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Practicing responsible tourism when traveling with kids

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One of my travel goals this year for family travel has been to work on practicing responsible tourism when traveling with kids. As a family we’ve been trying harder to be more eco friendly in our every day lives, and I want to extend that to travel as much as possible by working more on sustainable travel, because after all, if we don’t work harder to protect the planet there won’t be anywhere left to travel!

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase an item after clicking on the link, I will receive a small commission from the sale. This is at no extra cost to you, and as always, all opinions and recommendations are my own.

What is responsible tourism?

Responsible tourism is all about making places better to live, work, and visit. It’s the responsibility of not only the tourists, but the local community as well as major hotel and airlines brands. It includes taking responsibility for the affects of tourism on an area, and working to make tourism more sustainable so it may continue without further damage to the community.

Reduce plastic waste

Responsible tourism when traveling with kids

Both in every day life and when we travel, I’ve tried incredibly hard to cut down on our plastic waste, which includes limiting our use of single use plastics. It isn’t always totally possible when traveling to certain places, but I really feel that every little bit that we do makes a difference.

Some of the ways we try to reduce our plastic waste when traveling include:
– avoiding using plastic straws and cutlery when eating out by bringing reusable travel products.
– avoiding drinks in plastic bottles or to go food packaged in plastic containers by bringing our own reusable bottles and containers for food.
– taking reusable shopping bags on trips with us so that if we do buy groceries or souvenirs, we can avoid using plastic bags.
– not purchasing plastic souvenirs (see this post on plastic free souvenirs at Disney World).
– asking hotels not to leave disposable toiletries in our rooms (they’re usually always there when we check in, but we just tell the housekeeper nicely that we don’t need anymore throughout the trip).
– making sure we recycle any plastic waste we do use in appropriate containers.

Obviously all of these options aren’t possible all of the time; not every food outlet is going to take my glass container to put my take out in, and I haven’t yet reached the stage where I’m packing up my recycling to bring it home with me if there isn’t an appropriate place to do so (maybe one day though!) We just do our very best in each situation and hope that every little helps.

Use eco-friendly travel products

Over the last year I’ve accumulated a wide variety of eco-friendly travel products and while some haven’t worked out as well as I hoped, others have been fantastic and I’d really recommend them.

Reusable travel products don’t really take up that much more space in the luggage, and whilst it was hard to get into the habit of remembering to take them with us when we traveled, I think we’re slowly getting there!

I would class eco-friendly travel products as something that isn’t harmful to the environment, either whilst it’s being used or when it’s being disposed of. This means we try to avoid plastic reusable products (like reusable water bottles or straws) because even though they reduce our single use plastic waste, they’ll have to be disposed of eventually and will only add to the problem.

These are a few of the eco-friendly travel products that we’ve bought over the last year that have lasted really well, actually do the job, and I can recommend from my own experience with them:

We don’t take every single one of these products with us every time we travel, and some days what we do take ends up staying in the hotel room because we realize we just won’t need or use it.

A lot of these items we use in our every day life as well, so investing in them has turned out to be a good idea; I literally use my reusable water bottle every single day! I’ve also purchased them over time instead of all at once since they can add up a bit, and so far all of these products have lasted really well.

Use reef safe sunscreen

Responsible tourism when traveling with kids

I’ll be honest: up until a few years ago I honestly gave no thought to the fact that the sunscreen I was putting on my kids might be harmful to ocean animals. I was careful about certain chemicals being used on their skin, but didn’t consider that even products I considered more natural for kids might still be harming wildlife.

The use of harmful sunscreens has become such a problem that now certain places are putting bans on sunscreen that isn’t considered reef safe being used; Hawaii was the first state in the US to ban non-reef safe sunscreen and their laws go into effect January 2021.

Even without a law being in place in a certain place, it’s a good idea to use reef safe sunscreen to make sure you’re not harming marine life when swimming.

I did a lot of research when looking into reef safe sunscreens; I wanted to choose one that wasn’t harmful to the environment, but also one that would actually keep my kids skin safe against the sun. Living in Central Florida we know just how quickly kids sensitive skin can burn, so a natural sunscreen that wasn’t up to the job just wasn’t going to work.

