Much has been written about traveling sustainably. If you’re just recently jumping on the bandwagon, it can seem daunting to travel this way solo, let alone as a family!
Many of the guidelines for sustainable travel can seem unrealistic when you consider the needs and demands of children.
But traveling this way with a family is very possible if you think of it more as a journey rather than a destination where there will always be ways you can do better. And doing so doesn’t need to break the bank or leave you with memories of kids whining and complaining (well, they might still whine and complain but it won’t be because of your sustainable choices!)
Here are 3 simple ways to get you started:
1. Set Your Purpose
It’s easy enough to start being sustainable when you’re a solo or couple traveler. But even taking a trip as a family can be so overwhelming with coordinating plane tickets, packing suitcases and planning itineraries for 6 people (or whatever your family size). Having this many items to juggle makes it so easy to set sustainability as an agenda for “next time”.
To combat this, start the trip planning process by reminding yourself why you want to be a sustainable traveler. When the planning process or the trip details get overwhelming, this can center you to stay calm and keep trying.
Some simple ways to keep your purpose a priority:
- Follow sustainably-minded people on social media. They do a great job at keeping the importance of sustainability at the forefront of your mind and breaking it down into small, doable steps that are kid-friendly.
- Lower your expectations for yourself, your family and the experience you’re planning. The lower you set your expectations, the better you can prioritize your higher purpose. For example, you might choose a local restaurant that ends up tasting horrible or is closed when you get there. You can combat the disappointment that your children will experience by remembering that this is part of the process of supporting locals and then soliciting their help in finding a new place to eat… quickly!
2. Go Slow
With all of the time and energy spent on getting to your destination, it can be very tempting to cram as much as you can in your trip to get the most “bang for your buck”. It’s even more tempting if your travel budget is limited to where you know that you will, most likely, never visit that location again.
But the more you stuff into your agenda, the more conveniences you will need to make it happen: fast food, fast transportation, single use items, familiar brands, etc.
Having a packed schedule also makes you in a hurry. This inevitably means you will forget something (like reef-safe sunscreen or your reusable bags),which, in turn, lead you to needing more conveniences that have a negative impact on the environment and the community.
Slowing down isn’t just good for sustainability, it also can lead to a much better experience.
A great family vacation isn’t about the quantity of memories but more the quality. Having time to soak in the gorgeous surroundings of one temple instead of 5 or one waterfall instead of 10 makes for a much more enjoyable experience for both parents and children.
Slowing down also gives you time and energy to say “YES” to your kids’ desires to explore and discover their surroundings. The more control you give your children in entertaining their curiosities, the less they will complain.
But if tantrums do happen, slowing down gives you time to help children work through it instead of desperately buying unneeded or non-local items to get them to calm down.
Some simple ways to plan a slower vacation are:
- Drive instead of fly (when possible)
- Try to see how much you can explore in one city instead of in multiple cities
- Plan extra time around each activity for “curiosity”
Throwing kids into a new environment where they have never before had to carry their own water bottle, eat food they’ve never seen or use the bus system is a recipe for disaster.
Being a sustainable traveler starts at home, in your personal life. Take the time to show them video clips or books on the impact irresponsible travelers can have on the environment and local communities. Afterward, brainstorm ways each person in the family can make a difference. You will be surprised at how eager they are to rise to the challenge. One child might get really excited about recycling or another might like calculating their carbon footprint. The more they change their habits at home, the easier it will be to transfer that to on the road (or however you choose to travel).
Some simple habits to change at home:
- Cook or eat at restaurants from different cultures often. Getting used to eating different tasting foods will help them be comfortable supporting local restaurants or eating local food when you travel.
- Discuss ways and make plans to minimize water and electricity used or waste produced.
- Practice remembering, using and washing travel utensils and reusable bags on a regular basis.
Retraining yourself and your family on how to move around on the earth is a huge endeavor and it can’t happen overnight. It took generations of billions of small actions to create the climate crisis and it will take just as many to undo it.
Travel can do tremendous good by incentivizing innovation in clean energy and poverty reduction as well as teaching children to be good stewards of the world. By transitioning to being sustainable tourists, we can reap these benefits and have unforgettable experiences while doing it.
What will you do to make your next trip sustainable?
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Written by Stacey Carruth
Stacey is a freelance journalist/writer based in Denver, Colorado, USA. Her writing interests include ecotourism, family travel and social justice issues. She has 4 school-age children.