Saturday, April 07, 2007

Green and ethical hotel-ing

As I write this post, I am flying at 33000 feet in a Boeing 777, heading back home after two weeks in Europe (Copenhagen, Zurich, Vilnius, Amsterdam). I stayed in four different hotels.

I have been doing lots of (too much) traveling for many (too many) years. Yet it was only on this trip that I felt like I was finally hitting my stride, with everything I needed in place to make my trip really, really smooth.

In the bad old days of travel, I had a single backpack that I used (a) to carry all of my computer gear and extras for traveling, (b) to take to the fitness center for workouts, and (c) for just about anything I needed a pack for. So I was constantly moving stuff in and out of the pack. This meant that every time I was leaving for a trip, I had to make sure the pack contained everything I needed.

About two months ago, I had a brainstorm: why not buy another backpack and use it only for business travel? Then I can keep all the gear I need in that pack all the time. When I need to travel, I drop my laptop in and off I go! So I got a very nice Targus backpack for about $20 (CompUSA was going out of business and the pack was about 66% off.), and I put inside it:

* A mouse (regular size and functionality). I can't stand the Thinkpad touchpad. I need a mouse to do any serious work.

* A very cool in-your-hand "one finger mouse". This comes in really handy when I stuck in a coach seat, with no room for a regular mouse. Iwould have to scrunch up my shoulders to use the touchpad, and that really hurts my upper back. With the trackball, I can fully extend my arm and move the mouse from any position.

* A super-thin, but stiff Wowpad mousepad that I can put right over indentations sometimes found on a fold out airplane tray, and which normally louse up a mouse. I talked about this in a previous blog entry.

* An Imak computer glove that has a built-in beanie-bag that provides support for my palm and wrist. It goes wherever I go.

* The IGo universal adaptor so I can plug into the on-board electricity and not be bound to just battery power. Note: I found mine on eBay for half the cost of retail.

* An extra battery for the laptop. Oh wow, that can sure come in handy. On a recent trip, I waited till the last minute to pack and run for the airport. Now, when I put my laptop in the dock, I have to take out the battery, because it is (both are) an extended life battery and it sticks out the back. So this time around, I grabbed the laptop and dropped into my pack - without putting in the battery! Without the spare already in the pack, I would have been in BIG TROUBLE.

* An inflatable Eagle Creek lumbar pillow. Very nicely designed and a big help for avoiding lower back stiffness and aches on long flights.

* A headset with microphone that I can use with Skype. I am very much enjoying Skype when I travel internationally. It makes staying in touch back home so much easier. And I barely ever use Skype for computer-to-computer conversations. I can call "real" telephone numbers and pay something like $.021 per minute.

Well, that's about it for the gear I use on most every flight or most every trip.

And with my pre-prepped backpack, it all comes with me, all the time. How wonderful! So that's a big improvement over past travel experiences.

But it gets even better. I went to Denmark and Switzerland on this trip, and one thing I have noticed over the years about hotels in these northern European countries is that they often have a thick quilt for a top sheet on the beds (it is actually like a blanket that is slipped inside a sheet). That's very nice when it is very cold, or when a person easily gets cold. But that's not me. I tend to "run hot." I prefer fewer blankets and have trouble sleeping when I get too warm. This has caused problems in the past.

So I bought another travel accessory for this trip: the Cocoon TravelSheet. This very lightweight silk sheet is actually a superthin sleeping bag, of sorts. You spread it on your bed and lie inside it. It even has a section near the head into which you can slide a pillow, so it stays nicely in place. The whole thing compresses to the size of a large orange. How cool is that? So I figured I could use it when I would otherwise have to sleep under a heavy quilt-sheet.

But what I realized upon arriving at my first hotel, is that I could make much better use of this sheet than I had thought: I could simply lay it down on top of the nicely-made bed and never actually use the hotel linens!

What's so great about that? Well, two things that I can think of:

* I reduce the amount of linen that must be washed, saving water, cutting back on the phosphate and bleach pollution that washing produces. I simply come home from my trip and wash my nice silk travel sheet.

* Cleaning staff do not have to tear down and remake the bed. They can clean the room faster and they are less likely to strain themselves. "Strain themselves?" you ask. "What is Steven talking about?"

Many hotel chains are "upgrading" their rooms and implementing "sleep systems" that usually involve lots of pillows, heavy blankets, higher thread count sheets, and so on. Sounds really comfy, right? Well, there usually is a downside for someone in such situations. Cleaning staff now have to deal with more and heavier linens, and work harder to clean the same number of rooms in the same amount of time as before. Injuries are on the increase.

So by using my travel sheet, I am not only more comfortable, but I reduce pollution and improve the quality of life of at least one other human being. I like that.

Finally, I make sure that whenever I travel, I have $5 or the equivalent in foreign currency to leave as a thank-you for the cleaning staff. Two perspectives motivate my giving:

1. The way I see it, the more personal a service that a person provides to you, the more important it is that you leave a tip for that person. Someone cleaning up in my hotel room is essentially cleaning up my temporary home, including my bathroom. That's very personal.

2. As far as I can tell, the less visible the worker, the less they are likely to be paid. I don't think cleaning staff are paid very well, but they work very hard. So I feel it is important to complement their meager hourly wages.

So, in conclusion, I suggest that if you too travel an awful lot, that you:

* Prepack as much as you can to avoid unpleasant surprises ("Oh no! I forgot my power cable!").

* Find ways to minimize the ecological impact of your hotel stays. The level of convenience and luxury provided in business hotels tracks closely with the amount of resources consumed and waste produced.

* Leave tips for your room cleaners. Those few dollars will mean little to you and I, but an awful lot to people who are probably earning minimum wage.

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