Travelling is often about self indulgence. We want to eat exotic foods, watch photo-worthy sunsets and lounge by the pool without worrying about deadlines or cooking dinner. But over years of taking family vacations to destinations as near as Banff National Park and as far as Cambodia, I've come to realize that my family's travels aren't all about us.
Every vacation we take has a drastic impact on the people and places we visit, and it's not always easy to combine the experiences we want to have with maintaining respect for the environments and cultures we enter. These seven easy ways my family is kind to the environment while travelling probably aren't changing the world, but they're reducing our carbon footprint on the places that continue to wow us with natural beauty year after year.
1. We explore as much as possible on foot
The kids aren't always as excited about this "green" method of sightseeing as my husband and I, but it's a simple way to ease our impact on the environment and save some money in the process. We forego car rentals, taxis and rides on exhaust-covered buses for longer walks and seeing all of the buildings, food carts and hole-in-the-wall restaurants along the way.
2. We Bring Our Own Water Bottles
Photo credit: Rubbermaid Products
Plastic water bottles and soda cans are more common than shells on many beaches around the world. We've found this to be true in countries as scenic as Puerto Rico and Indonesia, and that's why every member of my family travels with his or her favourite water bottle. Upon arrival at our destination, we purchase a 20-litre jug of water (if the tap water is not suitable for drinking). When the jug is empty, we return the bottle to be recycled and purchase another. Best of all, we save big by buying these massive bottles at just $1 to $2 each in most countries.
3. We say "no" to bags and straws
Purchase a soda at a 7-Eleven in Bangkok, and your soda will be placed in a plastic bag with a straw. Whether we're checking out the Hockey Hall of Fame here in Toronto or shopping for trinkets in Bali, I always carry a large hobo-style bag or backpack for our snacks, drinks and purchases. As a family, we've learned to say, "No, thanks," to plastic bags and straws in Spanish, French, Thai and Bahasa Indonesia.
4. We skip room cleanings
Photo credit: PortoBay Hotels & Resorts
Washing towels and sheets accounts for roughly 40 per cent of a hotel's hot water consumption. I don't wash the sheets or towels daily when I'm at home, so I don't expect that to be done for me while I'm on vacation. Instead, we reuse our hotel towels and sheets and have them cleaned roughly twice a week.
5. I pack our toiletries
They require a little more space in my checked luggage, but I don't leave home without bringing enough shampoo, conditioner and soap for my family's entire vacation. This way, we're not using the hotel's miniature pre-packaged toiletries and contributing more plastic waste to the places we visit.
6. We're not afraid of street food
Photo credit: Dave See
There's no need to be afraid of street food, but it's important to be smart when eating it. Dining at street markets and food stalls give us a taste of the local cuisine without supporting the "touristy" establishments and chains that often import food from other cities or countries. As long as we know what's cooking and can see it being cooked in front of us, we're always open to tasty shrimp-on-a-stick, spicy corn, empanadas and other must-try street foods around the world.
7. We do our research
The only way to plan a truly environmentally-friendly vacation is to do a lot of research before going. You'll feel better about your trip if you explore with sustainable, locally-owned tour companies, stay at eco-friendly hotels, shop with local artisans and avoid harmful, exploitative tourist traps. After all, we want our favourite travel destinations to be available to our children, grandchildren and countless generations to come.
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