When choosing a reef safe sunscreen, the big chemicals you want to avoid are petrolatum (commonly listed as mineral oil), titanium dioxide, oxybenzone, and octinoxate. I also try to avoid chemicals that might irritate my kids sensitive skin and try to choose brands that are cruelty free.

Thinkbaby Sunscreen is the best that we’ve found. It’s free from biologically harming ingredients, considered to be reef safe in states and countries were non-reef safe sunscreen is banned, and the formula is gentle on my kids skin.

I will say that I tend to reapply the sunscreen more often, usually about every 60 minutes, but the factor 50 I use on my kids does a great job of keeping them safe.

Be aware of animal tourism

This is a difficult one, and a topic that people have varying opinions on. While I don’t really think there are many wrong opinions, and some people might have stricter views than others about animal tourism, I do think there are some things we can all do to be more aware of this issue.

First of all, I am definitely not saying that I think all zoos and aquariums are bad; on the contrary, we often seek out animal experiences like these when we travel to teach the kids about being kind of animals and the importance of protecting nature and the environment.

But I always do my research before we visit to try to make sure we’re not supporting anywhere that isn’t treating their animals as they should be.

Usually a quick Google search will bring up reviews of locations that will mention if the animals are being treated well, if any parts of the experience made people uncomfortable because they were worried about the animal’s welfare, or pictures that show the conditions that the animals are being kept in.

I also ask around in Facebook travel groups and other travel bloggers for personal recommendations for ethical animal experiences.

As a general rule, it seems to make the most sense to not visit anywhere where animals are being made to do things that they probably wouldn’t do in the wild; this can include performing tricks, allowing people to ride them, or posing for pictures with people close by.

Most ethical animal experiences come from being able to observe animals from a distance in either their natural habitat, or something similar.

I’ve definitely been guilty in the past of participating in animal experiences that, looking back, were definitely not ethical, and I feel terrible about the animals I encountered that may not have been kept in the best conditions.

We all make mistakes, and going forward, I know I’ll definitely try to be much more careful when choosing animal experiences to make sure I’m being as ethical as possible.

Reduce carbon emissions 

Responsible tourism when traveling with kids

Pretty much any form of travel is going to produce some form of carbon emission unless you’re walking to your destination, but as with most things on this list, there are things you can do to reduce the amount.

Of all of the forms of travel, flying produces the most amount of carbon emissions; the travel sector accounts for 8% of global carbon emissions, and 25% of that is produced by planes, which works out to about 815 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. But there are still ways that you can fly and reduce your carbon footprint.

If you must fly to your destination, then try looking for direct routes instead of multiple layovers. You can stay longer at your destination, or just fly as far as you have to and then take a different mode of transportation the rest of the way.

You can also support companies that are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Lufthansa are making their fleet more fuel efficient by switching to newer aircraft, and expect to reduce their carbon emissions by 1.5 million tons by doing so. Delta recently announced plans to spend $1 billion in becoming carbon neutral by investing in sustainable aviation fuels and updating its aircraft.

If you are able to take another method of transportation to a destination then that’s even better; driving or taking the train are great options for family travel that have less of a negative impact on the environment.

If you’re feeling particularly guilty about your carbon footprint – because let’s face it, we’re all still going to travel and that’s going to produce at least some form of carbon emission – then you can offset your carbon footprint by choosing to plant a tree through a company like One Tree Planted or invest in cleaner air fuel by donating towards cleaner aviation fuel.

Pack light

Learning to pack lighter and travel with less is a great skill to have as a traveler; it saves money when flying, makes travel much easier with less to carry, and also lessens carbon emissions – so basically win win! Carrying less will reduce the weight of your bags, which in turn reduces the weight of the plane, meaning the plane uses less fuel. This is an all around good thing.

Traveling with kids has meant that we’ve really struggled with packing less and carrying lighter bags, but you can read through how we’ve learned how to travel with a carry on only with kids – we even managed this on a two week trip to Europe!

One of my biggest tips is to use packing cubes. I allow one packing cube per family member, plus one for toiletries, and this means we are forced to travel with a little less. These are my favorite packing cubes and we never travel without them.

