It can be hard to keep up your eco-friendly habits when traveling, especially with kids in tow! We’ve done some traveling now with a toddler, and have definitely done some things right and some things we could do better. So here are some eco-friendly travel tips for families based on our experiences and our resource list for sustainable travel items.
Eco-friendly Travel Tips for Families
When we travel, there are some definite sustainable wins that we do right. However, there are also things we learn that we could do better each trip. So here’s a series of eco-friendly travel tips for families based on our experiences.
What We Did Right
Pre-book Anything You Can
Even with only one child, having everything we could pre-booked was a life-saver! Here’s a few reasons why.
There’s no waiting in ticketing lines to then have to go wait in entrance lines. Lines are usually not a child’s, or even an adult’s, idea of fun.
This also helps you stay within your vacation budget. You can pre-book for hotels, transportation, museum tickets, sight-seeing tours, and even some meals. Then the only thing to worry about then is meals and parking. It reduces a whole lot of stress for us, personally, as we know we aren’t exceeding our budget!
Pack Less & Do Loads of Laundry
You read that right and this is my number one eco-friendly travel tip for families. Doing laundry on vacation is a great way to reduce the amount you have to pack. Packing less can reduce the luggage weight and number of bags leading to less car and airplane fuel consumption. Reducing your luggage can also save your baggage fees and allow you to rent a smaller car which can also save you money. Also, who wants to carry a 70 pound suitcase and a child (you will be carrying a child at some point guaranteed)?
Most hotels will have a guest laundry room available for a small fee (worth it for my ease of mind and packing light!). Otherwise, we always look for a rental place or Bnb with a washer and dryer to allow us to do a load of laundry when needed.
Packing some of our eco-friendly laundry detergent sheets is super easy and convenient as there’s no pouring into a travel size container or buying wasteful plastic packaged travel sizes, and they take up no suitcase space. Pro tip tho, throw the detergent sheets in a small baggie so they don’t accidentally get wet and make your suitcase all soapy!
Take Reusable Items & Snacks
The best way to be more eco-friendly is to use what you have and reuse it. So make sure to pack your families reusable items like water bottles, coffee cups, utensils, cloth wipes or tissues, and anything else you use daily!
I also highly recommend packing snacks in reusable bags for when you’re actually traveling on the road or in the air. Nothing can ruin a day quicker than a hangry child or adult!
Don’t Eat Out Every Meal
Traveling typically means you’re eating out a lot, which can add up for a family. So one of our eco-friendly travel tips for families would be don’t do it for EVERY meal. Pick your lightest meal like breakfast or lunch to buy to make food and buy some grocery supplies when you get to your destination. It can be simple like buying bread, jelly and peanut butter for making PB&J sandwiches.
We had a hotel that didn’t provide breakfast, so we alternatively shopped for our breakfasts as soon as we arrived. I highly recommend buying breakfasts (and ice cream!) from a local grocery in bulk. It’ll create less waste and was cheaper than going out and buying breakfast every morning! Local bagels or danishes are easy to keep in a hotel room with a small container of milk and strawberries in the mini fridge.
Pro Tip – If you have a toddler who eats a ton for breakfast and lunch, but doesn’t really eat dinner, then don’t buy them an individual dinner. Either bring a small snack/sandwich or let them have some of your meal. Seriously, don’t waste the money on a ridiculously costly kid meal to watch them not eat it and have to throw it away.
Balance of Slow & Fast Days
Another key travel tips for families is balancing the amount of activities and the pace of your vacation. If you’re constantly go go go, then someone will have a breakdown in my experience. It happens to both kids and adults if they are exhausted.
Try to keep your schedule a little loose and have room for adjustments to reduce your stress. Schedule only one to three major things a day. Build flexibility into your plan by having one pre-booked/paid for activity during the morning and then a free or non-committed activity like playing at the beach in the afternoon. That way if everyone is tired, you could just skip the non-reserved/not paid for activity.
Additionally, you can try some fast-paced days at Disneyland followed by some slow-paced days at wandering National Parks or the beachfront. Just give everyone time and space to slow down and build it into your schedule.
How We Could Do Better
Rent Electric/Hybrid Car or Use More Public Transportation
Honestly, I dislike driving in places I don’t know because it stresses me out. So we try to use public transportation when visiting destinations with a good system to help reduce our travel footprint. Also, I find public transit so convenient and you get to spend more time hanging with your family rather than focusing on the road.
However, sometimes driving is just the only option to visit certain destinations or there’s a really poor quality public transit system. Don’t stress about getting a car. If you can, rent an electric car or hybrid car to reduce your emissions. If you can’t rent an electric or hybrid car, then just try to opt for the most fuel efficient ICE car. That’s what we had to do on our latest travel to California because it’s what was affordable and available.
