“B-cycles” comes to Boulder: grassroots bike share program ideal way for visitors to explore

bike sharesAs a former resident of Boulder, Colorado (If you regularly read my posts, you may have the impression that I’ve lived everywhere. You are correct.), I can attest to this lovely college town’s biking obsession. Boulder has more than 300 miles of dedicated bikeways, and there are almost as many bikes as cars.

One of the reasons Boulder is so bike-friendly–besides its firm stance on reducing carbon emissions–is that the terrain is ideal for every kind of wheeled pursuit. There are tree-lined urban paths; flat; hard-core mountain trails, and lots of rural roadway.

But Boulder isn’t just for hobby cyclists; this year it’s even home for one of the Tour de France teams. Competitive road cycling and mountain biking are much like oxygen in Boulder: essential for existence. Unless you’re me. I’ve always been a cruiser bike kind of gal, and I always will be. And downtown Boulder is just right for that type of low-key peddling.

This is why I was so delighted when, in town on business this past week, I discovered B-cycles. Launched on May 20, this non-profit community bike share program (a growing movement nationwide), is an inexpensive, fun, and active way to get around town if you’re a visitor. There are a number of conveniently located B-stations downtown, so you can just grab-and-go. When you’re done, re-dock at the nearest station and walk away.

Users must buy an initial five dollar membership fee online or at any B-station (kiosks accept debit or credit cards). Then you’re free to peddle off into the sun…shine. There are three types of memberships–24-hour, 7-day, and unlimited. The 24-hour rentals are just five bucks. It’s a lot cheaper and more practical than a bike rental for the casual rider.

%Gallery-126471%bike sharesThese are some sweet bikes, too. Spanking new crimson cruisers, equipped with metal baskets (big enough to fit a 12-pack; Boulder is also home to some of the nation’s top craft breweries).

If you’re a casual rider like me, I highly recommend my personal favorite, the Boulder Creek Bike Path. Its a five-mile meander along gorgeous Boulder Creek (the water levels are raging right now, so you can watch kayakers running the rapids. There are also calmer spots prime for tubing. Don’t forget to pack a picnic (those baskets hold more than just beer, you know); there are loads of creekside tables and rocks just right for a bike break.

P.S. If more serious biking is your thing, Valmont Bike Park–the largest free urban bike park in America–opened June 11 in Boulder. It’s a 40-acre off-road bike park with competition-grade cyclo-cross racing trails, big dirt jumps, dual slalom tracks, pump tracks, and slope-style trails.

[Photo credits: Laurel Miller]

Bike Maintenance - How to Change a Bike Tire Tube

Plant a tree, help fight climate change


We live in a “Golden Age” of travel. Never before in history have so many people traveled so widely, easily, quickly or cheaply. But this convenience comes with a hidden price. All those vehicles that take us there – the planes and cars – play a significant role in the gradual warming of our planet. In honor of Earth Day, the Conservation Fund is offering a way for you to help.

Check out the Conservation Fund’s new video for a campaign called “Go Zero.” The project seeks to raise awareness of the amount of carbon each of us produces from activities like travel, offering a chance to offset our carbon emissions. The group is trying to get 10,000 new trees planted before the end of this year’s Earth Day. It couldn’t be more simple to help – just click the button “plant a tree” on the embedded video above if you’d like to donate. If you want to learn more, make sure to stop by Conservation Fund’s website and try out the Carbon Calculator to see what you can do to fight climate change.

Our lives have all been immeasurably enriched by travel – let’s make sure future generations have a chance to enjoy the same opportunities.

10 travel resolutions for 2010

As 2009 draws to a close and we look back on the last 365 days of travel, it’s time to make some resolutions for the coming year. Here are ten travel resolutions that will help you be a happier, more fulfilled traveler in 2010.

