The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

August 6, 2009

My Green Chicago Trip, Part 1: Hostel vs. Hotel

So, I’ve been blogging (whining) about the Blogher Conference in Chicago, but did you know I stayed a few more days to hang out and see the city? This was my vacation, and wow did I need one.

During the conference, I roomed with Micaela Preston (Mindful Momma) at the Chicago Sheraton, the same hotel where the conference was held. And while I can deal with a pillow-topped bed a few times in my life, I couldn’t afford to stay at the Sheraton for the remainder of my trip.

Instead, I moved to the Chicago Hostel, where I shared a dorm with several other women half my age!

Less luxury, for sure. But certainly more green, and in a way, more fun!

The Sheraton provides many individually-wrapped amenities. Take a look at what is provided in the bathroom. Also, a hair dryer (not shown.)

At the hostel, you get soap and a hair dryer. And the soap comes in a bulk container, so you only use as much as you need. Zero waste.

So what did I bring? Here’s a peek at the contents of my travel bag. Not plastic-free, but I can explain!

1) A tin of baking soda — for deodorant and hair washing. I mix it in a glass of water in the shower to wash my hair. Here’s info about “No ‘Poo” hair care, for those who weren’t here that day.

2) Eco-Dent dental floss in a cardboard box

3) Tom’s of Maine toothpaste squeezed into an old prescription bottle. I didn’t want to have to check my luggage, and the toothpaste tube was too big to meet TSA regulations for liquids and gels.

4) Preserve toothbrush

5) A leftover bar of soap from a previous vacation

6) Product hair defrizzer. I’ve written about Product here. It comes in a glass jar. Contains only 5 ingredients. And has lasted me a very long time. It does have a plastic cap.

7) Brush and comb that I’ve had for many years. Plastic, yes. But not new.

8) Plastic Venus razor. As you know, I use a metal safety razor at home. But I kept the Venus razor for travel purposes when I don’t want to check my bags. I believe safety razor blades are frowned upon in our carry-on luggage!

Not shown: A pink lip gloss, eye liner, and powder blush. All plastic. But since I rarely wear makeup, I’ve had these same products since before I started this project!

And what about food? My room at the Sheraton provided all kinds of individually-wrapped treats, of which I, of course, did not partake.

I’m hoping the price for this bottle of water discouraged Sheraton guests from drinking it.

At the hostel, there’s no such thing as individually-wrapped anything! Breakfast comes in bulk containers on durable dishes.

Milk for cereal and coffee…

During the conference at the Sheraton, meals were served in the ballroom. Wait staff took our dishes away.

This is the ballroom cafeteria at the hostel. Wait staff? You bus and wash your own dishes! There are also refrigerators and stoves for cooking your own lunch and dinner if you’re motivated enough to do that. (I wasn’t.)

No, I wasn’t willing to shop for and cook my own food for the 3 days I stayed there. But I did make sure and bring my own container, utensils, straw, and mug for those days I ate out. They came in handy the very Sunday I moved out of the hotel. Meeting up with blogger Mel, who writes Shot in the Arm, we had fun exploring Navy Pier before looking for food for lunch.

Chicago 2009-07

Chicago 2009-07

The fun house was… um… fun. FUN, I tell you!

Chicago 2009-07

The food court on Navy Pier was not the most waste-free environment. In fact, I had an argument with a woman who wouldn’t fill up my travel mug with water. Fortunately, the guys at the Chinese restaurant were not only willing to fill up my mug and Lunchbot stainless steel container, they actually gave me a discount for bringing my own!

(I wrap my cloth napkin around hot containers to protect my hands.)

Coming up tomorrow: More about my Green Chicago trip. And links to many photos. All fun. No whining. I’ve decided to save that for next week.

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Broome Hostel
14 years ago

Great idea for a blog post. The sheer amount of waste created by the average person per night in a hotel is ludicrous. As you pointed out, just about everything is individually wrapped and packaged creating a lot of unnecessary waste. Compared to the simplicity of a hostel (and a green minded individual) it is a real eye opener.

