TIPS FOR SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS FAMILY TRAVEL
I recently embarked on my annual epic search of a holiday. I frenzied and trip-advised and searched every airline and website and travel guide until my eyes bled to find something that met all of our criteria (and by our I mean mine).
'Going away' as a family when I was a kid was either a day-trip to the seaside or a ferry to England to visit family. We didn't go anywhere outside of the UK until we emigrated to Canada in 1992. Talk about not doing things by halves: no holidays abroad, kids, but we will be moving across the world this year. Seems legit.
In thinking about our plans this year I've been wondering what it really looks like to travel and see places in a more low impact way. I know that flying is far from sustainable with carbon emissions being a huge culprit in climate change (some airlines are trying out new initiatives to offset) and with the firm understanding that travel in general is a privilege, I have started to consider more intentionally how we can be more thoughtful about the impact of our travels and bring our values along for the ride.
I'd like to take a moment to disclose that for the most part, at this stage in our own parenting journey, travelling with kids is a lot like being at home with kids. What I mean by that is that the 'big feelings', the negotiations, the sleeplessness, the remembering of things, the endless sun-creaming, the car-sickness and boredom still happen - even in the most relaxing of settings. It's just the daily reality of parenting and I think it's worth noting before you imagine a seamless, fully fulfilling holiday of perfection with your small kiddos.
However, the pay off of travelling with small kids is that you get to do all that stuff somewhere different and add in seeing some really beautiful things: being more playful together, exploring, experiencing different climates, relaxing the routine and agenda and at the very least - the chance to build up some funny memories of all the times you bought the wrong things/said the wrong things/did the wrong things as you got lost in translation. You take the normal, everyday family stuff with you but you get to do it somewhere different that will hopefully leave an impression on everyone for years to come. Our expectations have lowered every time we go on holidays and it really helps. Parenting little ones is parenting little ones whether it's in Portadown or Porto (which is where we are off to explore this Summer - all tips and recommendations welcome).
That being said, I am also of the mind that family travel should reflect the needs and desires of everyone in the family. I know that our kids would love the experience of a full on resort holiday (unlimited ice cream and kids discos!) and Dave and I really love going places where we can experience the culture and have things to do. I want to get food from the local market and not eat at the on-site English pub, ya know? So we are always on the lookout for something that will suit everyone and we learn a lot about what our changing family dynamic needs each time we go away, which I am very aware is a privilege.
I feel like I've been so formed by the different places in the world that I have been to so far. The warmth of older people towards children in Italy, the laid back approach of the French, the hospitality of the Spanish. I'm keen to give my kids the opportunity to travel and see other places and cultures while they are still happy to hang out with us. I want us to explore and get lost together as a family; to meet new people and see how the world works outside of our bubble here. And we can do that while keeping in mind our impact on the places we explore. I know there are a lot of other parents who feel this way too so I've composed a little list of tips about how families can travel in a more socially conscious way:
+ DO YOUR RESEARCH
Like everything in the sustainability movement, the more you prepare and read up the easier it is to make decisions without compromising your values. There are so many awesome travel websites that can help you to find accommodation or to plan a trip responsibly. I've dived into the Responsible Travel website for ideas of places to go and to glean more information about the best ways to approach travel from a green-perspective. Travel websites like iEscape (who have a dedicated 'with kids' section) give you the option of filtering in an eco rating for places you are looking at with details of how they prioritise the environment so you can chose somewhere that feels like a good fit for you and your family. Getting a head start on the research side of things is half the battle when it comes to planning a trip more thoughtfully.
+ SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESS
Instead of opting for the chain hotels, restaurants and mainstream shops, choose to support local businesses when you are away. Stay at a family owned accommodation (like the incredible Les Sardines in Provence where we stayed two Summers ago), eat at the local restaurants and buy from the local markets. This is our go-to optimum way of doing things at home, so it should transfer when we're away. In fact, it's a priority for us to stay somewhere where we can have access to small, locally run businesses (and I always look up where the nearest market is to where we are planning to stay). It's not only contributing to the local economy, but it's so much more fun and interesting.
+ GET OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Even at the most popular destinations, there is always a way to connect to the culture and the people outside of the main go-to spots. Dig a little to try and find the best local places that are off the beaten path. Of course, see the things you want to see, but it's so awesome to wander off a little too. Some of the best food and sights I have taken in have been when we diverted or accidentally wound up somewhere that we would never have known about before. The magic of getting lost (unless you are really really lost and someone needs to do an emergency poo - there's nothing magical about that). There are loads of destination facebook pages and specific insider sites that encourage seeing lesser known spots in holiday destinations. Read up - make a list - take the path less travelled!
+ MAKE CONNECTIONS WITH OTHER PEOPLE
Some people want to go on holiday to escape and switch off; I get that. Of course holidays are about relaxing (or something vaguely like it when you have kids) but there's also so much depth and insight to be found when we make the effort to connect with local people and learn about their lives. I love talking to restaurant staff or the people in the market stalls (even if language barriers exist - there is a lot of connecting to be done in broken english and hand gestures) and I love getting to know other guests at our accommodation from different countries. I still keep up with people we've met on holidays and it's so good for our kids to see us making friends with other people from different cultures and backgrounds.
+ KEEP UP GOOD HABITS
Like our endeavours in trying to be low impact on the earth when we're at home, there are loads of ways you can keep those habits up when you're away. Pack light to save on baggage fees (you always need less than you think), Bring your water bottle along and refill (if it's safe to drink the water), bring your own compact bags for the shops and markets, use whatever eco-friendly products you would at home instead of buying whatever is available when you get there. Walk or take public transport when you can. Figure out the local recycling system so you can dispose of your rubbish properly. All these little things apply the same when we go away as when we are at home. It's so great to be able to show and involve our kids in these things as a lifestyle choice at home and away.
Socially conscious travel is all about making sure that we are contributing well to the world in the way we travel and how we connect with the communities we are travelling to.
Are there any other ways you try to be low impact when you travel? I'd love to add to this list so please do leave me a comment and let me know!