Vacationing “Off-The-Grid” With Kids

Every year, during the summer, my family spends a week or two in Penobscot Bay, off the coast of Rockland, Maine, on an island that is basically “off-the-grid.” The only electricity available comes from a propane-run generator, which also pumps water from the well.

Our vacation house in Maine.

This is the shed that houses the generator. You can see the propane gas canisters lined up outside.

This is the view from the front lawn, overlooking the water. It was freezing but the kids went in anyway!

We are by no means “roughing it.” There is indoor plumbing, lights, and even a semi-functioning washing machine. But with limited electricity, we all have to adjust our electricity-hogging habits. As a general rule, we turn the generator on in the evenings and turn it off before heading to bed. We use flashlights for late night trips to the bathroom, wait ‘til the evening to charge cell phones, and vigilantly turn off lights before heading to bed. A forgotten light left on all night can cause the generator to overheat and conk out.

Living the Natural Life
After a few days of our vacation, the generator started sputtering in an unhealthy sounding way. In an attempt to keep it ticking, we cut back our electricity and water use even more than usual. We ate dinners by candlelight, cut out showers (not a big disappointment to my children), and didn’t do laundry (not a big disappointment to me).

My kids didn’t think of their vacation as an experiment in “off-the-grid” living. Instead, for them, the week was fun-filled with swimming in the freezing cold water, exploring the island, playing capture the flag outside on the lawn, and endless games of Risk and ping pong up in the barn with cousins. But they were more aware than they had ever been about using electricity. I could overhear them discussing amongst themselves whether the generator was on and wondering who had turned on a light. They adapted easily to the restrictions on electricity and water and seemed completely unfazed with life “off-the-grid.”

Back to Reality
As we get ready to head back to the city, I am curious to see if our attitude towards energy usage changes. I, for one, have been more conscientious about turning off lights and am very aware of wasting water. I am interested to see how my children adapt their behaviors. Perhaps this exposure to what life would be like without endless electricity and water will make them more aware of conserving what they have.

For some real “off-the-grid” living, read here about a new community growing outside of Spring City, Utah and here about one families adventure living in a 500 square foot cabin called Coyote Cottage.

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  1. Alison Pena says:

    I think it will be most interesting to observe how long the kids remember the experience and whether it is transient or creates a lifestyle change of heart for them. Cool!