Pack lighter
Nearly every domestic carrier now charges for the first checked bag. The fees are increasing as airlines are relying on the fees to supplement revenue and they show no signs of stopping. If you haven’t yet mastered the art of packing for a domestic trip with just a carry-on, now is the time to do so. Limit yourself to one pair of shoes in your bag, bring clothes that mix and match, plan to wash and re-wear your clothes if they get dirty, and wear your bulkiest items on the plane. Resist the urge to pack for every contingency, learn the 3-1-1 rules, and know that any minor inconvenience you suffer from packing light may be worth the money saved. Plus, there’s no waiting around for your luggage to be unloaded and no danger of it getting lost en route.

Remember to unplug

Many people are afraid to truly take a vacation from work. They worry about how it will affect their career or stress about the amount of work they’ll come back to. If they do manage to make it out of the office, they often spend their whole trip checking email and fielding work calls and texts. Step away from the Blackberry! Sign out of Twitter, shut down Facebook, and put your “out of office” notification on your email. You’ve worked hard for this vacation so unplug and actually enjoy it.Explore your own backyard
Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you plan a “staycation” this year. But I will point out that exploring a new place doesn’t have to mean jetting off to a destination halfway around the world. If finances are tight but you still want to take use some vacation time and broaden your horizons, spend your days discovering a place you haven’t been within the US, within your own state, or even within a few hours drive of your own home. In between trips, find ways to do some virtual traveling by learning about your dream destinations or celebrating other cultures.

Slow down
There’s so much to see in this great big world, and so little time to see it in, that it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to squeeze in as much as possible on each trip. But when you do that, you’re just ticking things off a list and experiencing nothing. Slow down and take your time exploring a few places rather than trying to skim the surface of many. You many not be able to say you’ve seen every country in the world, but you can say you’ve understood a few.

Think outside the box for destinations
Resolve to shake up your travel m.o. in 2010 If you always opt for a European getaway, head to Asia this year. If most of your trips are to big cities where you can wine, dine, shop and visit museums, try a trip to a quiet beach or a countryside setting instead. Consider what you want to get out of a trip and look for other destinations that fit the bill. Dive enthusiasts who’ve explored most of the Caribbean’s depths can try the waters of the Mediterranean. Traveling foodies who’ve eaten their way around Europe can sample the tastes of India or learn the traditions of Mexican cooking. Reconsider places you might have dismissed before, especially those that are emerging as new destinations so that you can beat the crowds.

Try an alternative form of lodging
Who says you always have to stay in a hotel? This year, try a different kind of lodging. Sleep in a bed and breakfast, rent an apartment, CouchSurf or sign up for a home-swap. You may find that it’s not for you, or you may find your new favorite way to stay. As a bonus, alternative forms of lodging are often cheaper than traditional hotels.

Travel green
Help protect the places you love so that future generations can enjoy them. Resolve to cut back on your carbon footprint and do what you can to travel green. Try to stay in eco-friendly accommodations, take public transportation when you can, reduce your energy use at home, and invest in carbon offsets to help mitigate the damage caused by air travel.

Try one new thing on every trip
Travel is about experiencing new things, so why bother going to a new destination if you are just going to do the same activities, eat the same food, and explore the same interests? This year, challenge yourself to try at least one new thing on every trip. Sample a food you’ve never eaten, sip a local drink, learn a native skill, and engage in an activity you’ve never done before. It’s easy to fall into the routine of seeking out the same experiences in different places so challenge yourself to try something new.

Get out of your comfort zone
We travel to discover, not only new people and places, but also new things about ourselves. Push yourself out of your comfort zone in 2010. Try not only new things that you’re eager to experience, but also new things that scare you just a little. Eat that slimy, still-squirming mystery dish in China or face your fear of heights climbing the Sydney Bridge. You’ll learn a little about the world around you, and maybe even more about yourself.

Remember that travel is a state of mind
It’s easy to approach exotic cultures with respect and curiosity. It’s a lot harder to look at different cultures in our country and accept that just because they do things differently, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. Bring the acceptance you learn on the road home with you. Don’t lose your sense of wonder and curiosity once you are back on familiar ground. Remember that travel is a state of mind and you may be just as surprised to discover the world around you as you are destinations farther away.

