By Rachel Dodds, Director of Sustaining Tourism
We as parents all know that there is a climate crisis and that we want to leave our planet in a better state for our children. We also want to help our children explore the world and all the wonders it has to offer. Is it possible to travel more responsibly with children?
Authors of the recent book Are We There Yet? Traveling More Responsibly with Your Children say it is, and here are eight ways to do so.
1. Know that traveling with children can help kids become more resilient and independent.
Traveling builds confidence in children. I remember being in Japan when my daughter was almost three. She walked on her own all the way across a Tokyo train station (to be honest, she was right by my side, but she wanted to do it without holding my hand). It was so wonderful to hear her tell her dad about it, who had gone ahead to buy tickets. She was brimming with pride! Travel can also bring about resiliency. For example, when you are traveling, if you miss a bus, you just have to wait for the next one. Kids learn that not everything happens as planned, as do we parents—lessons we bring back to our day-to-day lives.
2. Consider where you go and how you get there.
Where you choose to go can make a big difference. Any form of transport will have carbon emissions, so if you can, choose public transportation and opt for electric or human-powered (e.g., bicycle) if you can. If it’s not possible, don’t be discouraged. If you fly, fly direct and try to stay longer. That will have less of a carbon footprint and will also allow a chance for a larger economic impact in the place you decide to visit.
Although parents are often limited by school holidays, if you can choose to travel in a less busy season, you can avoid overtourism (meaning a destination is overwhelmed by too many tourists in one place).
3. Book differently
Spend some time deciding what trips are within your budget and can please everyone, but then do more research to see what is really responsible and gives you what you want how you want it. Don’t be tricked by glamorous photos which hide problems or lack of care and interest in the host destination and host people. When you are ready to book, consider using a more responsible operator for your family adventure such as Nat Hab or another sustainable travel company. For accommodations, consider staying at an ecolodge, using BookDifferent or selecting from many of the other options listed in the book.
4. Pack differently
Remember that it is not just flying that has an impact but how much weight you carry—don’t buy a new wardrobe just for your trip, and remember you can usually wash things.
When packing, be selective—you rarely use everything you take. Realize that with children, what is really essential in your mind may be different than theirs, so check in with them. Leave behind most toys, but recognize a favorite toy can bring comfort and familiarity and lets your child feel they are part of the decision-making. Involving them in packing also helps them make comparisons and appreciate what is necessary and what is only wanted.
Make sure the ‘rules’ are applied equally with the number of toys, books, games and music. Having their own suitcase also helps them learn about prioritizing but makes it fun. It also helps to explain the need to observe rules and customs to older kids, such as the dos and don’ts for what goes in a carry-on and the cultural etiquette of your chosen country.
5. Travel differently
Every type of trip has its own impact. We as parents want our children to have a good time but also use travel as an opportunity to foster responsibility. Wild animals that you can pet or stroke have often been drugged to get them in this state, and the only reason these types of activities exist is that tourists keep doing them. Explain to your children about ethical animal encounters and conservation travel—sustainable travel that supports the protection of nature, wildlife and local communities. Viewing wildlife in the field on a sustainable adventure can help inspire the next generation of animal activists.
6. Engage your children
Let your children help decide where you go, select a restaurant or choose one piece of art to research before going to a museum. If children are bored, then it isn’t much fun for you as a parent. If you can play games or make each activity a learning experience, you will all have a better time. For example, I love hiking, but no one else in my family does, so we play games. How long can you balance on that log? How many dogs do you think we will pass before we get back? Anything to occupy them! Before you know it, we have walked for an hour and a half!
7. Don’t let your holiday end on holiday
When you get back home, talk about your trip and get involved—many ‘armchair’ tourism opportunities, such as webcams or volunteer organizations, offer learning opportunities for children and parents. Staying curious helps keep children engaged.
8. Learn a bit more
There is a lot of information out there about travel as well as parenting, and it can be overwhelming! Even though there are many definitions of conservation travel—sustainable, responsible, eco, green, regenerative—the key thing isn’t to learn the definitions; it’s to leave a place better than you found it! Do one thing differently and be proud of that choice. We aren’t perfect, but if we each make an effort, it goes a long way.
Want to learn more and support a good cause? A percentage of profits from the Goodreads 5* rated book Are We There Yet? Traveling more responsibly with your children will be donated to World Animal Protection. Available on Amazon or a bookstore near you.
Eager for more tips for traveling with children? Check out this Daily Dose of Nature featuring Drs. Richard Butler and Rachel Dodds, global experts in sustainable tourism and both well versed in traveling with kids and grandkids: