How to Encourage Sustainable And Responsible Tourism For Kids

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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, and how we can encourage responsible travel with our kids. How do we aim to practice more sustainable and responsible tourism when we travel?

As we travel the world, we are witnessing the impact that tourism can have on destinations. In some instances this impact can be positive. But in other instances, the impact is negative. As travelers, we should aim to leave an impact that is more positive than negative. One way to do that is to adopt a philosophy of travel that’s geared towards sustainable and responsible tourism.

This post was updated on March 17, 2020.


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A child on a tour in Bali, Indonesia geared towards sustainable and responsible tourism
Taking a sustainable tour in Bali (October 2019)

What is sustainable and responsible tourism?

The terms “sustainable and responsible tourism” 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 responsible holidays as a family, and more importantly, to teach your kids to think about responsible travel for themselves. Here are a few simple tips for how to travel responsibly on your next family trip.

girl looking at street in India, where travelers can do sustainable and responsible tourism
Waiting for our ride in India (June 2016)

Choose local businesses over national or international chains

Sustainable and responsible tourism starts with making a priority to support the local economy. 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.

A locally owned guest house in Sumatra, Indonesia, where they practice sustainable and responsible tourism
Our locally owned guest house in Sumatra (September 2015)

Spend conscientiously to promote sustainable and responsible tourism

Along similar lines, responsible travel also means being conscientious about where your money is being spent. How are you supporting the local economy with your dollars? Whether it’s purchasing souvenirs or booking a tour, one of my sustainable travel tips is to be conscious of the economic impact you will be making with your money.

Alternatively, spending conscientiously can also mean being mindful of the travel supplies that you buy. Are they ethically made? Are they made from sustainable materials? We always carry our own metal straws, so that we are not consuming plastic straws when we travel. And if you don’t want to use plastic utensils either, you can always carry along a set of reusable bamboo cutlery, like the ones made by The Other Straw.

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 help encourage more responsible holidays in the future.

Walking through a local market in Mexico (December 2018)

Do your homework about a destination

Responsible travel means taking the time to get to know your destination. 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.

Learning about Spokane’s history (January 2016)

Talk to people and learn about the culture

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.

And while we were in Mexico, we tried to make friends with locals whenever we could. It gave us a chance to practice our Spanish. And it also gave us a better glimpse into the local culture.

Making friends in Guanajuato, Mexico (December 2018)

Practice sustainable and responsible tourism by living 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. Plus, it’s a great way to practice sustainable and responsible tourism.

Responsible travel 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 sustainable travel tips each time we travel, but we do try and incorporate at least one or two of them during our trips in our effort to practice responsible travel.

In India, we rented an apartment in Delhi rather than stay at a hotel, and ate our meals at nearby restaurants. While traveling in Indonesia, we took a locally-guided agricultural and village tour to learn about the local industries. And during our visits to 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.

Taking public transportation in Jakarta (November 2019)

Teaching kids how to practice sustainable and responsible tourism

These types of responsible holidays help provide depth to our travels. They also help 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 showing our kids how to travel responsibly, we are ultimately shaping a future where travelers can have a positive impact in the places they visit. If you’re interested in connecting with other families who are dedicated to traveling responsible, come join my group, Responsible Family Travel, on Facebook!

Do you have tips for how to practice more sustainable and responsible tourism? Share them in the comments below!

How To Encourage Sustainable and Responsible Tourism For Kids | The Wandering Daughter

Disclosure: we received a complimentary set of bamboo cutlery from The Other Straw. However, the opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.

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6 Responses

  1. I also try to travel “responsibly” and I admit, I’m not always perfect either but I think the important thing is that we are aware and are doing our best. I don’t have kids but I think its wonderful that you are teaching them something so important!

    1. Yes, Ashley, sometimes it’s hard to be a perfectly responsible traveler. But even as a solo traveler, you have the potential to make a big impact.

  2. Loved reading this. We are big on traveling with our children and truly believe that travel can be a huge teacher. I like your take on traveling repainsiblty with a family. As a culture we can tend to do what is easiest, not what is the best when it comes to kids routines and behaviors.

    1. Thanks, Kristina! Yes, travel is certainly a great teacher. And there are so many different types of lessons we can teach our kids when we travel. It’s just a matter of choosing which one.

  3. Great, unique suggestions. I love the live like a local. I’ve been working around that concept for years and it really makes me happiest as a traveler. It does mean doing your research and sometimes traveling more slowly.

    1. Thanks Elaine! Even doing small things like taking public transportation can help you get a more local experience.

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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