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US Earth Day: What Can You Do at Home?

By April 17, 2007

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Backpackers are already a pretty green bunch of travelers when abroad -- we use public transportation as a matter of course, many of us stay in private homes or hostels rather than energy-eating hotel rooms, we're very big on volunteer vacations where we live like locals (like the kind who don't use a lot of lightbulbs) -- all in all, it's my guess that we leave a fairly small eco footprint compared to many travelers. And you can set examples by bringing some of the ways you travel abroad back to the US: the US's Earth Day on April 22 (international Earth Day happenings happen at the vernal equinox in March -- learn why there are two Earthdays) is a perfect time to think about how to do that.

An excellent issue of Glimpse's student travel magazine ("Student Travelers' Take on US, International Green Practices"), detailing how students saw recycling, reusing and local-level green practices outside the US and thought of ways to bring 'em on home, is a good place to start brainstorming. Think about how you travel: through economics or neccessity, you take shorter and less frequent showers (think hauling your own in some villages, or showering in Australia, where water shortages are critical); you don't consume as much -- you reuse rather than spend the bucks on a new plastic bottle for drinking water; you take trains and buses because it's cheap and easy. How can you adapt all that at home?

Use US Mass Transportation

USA public transportation is not good, comparatively speaking (as in compared to Europe, for instance). Larry West, who writes about environmental issues, says that 88 percent of all trips in the United States are made by car, and that US families using public transportation can save more than they spend on food. Now that would be a statistic to take to the bank. Your own local public transportation may be a royal pain to use or barely exist, and the only way to help rectify that is to get active. Options exist nationally, though:

    Amtrak

    If you've been in Europe, you know how easy it is to take European trains from country to country: in the US, Amtrak routes have dwindled, and the current administration would appear to want Amtrak to go away, perhaps preferring you drive (and buy gas) (1). However, Amtrak is still very much alive, and is a wonderful way to travel. Student travelers get a 15% discount on Amtrak, and one of your parents can get a free Amtrak ticket if they accompany you on a college-scouting jaunt. An Amtrak family bedroom is a fine way to stay while your family gets from place to place on a trip this summer: you can always suggest it.

    Greyhound

    Getting your folks to take a trip by bus may not happen. West says that riding a bus is 79 times safer than riding in a car; it's certainly waaay cheaper and Greyhound takes you to a lot of little towns abandoned by Amtrak. Though Greyhound's easier than Amtrak, it still may not be a snap: the nearest Greyhound stop to my home in the Colorado Rockies is 90 miles away and it really is a stop -- like, flag down the bus from the highway's side (nearest Amtrak stop is 70 miles). You do get a Greyhound discount with a Student Advantage discount card:

    Megabus, Chinatown Buses

    Yeah, okay, the chances of getting your folks on a crazy Chinatown bus (cheap, not-so-regulated buses on the coasts) are probably nil, but what an adventure it could be... Megabus, a cheap daily bus service connecting eight Midwestern cities around a Chicago hub, has brought a popular Euro form of discount transport to the US with bus rides for as little as a buck. Limited luggage and lack of stations may be palatable for those prices.

Getting Greener on Road Trips

You like to drive, I like to drive, your folks like to drive. Especially in the West, driving your own car is sometimes the only US transportation option and besides, we -- yeah -- like to drive; turning up the tunes and dropping the pedal down on an empty stretch of highway is one of life's fine pleasures. You can get a little greener on the highway, though: learn how to save gas, learn about environmentally friendly cars (and explain to your parents why a gigundous SUV as large as some third world buses is not the best way to take your sister to soccer practice), and think about camping or, for yourself, couch surfing rather than renting a hotel room. The US does have a few hostels, too -- I've no idea what the stats are, but it stands to reason that 12 people in a hostel room, using the same light and heat sources, is a better use of a kilowatt than one human in a hotel room.

Recycle, Reuse

You already know how to recycle -- you may even have a recycling setup at home (if not, a call to the company that picks up your garbage may point you to resources). Some things are tricky to recycle, though:

Stay tuned for US Earth Day volunteer opportunities, travelers.

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