The annual family holiday is a great British tradition. Parents need a respite from workplace pressures, and children also benefit from the opportunity to explore new places and face new challenges. For some children, those challenges may include saying “hello” in a foreign language, while for others it may be simply eating in a restaurant with more unusual local foods to sample.
Whether your idea of a family holiday is packing the children in the car and heading for the coast, or jetting off to the Caribbean to escape the winter blues, you will be consuming fossil fuels and other resources. Even the increasingly popular “staycation” requires some energy use.
Being green doesn’t mean huddling at home, however. You can satisfy your wanderlust and still tread lightly on the planet. Choosing more responsible ways to travel can be immensely rewarding, providing experiences you might miss in some gated resorts that cater to every whim (though there are eco-friendly gated resorts, too).
Travelling with children presents special challenges. You will want to make sure that the destination has child-friendly activities and adequate healthcare facilities. You may be looking for services such as babysitting so that you can get in that much-needed date night. Travel time is also likely to be a consideration, since long plane flights and car journeys can be tedious for children. Where appropriate, try to include your children in choosing your destination. That way, they’ll be more excited about the amenities on offer.
Today, many companies offer eco-friendly tour packages, and it is easier than ever before to select a company that can arrange your green travel plans (visit www.responsibletravel.com). Travelling should not ruin the environment that you go to see. Yet it often seems that the infrastructure that makes tourism possible – from hotels to highways – involves the tearing up of sensitive wetlands, the paving over of animal habitats, and sometimes even the relocation of human populations. That is where ecotourism comes in.
Travelling as an ecotourist is all about trying to preserve local resources while restricting your impact on the environment and its inhabitants. In addition, ecotourism involves contributing to conservation efforts, making sure that the profits of tourism stay in communities, and assisting (or at least not detracting from) the livelihood of indigenous peoples.
Ecotourism hotels and lodges protect and sustain the environment in a number of ways. They may run on solar power, serve locally provided foods, be built with consideration of local land ownership rights and animal migration patterns, hire local labour and buy locally produced goods. Additionally, they may have systems in place to control pollution, use less water, refrain from running bright lights at night, and avoid using pesticides and herbicides.
Family-friendly options include the White Pod, a stunning venue in the Swiss Alpes, and the Earthship, just outside Caen in Normandy – which both offer elements of luxury in eco-friendly settings. Opting for a comfortable solar-powered lodge instead of a multi-storey hotel with a maze-like network of swimming pools means you may not be able to swim up to the bar, but your lodge may have other benefits, like being quiet enough to hear the sounds of wildlife at night.
Many hotels are also implementing eco-friendly practices – such as asking whether you are happy not to have your towels or sheets changed every day – as well as other energy-saving programmes. But there are other considerations that can make a difference. Think about where they source their food: is it from local sources and organically grown? Another great green option is camping. There are many fabulous camping sites
in the UK (www.ukcampsite.co.uk), as well as other green options, like a National Trust pod (www.nationaltrust.org.uk), a yurt (try Cornwall’s www.yurtworks.co.uk) or something more luxurious, such as Pembrokeshire’s five-star holiday village Bluestone (www.bluestonewales.com).
The staycation is another increasingly popular option that can provide positive educational experiences for children, visiting historical attractions, museums and natural environments in the UK. This type of holiday is generally good for the environment, too. You won’t be flying, so you won’t generate a lot of greenhouse gases. Your trip will be even greener if you travel by public transport – a train journey could also add to the sense of adventure!
Older children may like a volunteer vacation where you can help people or improve the environment. Projects include anything from beach clearance to creating deadwood habitat piles. The National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) run several such programmes suitable for over-eights.
Another trend, which is sure to appeal to the dawdling toddlers, is slow travel. This movement emphasises quality relaxation time over rushing from one attraction to the next. Slow travel might involve biking or walking rather than driving when exploring a new town or national park. You might stay with family or friends instead of a hotel, or stay in a family-owned B&B. Also try to seek out local cuisine instead of eating at the typically popular chain restaurants.
Of course, you can also stay really local. Explore the wonders that exist right outside your door, within walking or biking distance. Have you ever toured your neighbourhood on foot? You’ll probably notice a lot of things you haven’t seen before, for example, a patch of woods you’ve never entered. You may be able to walk or bike to shops or to a local ice-cream parlour or coffee shop. Start with small trips and build up your child’s endurance for walking and biking around your town, and – even though she may well want to travel far and wide in the future – you’ll also be nurturing a true eco traveller who will have respect for her environment and its people wherever she travels.
Check out An eco-adventure in Belize, another excellent ethical holiday article.