San Francisco airport wants to sell you carbon offset credits

As of yesterday, passengers departing from San Francisco international airport can purchase carbon offset credits before taking their flight. The credits are called “Climate Passport”, and they can be bought from electronic kiosks located throughout the airport.

Each ton of carbon offsets costs $13.50, and a typical transcontinental flight spits out about 1.9 tons. Offsetting that will cost you just under $25. Of course, that number is for the total amount per flight, so if more than one passenger on a flight pays for the offsets, the flight will theoretically be carbon negative.

The money gets split – $12.00 goes towards the Garcia River Forest project, and $1.50 goes to the city of San Francisco to support local carbon reduction projects.

The kiosks cost $190,000 to install, and to me that seems like a heck of a lot of money for something that is going to be a pretty hard sell. On paper the project looks great – it allows passengers to help the environment without having to give up much more than a little of their cash, but in reality I really don’t see many passengers participating – though I’d like to be proven wrong.

You can learn more about the program, and how the collected money is spent, at the Climate Passport web site.

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The hard truth of green luxury travel

Green” has become yet another upscale offer for hotels and resorts around the world. The concept allows a premium to be charged – and justifiably so, given the increased expenses that come with minimizing environmental impact. Guests get to feel good when they indulge, and the hotel makes a few extra bucks. Everyone wins, right?

Well, it isn’t that simple. Any environmentally friendly measures publicized by a resort may be inherently “green.” A bag made from recycled material, for example, may result in a lower carbon footprint. However, this probably won’t compensate for wasteful behavior elsewhere on the property. Luxury is wasteful by design, and travelers seeking green resorts need to think past the trappings of conscience publicized by the resort.

Think about any hotel room – from mid-range through the absurdly upscale. The toilet paper is replaced when only a third of the roll has been used. Soap used once or twice is swapped for a fresh bar. You can opt to use the same towel two days in a row – likewise sheets – but it isn’t the norm. It’s a choice you get to make. So, who gives a shit if the lettuce is grown locally?

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Well, that’s a tad unfair. Every measure does count. So, a hotel that only buys produce from local growers or fish from sustainable sources is making a difference. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to reconcile these behaviors with what you see when you walk into your guestroom for the first time.

The lights are on.

The air conditioner is running.

The television is turned to the hotel’s proprietary station.

The radio next to the bed is playing slow, carefully selected music.

And so on.

When it comes to the confluence of luxury and green, the priority will always be given to the former. Any measure that detracts from the guest experience will not be adopted – which becomes increasingly true as the standards of the hotel or resort increase. And, this is probably what you want. After all, when you choose a destination based on service, comfort and style, you’re looking for service, comfort and style. You elected not to sleep in a tent in the middle of the desert for a reason!

Since a luxury property won’t cut back on some of the basics, there are a few things you can do to trim your carbon footprint when you check into an upscale establishment. First, use only the lights that you need, open the curtains and turn off the devices that don’t matter to you (e.g., the television tuned to the hotel’s ads). Turn the lights off when you leave the room. Do the basics … the stuff you would do back home.

Since you can’t erase your impact completely, buy your way out of it. You can purchase carbon offsets (from Terapass, for example). These are financial devices that basically compensate for the carbon emissions for which you’re responsible. Let’s say you drive your car 10 miles. You’ve created some emissions, and there’s nothing you can do about that. But, you can buy energy that’s created through sustainable sources (via the offset). That means that green power has been created and sent to the grid … and eventually is consumed. You used fossil fuels but balanced it out by supplying someone else with energy from an eco-friendly source.

Consider making a positive impact. “Voluntourism” is gaining momentum. You don’t have to take a vacation strictly to volunteer somewhere. Instead, set aside part of your trip to make a difference. The Ritz-Carlton’s “Giveback Getaway” program, for example, allows you to set aside as little as a few hours to help an organization near the resort (for me, it was helping on a panther refuge at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida).

The eco-friendly lingo may deceive you at some resorts, but you can overcome the marketing hype and take control of your carbon footprint. From the small to the profound, there are steps you can take while traveling to make a difference. If you don’t care – hey, that’s your choice. Just be realistic about the green offering and the impact it has.