As a parent, you’re often faced with many challenges when it comes to raising your little ones. It can seem like every thing you do with your kids can have some form of unintended consequence. I often think about this when I consider travel with my children. I have always been of the mindset that travel is good for children. This, to me, is a no-brainer. But lately, I’ve been delving deeper into the ways that travel can affect children.
The term “responsible travel” can mean different things to different people. To me, it means being conscious of the impact that your presence has on the communities you visit during your travels. It means making travel choices that will positively impact the places you visit. It also means taking the time to get to know your destination at a deeper level.
As an adult traveler, this is relatively easy to do. But as an adult traveler with kids, it’s not so easy. Patronizing a local restaurant can be challenging when your little ones’ taste buds are not used to the local spices and flavors. Taking public transportation gets exponentially more complex when you’re trying to corral two little ones through a mass of people. And getting to know the feel of a city is hard when your little ones have early bedtimes. As adult travelers with kids, our travel choices are often dictated by convenience more than anything else.
But still, I think there are plenty of ways to travel responsibility as a family, and more importantly, to teach your kids to become responsible travelers themselves. Here are a few simple tips to try on your next family trip.
Choose local over chains
Whenever we can, we try to choose locally-owned restaurants and lodging, rather than national or international chains. Even though there is some comfort in the uniformity that comes with places like Starbucks or Marriott, it’s always exciting to try a place that has a bit more local flavor. Often, these places are also a lot easier on your budget too. We’ve also found that the owners are often more than happy to offer their advice on places to see while you’re in town.
Along similar lines, it’s important to be conscientious about where your money is being spent. How are you supporting the local econmy with your dollars? Whether it’s purchasing souvenirs or booking a tour, be conscious of the economic impact you will be making with your money. Also, don’t be afraid to discuss some of these things with your kids. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth discussion about the economic impact of tourism, but encouraging an awareness early on of the impact their presence has in their immediate environment can lead them to become more responsible travelers in the future.
Do your homework
Sometimes this can be as simple as having your family learn a few phrases in the language of the place you will be visiting. Or it can involve doing some pre-travel research on the local history and culture. Remember how when we were kids, getting information about a place involved a trek to the local library and sifting through those big Encyclopedia Britanica books? These days, we can just type a destination into Google search (even on our phone!), and we’re instantly bombarded by a wealth of information. It’s easy to look up a few interesting facts about a place, and having your kids learn a bit about the local culture and history gives them a deeper connection to the places they are visiting. If you don’t have time to research ahead of time, incorporate a visit to a local museum during your trip so your kids can experience some of the local culture and history first hand.
Talk to people
It can be difficult sometimes to meet people while you travel. Especially if you’re traveling in a country that is different from yours. But talking to people is the best way to take a step towards connecting with the local culture. When we were traveling in India, I spent a few minutes talking to our tour guide at the Taj Mahal about what he does when he’s not leading tours. He told me he was studying to be a pharmacist. The tours were just a side gig for him to make extra money. Talking to people helps to humanize the places you visit, and teaches your kids that everyone has a story worth hearing.
Live like a local
We love taking public buses when we travel, or spending time at a local park. It’s a good way to get a feel of what it’s like to live in the place that we’re visiting. Being a responsible traveler means understanding what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes. Trying to live like a local helps kids get a glimpse of how kids in other places live their lives. But it also supports the local infrastructures that exist, which will ultimately benefit the local families who live in the places you are visiting.
I have to admit, our family doesn’t always do ever single one of these things each time we travel, but we do try and incorporate at least one or two of them during our trips. In India, we rented an apartment in Delhi rather than stay at a hotel, and ate our meals at nearby restaurants. In Indonesia, we took a locally-guided agricultural and village tour to learn about the local industries. In New York City, we took the subway everywhere we went. Before our Philippines trip, we spent a month learning how to say simple phrases in Tagalog. And in Paraguay, we helped a local family prepare a traditional meal for our friend.
These types of experiences help provide depth to our travels, and also helps teach our kids that they’re more than just consumers when they travel. Tourism and travel often gets a bad rap for being destructive to the local economies and cultures. But by encouraging our kids to become responsible travelers, we are ultimately shaping a future where travelers can have a positive impact in the places they visit.
What are the ways you encourage responsible travel in your kids? Share in the comments!
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