In midsummer we were deep in the midst of buying our first home. It was a hectic and stressful time for us…making a huge purchase, packing up our belongings, hoping we were able to get into the new place before we had to be out of the current one, ect. It seemed liked the wrong time to take a family vacation but it was actually the perfect time. We put real life on hold for a long weekend and enjoyed some time away together as a family.
So did we want to enjoy nature or go to a posh resort? Both actually. We ended up going to Maumee Bay State Park Lodge which is right off of Lake Erie. it is the perfect combination of an outdoorsy, nature rich experience and resort living at the same time. The resort actually resides within a state park and much of the area around it is wild and untouched. They have numerous activities available and most encourage you to be out in nature. The inside though is posh and beautiful as you would expect a resort to be. It is the best of both worlds.
We had a beautiful family suite that boasted an upstairs loft for the kids and it had a balcony overlooking the lake…which is stunning. The quickie video below is one I shot from our balcony after waking. Hear the birds??
A video posted by Tiffany Washko (@tiffanywashko) on
We spent our days swimming (inside and out), playing shuffleboard, throwing horseshoes, walking the nature trails, golfing, visiting the nature center, and taking golf carts around the lake.
The photo directly above is of my son looking for snakes. He and some other kids found some slithering around freely. It is testimony to the fact that things are wild around the resort and private bungalows. The nature thrives so you know they are doing their part to do no harm. I also spotted all electric maintenance vehicles making the rounds. The resort gets an A for green efforts in my book and after speaking with staff members they hope to do more soon. After all nature plays a huge part in their biggest business of the year, which comes from The Biggest Week in American Birding. They sell out all accommodations and people come from literally all over the globe to check out the birds in the area during the month of May. What greater incentive is there to keep things sustainable than when your nature lovers pay the bills?
We also made some time to visit nearby destinations with transportation provided by the resort. We went to the Toledo Zoo, which is every bit as amazing as our zoo in Columbus and that is saying a lot, we have an award winning zoo. The highlight was seeing the hippos. I don’t think I have ever seen hippos before….except for Disney’s Jungle Cruise and I don’t think that counts. We also checked out the Toledo Museum of Art, which was spectacular. Their collection is amazing and the play time exhibit (below) was super fun for the whole family.
A photo posted by Tiffany Washko (@tiffanywashko) on
We also made time to visit the Imagination Station, which is a local science and learning center. It used to be a COSI (which we have in Columbus) but I must say that it now kicks COSI butt. We had an incredibly fun time and would consider going back to the area JUST for this experience. Another wonderful place we went was the Great Lakes historical society museum where we boarded the ship Col. James M. Schoonmaker.
All aboard! A photo posted by Tiffany Washko (@tiffanywashko) on
A photo posted by Tiffany Washko (@tiffanywashko) on
It was a memorable trip and the kids mention going back often. I love that we are supporting a local state park if we do. If you live in Ohio, northern Indiana, or southern Michigan then you don’t have far to go for a great family vacation.
Even though it isn’t the greenest pursuit, I love travel. It is just one of the ways in which we can connect to our planet and come to love it in all its wondrous variety…by exploration! So even though travel might increase our carbon footprint it is one of those things that I happily forgive because I really do believe that you protect what you care about and exploring your city, county, state, country, and world can be part of that. As long as you do so mindfully, with some planning, and with a careful eye to wastefulness I heartily endorse hitting the road (or the skies) with your kids. They won’t care to protect what they don’t know intimately.
One of my favorite methods of travel or maybe my absolute favorite (because I hate flying) is travel by recreational vehicle (RV). I started traveling by RV when I was just a toddler because my mother, Aunt, Uncle, and grandfather all used to travel around the midwest participating in horse shows and competitions. The easiest and most comfortable way to bring the family along was by RV, or motorhome specifically. It was very much like bringing home along with you. For holidays such as Memorial Day or the 4th of July we would also hit the road and park at various camp sites where we would camp, explore, and swim in local watering holes.
Here is the interior of the motorhome I spent 100s of hours in as a child (same as above photo), I still get a warm fuzzy feeling of pure happiness when I look at it! I would sleep on that couch (it pulled out) with my little brother. I would sit in the passenger seat and play with the CB radio while my grandfather drove us around the countryside. I would play cards with my grandmother and my cousins at that dining table (bottom left) and eat her homemade tuna egg salad sandwiches. It made for many perfect summer adventures and memories.
