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A trip to Spain: energy efficiency, tapas and toothpicks

by Susan Gillin | Apr 30, 2018

After a long day of travel, we enter the dark hotel room and grope for the lights. I click a switch. Nothing. My husband tries another. Nothing. Using my cell phone flashlight, we find a little receptacle on the wall with a slot big enough to hold the room keycard. We try it and voilà: Let there be light.

This slightly annoying but useful feature conserves electricity; before you leave, you must remove the key, turning off the lights. Simple, effective, and something my husband and I had never encountered before.


I promote energy efficiency for a living. So when I travel, I take note of the ways other cultures do or don’t value their energy resources.


At this Best Western hotel near the Madrid airport, their English was limited, but they spoke good Conservation. Signs in Spanish and English asked guests to reuse towels and not leave the water running.

On train rides from city to city, we spotted acres of wind turbines and solar farms. (According to Wikipedia, Spain is one of the top ten countries by solar photovoltaics installed capacity and the first country for concentrated solar power in the world.)

DHP in Sevilla We spied super-efficient triple-pane windows for sale in a glass store in the city of Leon. 

Every Airbnb we stayed in used a ductless heat pump (left photo) for heating and cooling. The ductless systems were quiet and heated rooms quickly. We did not need cooling.

Hot water was provided by small storage tanks or on-demand tankless systems. We learned to stagger our showers and keep them short.

Recycling is everywhere, although the onus is on residents to carry their paper, plastic and glass to the big curbside bins nearest their homes. It’s not that different from what we do in Wenatchee, carrying recyclables to a bin, then hauling the bin to the curb once a week.

Small, fuel-efficient cars are the norm. In 2½ weeks, we never saw a pickup truck.

Jeans shrunkEverybody line-dries their clothes, on indoor racks or in colorful displays of laundry outdoors. Only one Airbnb we stayed in offered a dryer, built into the washer. The machine went from the spin cycle right into dry. The instructions were in German, which might account for what happened to my jeans (photo at right).

One weird thing: It’s apparently OK to litter, even indoors. In bars and some restaurants, patrons enjoying tapas (hearty snacks) dropped their napkins and toothpicks to the floor. Beautiful cobblestone streets were shiny clean in the morning – city workers hose them down at night – but by evening pock-marked with scattered cans, plastics, Starbucks cups (yes, Starbucks really is everywhere) and food papers from McDonald’s and Burger King (they’re everywhere, too.)

Travel helps you appreciate the comforts of home while taking a closer look at your own behaviors. We machine-dry our clothes and take long showers because we can. Yet my husband and I didn’t feel deprived or inconvenienced by small changes in routine for the sake of efficiency (and saving on electric bills, no doubt) in Spain.

When in Rome, do as the Romans. When at home, do as the Spanish?

Except for that part about tapas and toothpicks.

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