Well, I promised myself that I'd relate my failures as well as my triumphs and now it's time to confess. The camping trip we took for the 4th of July weekend was basically a sustainable disaster! Very fun, but... I don't think driving down there was terrible (although that's when having a more fuel efficient car would really help--we went over 460 miles just one way!) because we drive so rarely. It just really hurt our wallets.
I've gone camping with Shane's family for the 4th every year since he and I have been dating. I LOVE his relatives, they're so much fun! But the way they camp involves lots of disposable utensils and paper plates, roughly 1000 coolers full of food (which need to be carried out there and back, this time in a boat--the weight means more gas is used), a grill, a full-sized air mattress and a little generator to pump it up, etc. Lots of tarps, which can be necessary (it was raining so hard all Friday night when we got there!) but aren't the sturdiest things. But since I'm not the one arranging the camping, and don't usually contribute food (I think Sally would be offended if I brought food for us) I don't feel that I have a right to criticize.
However, there are things that I can do to mitigate my impact on the earth while we're camping. Next year I will bring my own utensils and plate, for one thing. That way I don't need to use the disposable items. (Which I tried to re-use, but they're hard to keep track of with that many people around.) I can also look into buying something tarp-like that is a bit sturdier and less plastic-y. I did make sure to pack as light as possible.
Other things that can be done (not necessarily on trips with Shane's family, but just in general):
1. Cook over a campfire! You don't need a grill. Half the fun of camping is cooking with an open fire. Some of the best salmon I've ever had was cooked with just a bit of lemon pepper and a few lemon slices, wrapped in foil and stuffed in a fire until it was done. Yum.
2. Make sure to only bring as much food as is really needed. In general, people bring a lot of food to go camping and this weighs a lot. Whatever motor vehicle gets you out there needs to use more gas to do so. Sally packs like she'll be feeding an army for the next year, which means lots of choices, but I've noticed that people tend to stick with the same foods when camping. We don't need an entire Costco-sized block of cheese because it will never get used.
3. Use compact stuff. Shane and I laughed about the air mattresses because our tent was bursting at the seams. We both ended up saying that we preferred the little air mattresses which inflate by themselves, but that wasn't an option on this trip since we don't have any and the parents hadn't brought theirs. It was either use the air mattress or sleep on the rough ground. Ouch!
4. Clean up after yourself. We used a bag for toilet paper, but there was toilet paper and, even more disgustingly, tampons all over the woods. Ewww!
5. Leave electronic devices at home. I turned my cell phone off for the weekend and left it in the tent, which served the double purpose of keeping me away from it and keeping it safe. Spencer destroyed his new phone with a fall in the lake and then absentmindedly putting the battery back in while it was still wet. I've also seen I don't know how many kids camping with their parents, sitting by the fire playing video games on a handheld device. Seriously? What's the point of camping?
Shane and I would love to go camping more often, but right now the only camping gear we really have is a tent. We still need sleeping bags (trying to find good ones--like 0 degree bags) and pads, some camping utensils and plates/cups, but I feel like that's all we really need now. It doesn't take much to go camping and have a great time.
If you have any advice about other ways to make camping greener, I'd love to hear them!