Taking an RV for long weekends and holiday weekends is actually a quite perfect way to go.
Stress free. You are taking “home” with you.
Affordable. No $ spent on hotels or airfare.
No sleeping on the ground in a tent, you have a nice comfy bed and a place free from critters.
Kids sleep better in a familiar place with their own pillows and blankets.
It is easy to plan a getaway on the spur of the moment.
No fast food or eating out because you have a pantry and kitchen.
Power supply for gadgets such as computers, blenders, and food processors.
A comfy place to retreat when you want to rest.
Toys and other personal items are easy to take along with you.
On board bathrooms, no pulling over to stop every 5 minutes!
You can take pets with you.
Can get one you drive or one you tow behind the family truck or SUV.
We took many planned, longer trips in the RV but we also took spur of the moment trips. One summer we drove the RV a few hours north to Chillicothe, Ohio to see an outdoor play called Tecumseh. You sit in a outdoor amphitheater and watch the story of the legendary Shawnee leader as he struggles to defend his sacred homelands in the Ohio country during the late 1700’s. There are cannons firing, guns shooting, horses riding past you and it really feels as though you are there, living it. The show is several hours long so rather than driving home late at night we just parked at a nearby camp ground with RV hookups and we made a mini vacation of it. My childhood was filled with trips like this, big and small. It made me relish the coming of summer and our upcoming adventures.
Here is a photo of me with my mother, grandmother and younger brother on one of our many RV adventures. He was just a baby so I would have been about 5 years old.
Eight or so years later, nothing much has changed (below), except the RV is bigger… me, my grandmother, and brother.
I will always treasure those memories and these pictures. They were some of the happiest times of my life. I am regretful now that my own kids haven’t done as much RVing as I did. We are going to have to change that…
Green travel is no longer just a trend it is a way of life for many and becoming more and more important in a world which is being harmed in so many ways by human activity. So to make your travel more planet friendly here are a few green travel tips.
Choosing a green destination
Some destinations are more environmentally conscious than others. Not only the individual hotels but entire cities or resorts as a whole. A bed and breakfast might be a more sustainable choice than a hotel chain and Portland, Oregon would be considered a greener destination than Atlanta, GA. We can also consider exploring locations closer to home, thus reducing our travel footprint.
Choosing green accommodation
Hotels which use 40% less electricity and produce 35% less carbon emissions than the average hotel are Energy Star approved hotels. When booking a hotel online use the search filters to find smoke-free hotels and hotels listed as “green”. Consider camping as an alternative to conventional travel and also look into bed and breakfasts or inns which tend to use fewer environmentally harmful resources.
Sharing transport by using public buses emits less harmful gases than renting a car, and if you have to rent a car then make sure it is an eco-friendly car. Hiring a scooter uses even less energy and there are also transport alternatives which use only natural energy. Try taking a cycling vacation or sail instead of taking a motorized boat. Hiking and walking vacations are of course the best way of conserving energy! If you must fly then choose an airline known for its eco-friendly policies like Virgin America, Alaska Airlines or Air France which offers passengers carbon offsets.
Often when you’re traveling you’ll be eating on-the-go which means plastic plates, cups and utensils. Take along a reusable bottle/mug and when you dine choose restaurants which use “real” plates and cutlery. Pack reusable cloths to use instead of paper towels and paper napkins, such as Skoy Cloths or PeopleTowels which are reusable and biodegradable. If you want to try the local food truck scene, and who can blame you, bring your own utensils. These nifty bamboo ones come in their own carrying case AND don’t forget to bring your own healthy easy snacks in a to-go box.
To recharge the inevitable electric gadgets that will accompany you on your trip purchase a solar recharger. Using solar energy you can recharge your camera, laptop, mp3 player, and cell phone. If a solar recharger is not a practical option for your trip then use rechargeable camera batteries which can be recharged over night.
Traveling green begins before you’re even out the front door – Cancel your newspaper delivery, turn off all lights and power bars, unplug appliances or even cut off all electricity via the breaker if you can.
