10 Tips for Sustainable Travel with Kids

Jenna Francisco January 30, 2014 9

We all know that the world’s population is growing. In many countries, the middle class is growing, too, resulting in many more international travellers than ever before. As the number of people travelling increases, tourism puts even more pressure on the world’s cities, historical sites, and environment. This developing reality means that sustainable travel is more important than ever.

Children are the future, we should show them how to travel with the smallest impact possible on the environment, cultures, and sites they encounter. The following tips for sustainable travel with kids will help you and your family travel more responsibly.

1. Talk to your kids about the environmental impact of transportation, and then choose the cleanest ways to get around

Most children have a fascination with planes, trains, and other modes of transportation but have no idea about their environmental impact. To help kids craft a more sustainable trip, talk to them about how cars (and especially planes) release emissions that are harmful to the planet. Explain that trains, bikes, walking, or using public transportation are much better for the planet, and then choose together which clean modes of transportation you will use during your trip. Children as young as about five can grasp cause-and-effect situations such as this one, and understanding such logic for trip planning will help them grow into more responsible travellers.

Renting bikes in Amsterdam.

Renting bikes in Amsterdam.

2. Choose destinations wisely, and get your kids in on the process of choosing

When travel planning, take time to choose your destination carefully, and ask your kids for help – this will teach them about ethical destinations and make them feel invested in the trip. First, consider the destination’s human rights record, treatment of animals, and protection of natural areas. Learn more with the annual World’s Best Ethical Destinations list. Consider the time of year and how crowded the destination might be. Then, make a list of possible destinations and include the reasons for your choices and activities your family could do in each place. Present these options to your kids and let them help you choose – this will help them understand factors behind choosing travel destinations responsibly.

(Another option for family travel is to go with a travel company that runs trips designed specifically for curious kids and their parents – hint, hint. ~ed.)

3. Spend time in nature

Getting outside is so good for kids, and it helps them develop a lifelong appreciation for the environment. In fact, devoting travel time to the outdoors can be therapeutic for the whole family. Use those opportunities to teach kids about the importance of respecting nature by staying on trails, following park rules, not taking pieces of nature home, and not littering. When you visit state or national parks, explain why certain natural areas are protected and how people can support them.

Children are in bliss when they connect with nature.

Children are in bliss when they connect with nature.

4.Encourage your kids to practice conservation at home and on the road

Help your kids understand how the choices they make all day affect the environment, from water conservation to recycling and beyond. Then, when traveling, remind your kids to use the same conservation practices. Get kids excited about doing their part. Explain that these choices help protect the environment, both locally and globally.

5.Teach your kids basic rules to respect wildlife

One of the most exciting travel experiences is to encounter animals in the wild. However, all too often, these experiences are compromised by too many visitors disturbing the animals’ space. Teach your kids a few basic rules and be a good example by following those same rules yourself: make your presence barely known by using a quiet voice, don’t touch or feed wild animals, and don’t get too close. Never allow children to yell at or chase wild animals, and remind them that getting too close can lead to danger.

Keeping a safe distance to not disturb elephant seals in Point Reyes, California.

Keeping a safe distance to not disturb elephant seals in Point Reyes, California.

6. Don’t support unethical practices that exploit animals

Because kids love animals, they also love to visit zoos and aquariums, but too many animal parks around the world leave animals in abusive or unsafe conditions. Before supporting such a place, do some research to find out if it supports animal conservation and education.

7.Respect cultural sites

Historical sites around the world are being damaged from a combination of the pressure of tourism and lack of conservation. Remind your kids that in order for these places to survive for future travellers to enjoy, it’s important to follow some common sense rules: don’t touch or climb on monuments, don’t take flash photos in museums, don’t litter, and don’t take anything from a cultural site.

8.Support local business

One way to help tourism be sustainable is to support local businesses while you are travelling. From small B&Bs and family-owned restaurants to artisan shops and markets, there are many opportunities to choose local businesses and reject corporate influence around the world.

9.Get off the beaten path

One of the biggest problems with tourism is the overcrowding of the world’s most popular cities and sites, such as Venice or Machu Picchu. Inspire kids to think about travel not as a way to check off a list of must-see sites but instead as a way to experience a culture.

Choose off-the-beaten-path places where you can connect with locals and learn about local traditions. Not only will your family enjoy being away from some of the crowds, you will also come away with a stronger connection to the people and their culture.

This doesn’t mean you should not visit your dream destinations, though. When visiting a very popular place such as Venice, go in the off-season, stay in a local neighborhood, spend time with local people, volunteer, and choose lesser-known sites.

Off the beaten path in the countryside of Brazil.

Off the beaten path in the countryside of Brazil.

10. Make smart food choices while traveling

The way food is grown and processed has a big impact on our environment, but we can make responsible food choices while travelling. By going to local markets, choosing organic and local products, and eating at small family-owned restaurants, we can enjoy local food traditions and feel good about our choices. This also gives our kids an understanding of how food traditions and ingredients reflect the local culture and the seasons.

Local markets in Italy provide fresh, seasonal food.

Local markets in Italy provide fresh, seasonal food.

Getting There

Thinking of travelling with your family? We’ve got options for small group family travel all over this amazing planet of ours! So, what are you waiting for?


  1. Kim February 4, 2014 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    Great travel tips. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Cassie February 5, 2014 at 2:42 am - Reply

    Wonderful tips for responsible travel, thanks for sharing, Jenna!

  3. Julie Danes February 5, 2014 at 7:42 am - Reply

    These are really practical pieces of advice. I remember hating some of my family vacations just because I was so bored.

  4. Cindy February 5, 2014 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    I love this inspiring article, the thoughtful tips for parents, and the absolutely beautiful photo of the child “in bliss” at the ocean.

    Thank you!

  5. Romy Mlinzk February 6, 2014 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    Hi Jenna, love your tipps and pictures.

  6. Pola February 7, 2014 at 10:16 am - Reply

    What a great set of tips! I’m glad you pay so much attention to animal welfare and supporting local businesses, something I care greatly about. And I appreciate how you advocate involving children in the trip planning process. All too often, it seems to me that parents assume what kids will or will not like – but do they ask them?…

  7. Jenna February 12, 2014 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    Pola, I enjoy travel planning with my kids. We usually come up with some options first and then discuss them with our kids and try to come to an agreement together. I love getting their input–they often want to do things that I wouldn’t have guessed.

  8. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) February 25, 2014 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    Great article, Jenna! I’m happy to realize that my family and I already practice many of these tips when we travel. I want to stress the importance of #6, too. Those poor animals need us to speak up for them.

  9. Lesley Peterson February 22, 2015 at 10:36 pm - Reply

    Travel with kids is the best travel of all! So true they are fascinated by all forms of transportation and animals. Agree wholeheartedly that we should research all animal ‘attractions’ before we visit, make sure they are a genuine sanctuary and not a tourist trap. One of the best I’ve seen is the very manageable-sized Clearwater Aquarium where they rehabilitate sea creatures that cannot fend for themselves, like Winter the dolphin with the prosthetic tail – or carefully handfeed lettuce to blind sea turtles.There is good in the world and love, we must seek it and support it.

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