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How To Plan An Environmentally-Friendly Family Vacation

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Dream Pictures/Ostrow via Getty Images
Dream Pictures/Ostrow via Getty Images

For me, a vacation away is a much needed break from my everyday routine (and my desk). It lends me unstructured time with my family, it is a time of adventure and sleep, and sunshine in the winter months. It's a refreshing opportunity to experience other places in our great world, and if I'm lucky, the journey is also inspiring on many levels.

After acknowledging that travel is an indulgence that adds weight to my family's grand efforts at living lightly. I make sure that my conscious habits travel with us no matter where we venture. Keeping strong environmental values is even more challenging when on the go, but everything is better when you've planned ahead. Remember, as a green community, we aren't about easy and convenient.

The following challenges can present themselves as issues, and have for me personally. But with practice, for which I am very thankful, I have figured out some solutions and I'm pleased to share them with you.

Challenge: Someone you are traveling with, or visiting tells you it's impossible to meet your standards for living consciously while away.

Solution: I've heard this time and time again, but I don't care to listen to that nonsense and neither should you. Have confidence in yourself and stay committed to how you live - it's for a reason, or many reasons.

Challenge: You find airplane food sickening.

Solution: Well, we all do, and the good news is it's really simple to avoid it. Just bring your own. It depends on the length of your flight, and who you are travelling with, but fresh food, like home baked muffins, and salads, and veggie sticks are great. Remember that yogurts and hummus can be considered to be "liquid" at the discretion of your agent, so don't count on them. Also pack plenty of packaged, non-perishable "instant" food. Even if these are not things that you would ever buy when you're at home, it will be worth every penny if you are delayed or need an extra snack; and they can legally cross any border. Please remember to make your healthy choices allergy sensitive (to respect those sitting near you). It's also best to involve your kids in these selections so you don't travel with 10 raw flax seed bars that no one is going to want to eat. If your family each chooses, everyone will stay happier.

Try these nut-free, gluten-free, vegan snacks & drinks that the whole family will enjoy:

Go Raw Live Granola Bars
Vigilant Eats Instant Oatmeal
Brad's Raw Kale Chips
Mary's Gone Crackers Sticks and Twigs
Luke's Organic Chips
Numi Organic Tea Bags (make sure you take a reusable insulated travel mug, too)
Navitas Naturals Instant Coconut Water

Challenge: You don't want to pack phthalates in your luggage.

Solution: Start by sourcing PVC free luggage. This task is much easier if you shop at the retailer (rather than online) where you can go by the rule, "if it stinks, it stinks," more or less, unless they are great at labelling everything, and/or if their customer services knows about these materials. We try and pack as lightly as possible (always easier if staying where there is a washer and dryer since my kids can get filthy really quickly -- a sign of having a good time, mostly). Every pound you pack, takes more of your energy, more jet fuel, and more carbon emissions to get from one place to another. Doesn't it sound more appealing to travel somewhere you can relax, and not worry about 20 changes of clothes and shoes per day? Plus, taking only a carry on has a lot of bonuses, including that your kids can each take responsibility for their own!

Try these better carry-ons and checkables:
Patagonia assorted gear, wheelable duffles included
EcoGear Products

Challenge: You are sensitive to synthetic scents.

Solution: I've considered carrying a "fragrance is the new second hand smoke" sign, but for now, I always take a scarf with me. I also carry pure essential oils which I can dab on the scarf and inhale to not only smell something different, but also to calm my nerves. I also carry an anti-microbial, multi-purpose spray to avoid the synthetics in bathroom soaps, and to spray on me to purify and refresh as much as possible. I test the real scents with my kids prior to travel to involve them and make sure that they please them as well.

Try these pure scents:
Living Libations
Jade & Pearl Happy Hands Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer

Challenge: You want to eat out AND stick to your food rules.

Solution: The trick is to know before you go. In my family, the task of researching food most often comes BEFORE choosing our destination. A place that is flush with organic and healthy, wholesome, plant-based choices, typically has more of the other eco qualities we are after, as well. You can also rent an apartment or a home so you have your own kitchen and fridge. It then just takes a visit to the local health food store to stock up (and when there, ask the staff where they eat -- I've gotten some of the best leads that way). We have also gone as far as to pack all of our shelf stable, organic products (quinoa, pasta, beans, cookies and more) for our entire trip and flown with it. The VISA we got from Jamaica to ensure we could bring it in without hassle cost us under $10 in advance. This saved us any issues at the airport and at our destination, not to mention that we were eating our favourite organics from home, mixed with their local, organic produce, products and spices. Even with my extensive research prior to travelling to Israel, our family's favourite meal while there was referred to us from a server at a restaurant. It doesn't just feel good to be friendly and talkative - so much goodness can come from it.

Try these search techniques:
Happy Cow Directory (worldwide)
Vrbo.com
Crowdsource - this is when twitter, facebook and instagram REALLY come in handy

Challenge: You are worried about the health care available at your destination.

Solution: Don't go there, or if you have to travel there, research before you go to know what you will do in case of emergency, and/or if there are holistic practitioners in the area that you can trust. The added bonus if you do find acupuncturists or naturopaths, chances are they will lead you to yoga studios, organic juice bars and farmers' markets, if they exist. Remember to talk to everyone and question everything. I also carry a reusable zippered bag or small Tupperware box full of tinctures, ointments and remedies. Once I go on vacation, we all want to stay healthy, and not have to try and find Arnica in a foreign place over sightseeing or relaxing under a palm tree.

Challenge: You don't like to swim in toxic chemicals. (smart).

Solution: Vacation on a natural body of water, or where there are natural salt water pools.

Challenge: You don't want to create a lot of waste while you are away.

Solution: Get used to leaving home with your on-the-go essentials so you don't need to purchase single use items that almost immediately head to the trash. It's your eco-reality since stopping at a variety store for snacks is not an option -- especially if you have allergies or dietary restrictions and preferences. When I was a teen, I left home with only a small purse and my wallet, which I'm sure you've done too. Then came the cell phone, then came kids, and strong(er) health and eco-values, and all of a sudden I started carrying a bag big enough to hold reusables, first aid, snacks and various other "essentials." When you travel, having "everything" your family needs with you makes every day better. The worst case is that you don't use everything and simply carried a little extra weight on your shoulders, let's think of it as exercise.

Try these "don't-leave-home-without-them" essential reusables:
Klean Kanteen Insulated - keep it icy cold in the heat, or tea hot in the cold
Flip and Tumble Bags - for shopping, the beach, dirty laundry and more
Meta Air Travellers Envelopes - the reusable version of the plastic zipper baggie

Your family travels will hopefully serve to create lots of memories. Take lots of digital pictures, stay up late, explore and enjoy. By doing your research in advance and talking to anyone who has travelled to your destination before you, you'll meet the most amazing people, find the best restaurants, and will feel great. And try to record everything that you can, both positive and negative, then share. We can all benefit from each other.

For more great Travel tips, and my favourite things to bring along, take a flip through The Guide to Travelling Consciously.

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