Stay Green in the Hotel
Hang up your used towels to indicate that there is no need to wash them every day. This saves on energy used in hotel laundry. Use the hotel toiletries modestly or even bring along your own. When you leave the hotel room for the day turn off the lights, A/C and TV. If there are no recycle bins in your hotel then collect plastic bottles, paper and organic waste separately and ask the hotel manager where you can find the relevant receptacles in town. Even though you’re not paying for the water, limit your bathing to a reasonable length of time. A vacation is no excuse to get lax with your eco habits.
Seek out local farmers markets and organic stores where the food hasn’t traveled far or dine in restaurants which are known to be eco-friendly and local. Half the fun of visiting a new place is trying the food unique to that area so don’t go to chain eateries. You can do that anywhere so support small, local businesses instead.
Hopefully with a little planning your next travel experience will be a little greener…enjoy!
Last week I attended the BlogHer 12 conference in New York City and was gone from Tuesday night until early Monday morning. At this point I am just kind of laying around the house watching DVR’d shows and taking cat naps, recovering from a whirlwind trip. I had lots fun, met with lots of friends (old and new), explored the city, and came home with really sore feet.
I tried to go into this conference well prepared and that meant reading posts from other bloggers who have been and had advice to share. I didn’t really explore transportation options though, because I think most people fly. I decided it would be greener to take a bus and that was my biggest mistake on this trip. Taking a bus from Ohio to New York and back again was like a signing myself up for a sleep deprivation torture experiment. It’s hard enough to sleep on a bus (tight quarters) surrounded by strangers and hang out in seedy bus stations but having to get off the bus 2-3 times per trip and sit for an hour or more in a terminal only to get back on the same freakin bus was just too much. I also “forget” that I have edema issues due to many of my lower lymph nodes being removed (cancer). Sitting for that long meant that by the time we landed in NYC I had cankles and really swollen feet.
Anyway bus ride aside I still hit the ground running when I got there and made mistake #2 which was too walk from the Port Authority to the hotel. It was less than a mile but good golly it was crowded and hot, and walking with luggage was not fun. Okay so the trip didn’t start out very well but it did get better. After checking in to my hotel (The Hilton at 53rd and 6th) we (my brother and I – he went with me) hoofed it to Times Square and bought show tickets. Then we killed time going in shops until the 8:00 showing of Chicago at The Ambassador. It wasn’t the show that either of us wanted to see but it was discounted and available and we ended up LOVING it. On the way home we stopped at Lindy’s and got some cheesecake to go. Yum!
Day two began with a Go Army Bootcamp at the hotel for me. They apparently changed up their workouts two years ago and ahem… seemed to adopt a lot of CrossFit moves. I was totally familiar with everything we did and it was a nice way to get my blood pumping for the day. Afterwards my brother and I got Metro passes for the subway and generally just explored for the greater part of the day.
We got cream cheese bagels with sturgeon at Russ & Daughters. Amazing and totally not paleo but who cares??!??! So delicious….
I had one of these babies on Saturday too but with smoked salmon…equally yum.
After eating we wandered around Chinatown and Little Italy. I love all the fruit stands, gardens, and outdoor eateries.
Also love the subways. Travelling this way is so convenient and it would be awesome to not have a car. I am trying to convince hubby that NYC is the place for us after our kids are grown.
Next stop…the Staten Island Ferry and Lady Liberty.
All the walking made us super hungry so after trekking around the Chelsea Market for a bit we ended up going to Morimoto (of Iron Chef fame). As expected it was crazy expensive (about $180 for lunch) but really, really delicious. We had sea bass with these scrumptious bits of avocado fried in Tempura and a large plate of sushi and rolls. I loved everything…even the salmon roe, which I usually don’t care for.
After stuffing ourselves it seemed appropriate to walk and lucky for us The Highline was right next door. If you don’t know this is a section of the former elevated New York Central Railroad which runs along the lower west side of Manhattan. It was abandoned and slated for demolition but a community group decided to recycle it into an urban park /aerial greenway and it is absolutely gorgeous now. It was a big highlight of my trip because I have wanted to see it for years.