Try to eat more plant based items

Responsible tourism when traveling with kids

This is something I’ve tried to incorporate more into my day to day life, but something I really try hard to do when I travel. Adopting a completely vegan lifestyle is probably something I’ll never be able to completely do, but I’ve managed to significantly decrease my meat intake and cut back on other animal products as well.

Eating more plant based items when traveling is not only great for the environment, but it’s a great way to try some different foods and support local businesses.

I’ve found that the best places to find plant based items aren’t going to be chain restaurants, but little local stores and restaurants that cater more to the locals than the tourists. I’d much rather give these places my money and offer them some support – plus the food is usually amazing!

Support local businesses

As mentioned above, we always try to find small businesses to support when we travel. Not only is this great for the local economy and a fantastic way to support the locals, but I really think you find the best food, drinks, places to shop and things to do if you shop local.

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find local businesses to support, particularly local restaurants and coffee shops. Social media is a great for finding the best places to eat and shop, especially if you search hashtags for those particular locations.

I love finding local stores that sell unique souvenirs to remind me of my trip, and it’s always fun to talk to the locals running those stores to find other great places to go and things to do in the area.

As an Orlando local, I have a great Local Guide to Orlando that covers some of the best things to do in Orlando outside of the theme parks.

Be respectful of local customs and cultural norms

Responsible tourism when traveling with kids

When traveling internationally, I make an effort to try to learn about the local customs of the place we’re visiting to make sure that I’m not going to intentionally do, say, or wear anything that might be considered disrespectful.

I’ve found that most places require a little research into how to behave and what to wear are cultural sights such as churches and historical places of interest. I try to carry things like thin scarves when I know we’ll be sightseeing so that I’ll have something to cover my shoulders if I need to, and I try to make sure the kids aren’t wearing anything that might be considered inappropriate.

Other things we try to find out in advance is how much to tip in restaurants or in taxis, any holidays that might be going on while we’re there that require certain behaviors, and basic phrases such as “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” and (very important for traveling with kids) “where can we find a bathroom?”

I hope we do enough to always be considered polite and respectful when we travel – we definitely want to make sure we’re welcome to return!

Be thoughtful when taking photographs

This is one of those things that I think sometimes gives travelers a bad reputation. With the popularity of social media, many travelers are putting photos on social media that they often don’t realize may be considered disrespectful or frowned upon by locals.

Instagram is a particularly bad place for this. Last year the Auschwitz Memorial had to appeal to visitors not to post disrespectful pictures on social media after it became a trend for people to take pictures of themselves balancing on the railroad tracks that took millions of prisoners into the camp. They reminded visitors that while it’s fine to take photos, they should remember the significance of the terrible things that happened there and try to be a little more respectful.

This has also become an issue with particularly picturesque streets or homes. Last year residents of Notting Hill complained about people standing on their front porches to pose for photos, meaning they felt they had to hide from their windows – some even said they couldn’t even get out their front doors!

We try very hard to respect people’s property and only take photos from a distance where finer details can’t be spotted.

There has also been a call for better etiquette when taking photos of strangers while traveling, as this has become a trend on social media as well.

I never take photos of strangers when traveling, but I do think it can be OK to do so as long as you ask permission, not only to take the photo, but to post it online if that’s what you plan to do.

I think this is particularly important if children may be in your photo – no one wants photos of their children posted online without their permission.

Leave only footprints, take only photographs

Responsible tourism when traveling with kids

I’ve drilled this particular phrase into my poor kids heads over and over when we travel!

I try to make sure we leave places just as we find them. When we go to the beach or to a park I take a bag specifically to put any trash in, and always do a quick sweep before we leave to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything.

I also try to make sure the kids aren’t feeding any local animals we might come across (no matter how cute they might be!) and we try not to support businesses that use food to lure animals closer than they should be.

My kids love to find things in nature when we travel: shells on a beach, pine cones in a forest, and while I always let them pick those things up and take as many photos as they want, I always make them put them back again afterwards.

I do make some exceptions (I let them take shark teeth off the beach on our trip to Amelia Island) if I think it won’t make a lasting impact on the environment, but I hope by instilling this habit in them at a young age, they’ll find it easier to remember as they get older.

Responsible tourism when traveling with kids

How do you practice responsible tourism when traveling with kids?