlander is obviously a larger vehicle, and it has a more powerful engine and a power meter on the dashboard. Most people would know that as a tachometer, but in the Highlander it is called a power meter since it is a combined measure of power that includes both the electrical motor and gas engine outputs. I requested the first driving shift on the second day so that I could experience the same hypermiling in a different car, and see if it is easier or harder with the power meter. The first thing that I realized was that the size of the car makes a difference! My Prius was so fun. She flew down the hills and then gracefully coasted up the hills. The Highlander wasn’t quite as much fun on the downhills, and it lost momentum fast on the uphills. To be completely honest, there may have been a mental aspect to my perception since I didn’t have the incentive of running low on gas, and neither did we have the perceived camaraderie of other drivers like us. It also felt more painful to decelerate on the uphills. Unfortunately, America is a nation of power-cravers, and that extends to cars. We build and buy cars with lots of power under the hood and look down on the little car that can’t make it up a steep hill. So being in a nearly new SUV creeping over the top of the hill was a weird sensation. I had to broaden my speed fluctuation to 55 to 85 mph to accommodate the difference between the vehicles.

As for the power meter, it was useful but not necessary, and I could see how it could become a crutch. Driving like this is an exercise in intuition and driving by the feel of the car and the road. Using the power meter draws attention away from that feeling and focusses on just this one little gauge. But it did make it easier to judge power output, obviously. Keeping the same pressure on the accelerator will maintain constant power output, but that can be hard to do on a long trip and the gauge keeps you honest. The gauge also helps to take advantage of gravity. Pressing a little harder on the accelerator on a downhill causes less of an increase in power output than it would on an uphill, but without the gauge it is difficult to judge how much to change the foot pressure. The power meter was crucial for the second half of my Hypermiling 102 class: the Central Valley. On Highway 99, when the traffic was sufficiently light, I was able to keep constant power output by combining cruise control and my hypermiling tricks. Cruise control works on the flats, but it forces the engine to rev up when going over or under a road crossing. So I used the power meter gauge and some trial and error to take the car off cruise control, maintaining the same power output for the dip or rise, and then back on cruise control. Twas a bit challenging, and probably didn’t really make a difference to our gas mileage, but it was personal.

Posted January 11, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, energy use, travel

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Green America Airline Recycling Survey   Leave a comment

In early 2010, Green America’s Responsible Shopper published a report about recycling in the airline industry. The results were pretty sad. In general the airlines aren’t consistent or comprehensive with their recycling efforts. I can’t say that I am really very surprised. I remember many years ago there was a short period of time during which flight attendants would carry two bags when they collected trash, one for trash, and one for cans/bottles/papers. Then that stopped happening. After that I started keeping any recyclable trash and carrying it into the airport myself to recycle when I got off of the plane since I wasn’t comfortable assuming that the trash was being sorted behind the scenes. Most airports are pretty good about having recycling receptacles in the terminal for passengers, at least. Eventually, I got my steel water bottle and now I bring that (empty) to the airport, fill it from a water fountain after security, and drink from that on the plane. On short trips I decline a drink onboard to reduce the waste of the cup and napkin. For long trips, though, my water bottle is not enough and it is nice to get some ice.

The report is an interesting read, and helped put some context on a few things. I had noticed that on Southwest flights when you ask for water they don’t give you a small bottle, but give you a cup instead. Apparently Southwest switched to canned water because the cans are easiest to recycle. It’s true, from a container material perspective aluminum is at the top of the pile. Aluminum is lightweight, easy to recycle (just melt and go), and can be recycled into another can. Glass next because it is also easy to recycle (grind, melt and go), and can be recycled into another bottle. Glass is heavy, though. Plastic is at the bottom because it is hard to recycle (can’t just melt and go), and can only downcycle. You cannot make another bottle out of the plastic.

Back to Green America’s report. Since they put out the report, they have been doing a survey of the experiences of airline passengers. So last weekend on my flights (well, two of the four) to and from Boston, I asked the flight attendants about whether they would be recycling stuff. When I got home I filled out the web form to submit the answers I got. At the end of the year Green America is going to put out an updated report with the results of the survey.

On my flights the flight attendants said that they do recycle cans, bottles, and paper. Everything except papers went into the plastic trash bags, but since they didn’t serve any bottles or cans (just cups) I guess it was all “trash”. I did notice that they would tuck a newspaper under an arm instead of putting it in the trash bag, so I guess that is evidence that the paper really is recycled. On one of the flights the flight attendant was separating out the cups and stacking them in her hand. I asked if they recycle the cups and she said that they don’t, but she stacks them separately so that they take up less room. That way the flight trash fits into a couple fewer bags, thus reducing the number of bags they go through. I could only wish all flight attendants followed that logic!

Posted November 4, 2010 by mayakey in advocacy, environment, travel

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No Love For Baking Soda As Toothpaste   1 comment

The type of contact cleaner that I use has finally started selling small containers small enough to meet the liquid restrictions for carry-on luggage, so for my trip this last weekend I thought I could actually avoid checking any luggage. Since that 3 oz liquid restriction went into place I’ve had to choose between checking luggage or wearing my glasses for every trip, and for the sake of my own comfort that usually means I check luggage. But it’s such a hassle!