After The High Line we went back uptown to The Frick and we took a walk in central park. At that point it was time for the conference stuff and the conference related parties to begin…but that is for another post.
The major take away from this first part of the trip though that is that I forgot how amazing New York is and how much I love it there. Someday, hopefully I will get to spend lots more time there. AND because we took the awful torture bus and rode the subways the whole time, it was also a pretty green travel adventure.
I read a hefty share of travel memoirs every year. I used to travel quite extensively prior to having kids but my pursuit of greener living and also the cost of travel with family has essentially grounded me. Reading travel books is my mental getaway to exotic places where adventure is just around the corner. I especially like to read books about extended travel with families because it is a dream of mine. When I agreed to review Michael Lanza’s book Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks, it seemed to be the perfect marriage between my love of travel books and my love of green living books.
I also thought it would be good for me to stretch my mental muscles and read about a topic that I tend to stay away from, climate change. It’s not that I don’t think climate change is a serious problem it is just one of those subjects that I don’t know a whole lot about sadly. I tend to stick with issues surrounding the home, food sustainability, and immediate dangers to our health and wellness.
This book was a very important read for me though because it made the issue of climate change very personal and easy to understand. I love to travel and I would love for my kids and I to see all our wondrous National Parks and yet some of them are in very real danger of becoming impassable to hikers and travelers. Climate change is melting the glaciers that make an appearance in some, which not only affects the beauty of these areas it also means less water is making its way down to lower areas. Plants and animal life that rely on this water start to become endangered or extinct. Water sources that hikers need to survive start to dry up, making the area inhospitable. Scenic waterfalls dry up earlier and earlier and may eventually be gone for good. Can you even imagine Yosemite without its grand waterfalls???
The melting glaciers create mud slides and rock slides which make the area too dangerous for hikers and campers. The warmer weather also creates wicked storms the likes of which have rarely been seen before and they happen more and more often. This destroys some of the most scenic areas of the parks and also makes it too dangerous for people to go exploring. Hiking trails that once saw many thousands of hikers each and every year steadily become less grand and less hospitable to all manners of life from humans, to animals, to native plants and trees. The trees are also being devastated by insects that are not being killed off in annual frosts anymore. The pest population is permitted to go crazy and the overwhelmed trees are dying off by the thousands. The are some very real problems facing our parks that get worse and worse each year. Many of the park officials and scientists who have worked in these parks for decades feel that they may be shadows of themselves before long.
This is why Michael Lanza decided that his kids needed to see the most endangered parks NOW and they embarked on the year long adventure contained within the pages of Before They’re Gone. Lanza is a veteran freelance outdoors writer and photographer. He is the northwest editor of Backpacker magazine, where his articles about the impacts of climate change on Montana’s Glacier National Park and other wild lands helped Backpacker win a National Magazine Award. He also runs the website TheBigOutside.
I was invited to participate in the blog tour for his wonderful book and I decided to ask him a few questions about it. His answers are amazing and insightful…a must read for nature lovers! Below is the interview. Enjoy!
1. How did your work as an outdoors writer position you uniquely to see the effects of climate change on our National Parks?
For years, I’ve observed how much natural landscapes are changing. The evidence is recorded on maps, many of which are based on decades-old USGS data. I’ve seen dried, cracked earth in places where my map showed an alpine lake, and new lakes or barren talus in places where my map showed a glacier. I was making an off-trail traverse of the Bailey Range in Olympic National Park one September several years ago and ran into a family (parents with their grown kids in their late teens and early 20s) going in the other direction—the only people we saw out there. As it happened, the father was one of the authors of the Olympic Mountains climbers guide; he knew the mountains very well from decades of hiking and climbing. He pointed to a north-facing mountainside above the lake where we were camped, a slope that had just a few small patches of snow and mostly bare ground, and told me with a tone of disbelief, “I’ve never seen that slope not entirely covered with snow in summer.”
It’s disorienting on a couple of levels when a place does not look like what is shown on your map. I’ve puzzled over my exact location more than once. But then, realizing that I was actually standing where I thought I was standing, I’ve felt sadness and awe, and felt deeply disturbed over the idea that our lifestyles are actually altering the face of the planet. I can’t help but fear where this is leading us.