14 years ago

I've given my own cup from home to Starbucks for an iced vanilla latte. They were happy to oblige, however I noticed they made it in the normal plastic cup, and then poured it into my cup. The reason I was given is because they use the lines on the plastic cups for measuring the fancy drinks. Sigh….now I have to give up an iced latte?!

Mary Kay
14 years ago

Thank you for writing about hostels!!! I love hosteling and have stayed in hostels in many parts of the world. Actually U.S. hostels tend to be very nice. I can't wait until my daughter (now 2 years old) is a little older and we can go hosteling together. Hey, I think you are starting to cheer up!

14 years ago

I love hostels!!!! I stayed at the bestest one in London (Palmer's Lodge, in case anyone's heading over there…) for a month, and it was great. (well, it did get a little wearing after a month…) I wasn't really thinking about environmental things then, but it's good to know that hostels have yet one more advantage over hotels!! :D

I love the egalitarian-ness of hostels you mention, too. I guess being middle class, I don't like it when a wait staff does things for me; it creeps me out, makes me feel like a slave-owner or something. Palmer's Lodge was especially interesting in that regard, I think, because it's in a building that was originally the mansion of a Victorian-era gentleman who made his fortune from cookies (well, "biscuits", I guess), and now it's been divided into several different rooms and is positively crawling with poor kids. :D It was a weird time warp being in the enormous communal room with twenty other people, when originally it would have been a precious sitting room for the rich dude's privileged wife and children…. Not that our society is all that much more egalitarian than Victorian times, but it was at least an interesting example of such to me….

14 years ago

Starbucks filled up my mug with hot water but said that they couldn't bring any customer containers onto their side of the counter.

This was in Portland so your mileage may vary elsewhere.

14 years ago

Oh this is too funny! I love the comparison of the two kinds of accomodations! I'm going to research staying at a hostel for our next trip. The only one we are familiar with is the Nederland Youth Hostel, and it is not a place for families LOL. Also, your $5.95 water bottle cracks me up. My brother got married a few years ago on the campus at Harvard, and as soon as my parents walked me to my room at "The Charles", I saw the bottle and said, "oh wow, am I thirsty!" cracked the bottle open and guzzled heartily. Bless their hearts, they said nothing. LOL My heart just about fell through the floor when later I looked at the prices on all that crap.

Also, I've been wondering a bit lately about how to go about bringing my own containers for everything like you do. Can you really order at the food court or something and have them put the food in your own container?

14 years ago

$5.95 would certainly discourage me from drinking the bottled water. Which is sort of good, but also a testament to the general decadence of the hotel. Crazy!

14 years ago

Hi Beth-

Great photos and comparisons! :) Thanks for sharing. I'm happy that you had a good trip!


14 years ago

The neat thing about the hostel is it's all about people – you actually mingle with them and nobody is concerned about personal service, you have to take responsibility for yourself. That should come naturally but I'm afraid we are all being made helpless by the conveniences provided everywhere we go (for a price).

And here's more – with those bunk beds there is always the chance of starting a good pillow fight, singing campfire songs or telling ghost stories until 3AM! :)

AZ Dog Mom
14 years ago

Everyone should experience staying in a hostel at least once. Its humbling, yet freeing. (Though after a certain age, I don't think I'd want a top bunk again).

14 years ago

I've also had sonic refuse to put a drink in my kleen kanteen. They said they cant bring contaminated outside containers in their kitchen.

I was excited to see the coffee in the hotel was fair trade!

14 years ago

"In fact, I had an argument with a woman who wouldn't fill up my travel mug with water."

You know, this is just plain crazy. I have encountered people who just stare at me with this confused expression when I say, "No thanks, I don't need a cup" as I'm pulling my Klean Kanteen out of my purse. Sometimes, they're like "Okay." but other times, they're like "You still have to pay for a drink." Duh, I know that. If I didn't want to do that, I would have ordered water! I'm not trying to jip (sp?) anyone out of anything, I just want to use my own stuff. Sheesh!

Thanks for letting me vent!