One of my favourite travel mantras is ‘take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time‘, but sometimes family travel and green travel seem to be at the two ends of the eco-friendly spectrum.
Many family holiday ideas look fun, colorful and child friendly, but few are sustainable or kind to the environment: from gadgets to animal shows, it seems like to travel with kids we need to buy, use, build and make the environment around us as artificial as possible: natural is often perceived as uncomfortable or unsafe.
So, is green slow family travel a myth? I don’t think so and I believe there are many easy actions we can take to lower the impact of our travels and make our family holiday greener.
Make your family vacation greener: 6 easy tips
1. Choose trains
Depending on the specific journey, you might want to consider alternatives to planes. As a family, we find train travel really easy with children and, sometimes, more time efficient than flying: between check – in, boarding, luggage etc, even a short plane journey takes up hours and might not compare as well as we think with the equivalent journey by train. This might not be the case for your specific itinerary, but it is worth checking. Just to give you a practical example: combining plane and train to go from Dublin to Florence, we saved over 3 hours and had a much lower carbon footprint that our friends who did the same with two connecting flights.
2. Take direct flights and pack light
I don’t think green family travel should mean renouncing faraway destinations and longer journeys often mean flying is the only option. If this is the case, we can reduce our carbon footprint choosing direct flights and packing light. Both these practices reduce the amount of fuel needed and while they will not make flying sustainable, they are one of the many little things that, if we all do them, can make a difference.
3. Choose accommodation wisely
The greenest form of accommodation is the one that uses the resources already in place. House swapping, camping, renting apartments are all good ways to reduce our environmental impact and eco-friendly hotels are becoming more and more available. I also find apartments to be the most comfortable option, with children, which proves ‘green’ and ‘comfy’ don’t necessarily clash
4. Choose local food
In many parts of the world, we are now used to having all foods available regardless of the season. While it might feel great to eat strawberries on a cold December evening in Ireland, with the heating on full blast, moving food from one part of the world to another leaves a massive carbon footprint. To make our table a bit greener, eat locally sourced food and cook for yourself instead of always going to the restaurant. When in a restaurant, try local dishes (yes, also for the kids!) and check sustainability lists: if you are visiting a country because it’s a snorkeling paradise, make sure you don’t eat away the very reason that brought you there!
5.Research carefully all activities involving animals
It is very difficult not to be attracted by activities that involve animals. Dolphin shows, riding elephants, hugging pandas: they make for fantastic experiences for children (and great facebook photos). But do they make for fantastic experiences for the animals? Usually not: most of these activities use the animals as if they were dolls, teddy bears or full-on slaves. Before signing up for any activities, ask yourself: ‘how is this experienced by the animals?’ If you love pandas, you might think a cuddle is an expression of this love, but what if that hug means the panda is caged and separated from its peers?
‘If you love someone, set them free’ often applies here.
6. The little things that make a difference
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference: getting into the habit of carrying your own water bottle with you reduces waste; using your hotel towels for a little longer reduces high impact laundry activities; in warm climates, letting your clothes to dry naturally will reduce the use of electric dryers and choosing sensible, sustainable souvenirs can make a huge difference in supporting more eco-friendly commerce.
Do you worry about the environmental impact of your travels? Do you strive to be a responsible tourist and have some tips we can add to the list to make our travels greener? Please share them in the comments!