Do you dream about sleeping under the stars and taking deep breaths of fresh air? Spending a night outdoors shouldn't be a lofty goal, but a priority. No phones, no Blackberry, no Facebook or Twitter, no light pollution, and less air pollution. We've all heard of slow food, but we should also start embracing slow living. (nb: I'm convincing myself as I write this.)
The privilege of sleeping outdoors, whether in the wilderness, a campground, in your own backyard or napping on the edge of a dock, carries responsibility. The fact that the earth is fighting for it's life due to our unconscious activities should make us aware that we need to tread lightly, so generations to come won't despise us. We all share it, so please take care of it.
Disconnecting from your city routine and enjoying what's actually in front of you, over what's virtually in front of you is a gift. The "eco-fication" of your outdoor vacation need not be complicated. It's doesn't even need to be more expensive. It just takes a shift in thinking -- from 'anything goes' to 'my actions impact everything'.
Here are some fire-starters to ensure you'll be a happy camper:
Blow up and slow sown
Since there's a good chance that you'll be using a car to get out of the city, make sure your tires are inflated, slow down and take the country roads if you need to avoid heavy traffic (or want to enjoy a more scenic route) -- you'll get better mileage overall, cut down on emissions and even save some money. If you are renting a car, avoid falling for that "free" upgrade; a bigger car will cost more in gas, and take a toll on our air, too.
Be a turn-off (to mosquitoes)
Mosquitoes are (unfortunately for us) well-equipped to track you down. Don't help them out more by wearing anything with synthetic (read: toxic) "fragrance" -- that includes ALL personal care items.
Mosquitoes are drawn to contrast, so avoid dark clothing as best you can. Eat lots of garlic too -- it really does help! Although the little buzzers are labeled as dangerous by many, insect repellants are sadly not given the same courtesy. There are many natural, DEET-free and toxin-free solutions on the market (All Things Jill, Graydon and eco.kid to name a few).
Cover up and clean up
Wear a hat and wear sunscreen. According to Environmental Defence, many personal care products contain harmful chemicals, so make sure to educate yourself on sunscreen safety and avoid rubbing toxic stuff into your skin which goes into us, and also into our water. EWG, a U.S.-based organization, provides a free database cataloging over 1,000 sunscreens and rating them based on the hazard score of their ingredients.
Re-fuse and re-use
Foam plates and cups, paper towel and napkins, plastic cutlery and straws are single-use earth-wreckers. Refuse all and invest in reusables -- they will reduce the trash you produce and save you lots of money over time. And, always be sure to have your reusable water bottle with you. Fill. Drink. Repeat often.
Feel the power
Powering up all those gadgets with conventional batteries then dumping them in landfills creates a toxic mess. Instead, try rechargeables, or better yet, take a look at wind powered, solar powered or hand crank eco-gadgets coming on the market with great force. Choose LED flashlight/lanterns, as they offer a much more energy-efficient alternative.
Get lots of free gear
PVC-free, phthalate-free, BPA-free, lead-free are just a few of the FREE things to look for when shopping for goods like tents, sleeping bags, water bottles and clothing. Remember to ask salespeople for "responsible" items at the store -- you may get a confused look in return, but where there is demand, there will be supply, if not already available.
Get all fired up
Build your campfire to the size you need, as unnecessarily big, roaring fires burn more resources (and increase hazards). Use only fallen twigs and branches for firewood, the live trees are working hard for us, please don't disrupt them. Your fire also offers a more eco-friendly option for cooking over using a gas or coal grill. And, please, never burn your trash -- you certainly don't want to inhale burning plastic, metal or wood (many of which are treated with chemicals), do you?
Come with it, leave with it
You recycle at home, so, you should bring that eco-conscious practice with you when away. And, be sure to use polyethylene-free compostable and biodegradable garbage bags. Leave with everything you came with to ensure all is clean and ready for the next lucky city escapees.
Spending time outdoors offers you health benefits for the body and the mind: fresher air, unplugged time with those you adore, inspiring vistas and calm quietude. Enjoy every moment, bring home lots of memories, and do your best to make sure the only marks you leave behind are your (light) footprints.