As I was packing my carry-on for this trip, I realized that toothpaste is also part of the liquid restriction, and I didn’t have a small tube of toothpaste. Or rather, I didn’t have an acceptable small tube of toothpaste. I do have the ones the dentist hands out, but I find those disgustingly sweet and not an option. Would I have to check my bag because of one measly tube of toothpaste?! No of course not! There’s another option: baking soda.

Yep, that’s right, in order to carry on my luggage I decided to go retro and try brushing with plain old baking soda for the weekend as an experiment. It’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly than buying a throw away tube, and some people think that it works just as well.

Well, it doesn’t. Quite simply, toothpaste works better than baking soda alone. I’m not even talking about the superficial taste issue (granular salty taste vs. minty freshness), I’m talking about the actual brushing experience and clean-mouth-feeling. It’s harder to brush with baking soda, or at least it’s impossible to get away with taking shortcuts. And while right after brushing my mouth felt just as clean (if a bit salty), within a shorter time period my teeth felt grungy again. Flossing was an absolute must because baking soda does absolutely nothing for the area between teeth, just the flat surfaces and gums.

Not that I was contemplating switching over to baking soda permanently, but would I do this again next time I travel? Yeah, I think so. A baggy of baking soda is a much easier travel companion than a stainless steel tube that gets banged up and wrinkled. So for short trips by myself I could do it again. Of course, avoiding the liquid restrictions by carrying a small plastic baggy of white powder has potential other complications. I guess I need to find a better container, and preferably a non-disposable container.

Posted October 28, 2010 by mayakey in frugal living, personal care, simple living, travel, unshopping

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Unplugged Weekend   1 comment

I’m back now after a short vacation. I haven’t posted in a few days because I was enjoying an unplugged weekend. I flew across country for a cousin’s wedding, and decided to leave my computer at home and keep the TV off in the hotel room. This was a long weekend dedicated to spending time with friends and family, and catching up on my reading in-between. Unplugged weekends are a rare event for me, as I am guessing they are for most people. When I’m home, the temptation of the TV and the computer is huge, and when I’m in a hotel for some reason I cannot resist turning on the TV and channel surfing. This weekend, though, I pulled it off. Granted, I did watch the end of the Giants-Phillies game 6. However, I was hanging out at a bar with my cousins and my uncle “enjoying” the karaoke while I watched the game, so I don’t think it counts.

Unplugging can feel so good. There’s a certain amount of liberation in the act of just walking away from the digital stimulation and constant digital communication, even if it is just for a short time. A few weeks ago we had a wellness challenge at work to reduce TV watching. For a real challenge I could have made myself go two weeks without any TV, but I just didn’t want to. I did, however, average only a half hour of TV per day for those two weeks, and boy did it feel good. I suspect that a typical week would be an average of about 1 hour a day for me, but I haven’t actually tracked that in a couple of years. The computer is even a bigger temptation that the TV for me, especially since I started reading blogs. I can spend hours on the computer working with spreadsheets, doing email, reading blogs, playing games, looking at/working with photos, and much more. It used to be downright painful to leave my computer for a week to go to my mom’s house for Christmas. We’ll have to see what happens this year that I have a laptop.

Posted October 26, 2010 by mayakey in musings, simple living, travel

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Belated First Flush Warning   Leave a comment

This past weekend I was driving at the very beginning of a rain event, and it inspired me to write this post…only I didn’t get a chance to write it for a couple of days. We are all told that we need to be a little bit more careful when driving in the rain, but sometimes I think that the message is too general and doesn’t highlight the dangers of a first flush rain event. While I was driving this weekend during the first rain in a few weeks, I felt my tires skid twice, and I was very glad that I was paying extra attention to my driving.

A first flush rain event is the first rain event after an extended dry period. In stormwater sampling, 3 days is often considered the minimum period of time between rain events to qualify a rain event as a first flush event. In dry conditions stuff builds up on the road surface. Stuff like oils. Here in Sacramento where we have a very dry season and a rather wet season, we’ll have months with no rain and during that time a significant amount of oil can build up on the road surfaces. You don’t have to be able to see the buildup for it to be significant. At the very beginning of the first rain event, those oils slick on top of the fallen water. Ever noticed a slight sheen on the water running off of a street or parking lot? That’s the oil buildup. The layers of oil and water don’t have to be very thick to reduce the friction between your car tires and the road, and without enough friction the tire spins freely and you skid.

The most dangerous time to be on the road during a rainstorm is the very beginning. Starting when the street barely looks wet is when roadways are the most slippery. The danger is compounded by the fact that most of us don’t drive more carefully at that time. I think we don’t get the “drive careful” signal in our brains until the windshield wipers are on, or at least I find that to be the case often for myself. Not that it’s really safe to drive in pouring rain, either.

So be careful out there, especially if you’re on the road during the very beginning of a rain event.

Posted October 19, 2010 by mayakey in environment, musings, travel

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