In April 2007, while researching stories for Backpacker about the impacts of climate change on national parks and wilderness, I skied into the Northern Rockies in Glacier National Park with a leading federal scientist there, Dan Fagre, who was predicting that the glaciers in the park would disappear by 2030. On a return visit to backpack for six days in Glacier in September 2009, I met up with Dan again. He told me they had revised that previous forecast because warming and glacial recession had speeded up faster than anticipated: the projected year for no more glaciers in Glacier National Park was now 2020. I thought, Wow, my kids will be just 19 and 17 then. This is not far off in the future—it’s right around the corner. Changes have been underway for years and are happening quickly, within the lifespans of people.
2. What was your biggest motivator for planning this trip and do you hope to do it again in the future?
Dan Fagre’s revised forecast about Glacier National Park’s glaciers and other research I was doing made me realize that many parks could be very different places by the time Nate and Alex are my age. But we also cleared a big hurdle in 2009 in terms of our ability as a family to make these trips. Our son, Nate, who turned nine that September, had been backpacking with me for a few years. But our daughter, Alex, who was six that summer, showed for the first time that she could handle adult-scale backpacking trips. That summer and early fall, we took a rugged, three-day hike in Grand Teton National Park, and a four-day hike in Zion National Park.
Now that we could take trips like this all together, I started thinking more and more in the fall of 2009 about just cramming in as many trips as we could in a year without the kids missing too much school. As I write in my book’s prologue, it’s easy to get caught up in life and not achieve the goals you set or see the places you want to see. I’ve long believed that you just have to get out and do things, because you never know what’s in store for the future. You can’t wait for opportunity to shake you awake—it’s not going to.
Do I hope to do it again? I’m constantly thinking about the next adventure we can take as a family; in fact, I’m usually planning at least three or four simultaneously, thinking about trips appropriate for their ages and abilities. This summer, as a family we’ll go rock climbing and backpacking or rafting in Idaho, hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and take a nine-day, hut-to-hut trek in Norway. On my tick list for a summer soon: a multi-week Western road trip, a big international trek, and a multi-week backpacking trip on a long trail.
3. After speaking with so many park experts and seeing the effects of climate change yourself, are you pessimistic for the future of our parks or are you optimistic that we can change our current direction?
As I wrote in my book, I choose optimism in part because I think it offers the only hope for the world our kids will inherit. But also, one consistent thread that ran through many of the interviews I did with scientists was the optimism they shared that the parks will always inspire us as much as they did our forefathers who decided to preserve these places. As Dan Fagre told me about Glacier, “It’s still going to be a beautiful park. The notion that it’s being changed ultimately by human activities is something people have to take responsibility for. These are really good things for people to be thinking about.”
I am optimistic that we can change. While there is great resistance to change, there is also great momentum in the right direction. My hope is that increased understanding of what we’re doing to the world our children will inherit, and how our cherished national parks are being affected, will help motivate society to summon the honesty required to do what is necessary and right.
4. What important lesson(s) do you hope that readers of this book will glean from it and what action if any do you hope they will take?
I wrote this book on two levels. On the surface, it’s about my family and the wonderful experiences we shared, which I know have already benefited all of us in many ways—and especially Nate and Alex, because they’re so young. I hope other families will be inspired to take similar adventures that are within their abilities and comfort zones. We too often think our kids can’t do something that’s physically challenging, or we worry that it’s unsafe. Kids are resilient and endlessly curious. Nate and Alex constantly surprise and impress me with how much they can do and how enthusiastic they are about our adventures.
I also hope the deeper message in my book, about climate change, helps motivate people to take action. We aren’t complacent about making sure our kids get a good education or teaching them to make smart, safe decisions. If we’re concerned for their future, we have to be equally engaged in this critical issue of climate. On a personal level, there are many choices we can make to reduce our energy consumption, from walking and biking local errands instead of driving whenever possible, to turning off lights in empty rooms, driving more efficient vehicles, insulating our homes better—there is a wealth of information out there on that subject.
Beyond that, we have to insist that our elected leaders take aggressive action to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels at a societal level. We have to write letters and vote for people who understand how important this is. That’s the kind of change that is really needed to bring emissions down to a level that avoids catastrophic climate change.