Take More Reusable Containers & Bags Than You Think
I find myself always wishing I had another silicone bag or snack pouch to put items in when traveling. So learn from me and always take a few more reusable bags than you think you’ll need with traveling as a family.
Also, you might try taking a reusable container for restaurant leftovers or takeout. Luckily on our latest trip in California, several of the takeout meals came in cardboard or compostable containers. But definitely got several styrofoam and plastic containers I wished we hadn’t.
Always Carry A Compact Reusable Bag
Packing a compact reusable bag is critical for an eco-conscious traveler. We always carry around a backpack during the day to hold our kids stuff and our reusable items like water bottles. However, there were several times we forgot our compact reusable bag! It comes in handy a lot when traveling.
It’s great for putting your recyclables and compostables in when there’s not a bin nearby. Additionally, some stores charge you for plastic bags (tons in California). So if you don’t want to be carrying everything out in your arms looking silly, always remember your reusable bag!
Brought Utensils, But Didn’t Use In Airport
We made our own travel utensil kits out of scrap fabric, which were fantastic and didn’t cost us any extra money. We could use them everywhere we traveled, except the airport. The TSA will let you technically take cutlery in your carry-on except knives of course. However, we didn’t want to risk loosing some of our household silverware, so we just checked our utensil sets.
A bamboo utensil travel set is something I’d recommend if you spend a lot of time in actual airports. I’d feel less worried about the TSA potentially taking them and they are lighter to carry around.
Additional Sustainable Travel Tips For Everyone
Try Booking An Airline Using Biofuels (When The Budget Allows)
Some airlines use renewable biofuels. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, this can reduce greenhouse gas emissions anywhere from 20% to 86% compared to using fossil fuels depending on the makeup of the biofuel.
To date the ones I know of are the following, but this is not extensive:
- American Airlines
- United Airlines
Many airlines use a small percentage of biofuels to traditional jet gas, but are slowly shifting to a higher ratio. On our latest vacation, we flew out on Southwest and flew back on American Airlines. So one airline on the list we know, which was a balance for the budget!
Forget the Souvenirs & Buy Experiences
Spend your money on buying experiences rather than getting a souvenir from every place you go. It can seriously add up financially and leads to a lot of impulse buying. Instead, buy more ice cream or let the kids pet/feed the animals at the aquarium. Personally, I feel the experience is way more memorable than the souvenir from a gift shop.
With that said, we got one small ornament and a stuffed animal for the little one on our last trip. I’m not saying it’s all or nothing, but just try to be more eco-conscious and not overly impulse buy a ton of stuff. Or make your souvenir a consumable one like a wine bottle from Napa Valley (we definitely did!).
Hotel & BnB Hacks
Firstly, if you can stay in an eco-friendly hotel or rent a Bnb, then that’s 100% the way to go in my opinion. Eco-friendly hotels implement sustainable practices from how they clean, what products they provide, and even how the business functions related to services and supply chains.
But personally as a family, rental houses are the most eco-friendly way to go for us. It means packing lighter because everything to cook, eat, drink and more will likely already be provided. It also means there’s no housekeeping service cleaning everyday. Overall, Bnb rentals make staying somewhere more similar to living like you do at home and easier to stick to more sustainable habits.
However, location and budget can play a factor in choosing where to stay. Sometimes it will be a more traditional hotel with less eco-friendly practices. We always try to find a balance in what works, and have definitely chosen a less sustainable hotel due to a better location over renting a Bnb. Here’s a couple hotel hacks for when you’re staying at a more traditional hotel.
- Bring Your Toiletries – Don’t waste all those tiny single-use plastics. See the resource list below for more sustainable ideas!
- Don’t Use The Individual Coffee Pods – It seems almost all hotels use these now. Instead try bringing your own to make, check downstairs if they offer coffee in the lobby to refill your reusable cup, purchase coffee elsewhere, or even just skip out on it!
- Hang Up Your Towels – this is an obvious sign you don’t need the hotel to wash them.
- Hang Up The Don’t Disturb Sign – If you’re staying multiple nights, there’s really no reason for them to clean your room everyday. So keep them out and save them some unnecessary laundry and cleaning time.
- Hoard Your Recyclables – We totally hold onto all of our recyclable items from our room until we can find a proper place to recycle them. Many hotel rooms just have a single waste stream bin. We knew we’d be staying at a Bnb with recycling at the end of our latest trip, so held onto everything and recycled it there!
Resource List For Sustainable Travel Items
- Reusable Water Bottle Or Collapsible Water Bottle
- Reusable Coffee Cup Or Collapsible Coffee Cup
- Reusable Silicone Wine Cup
- Metal Utensil Set Or Bamboo Utensil Set
- Collapsible Food Storage Box
- Silicone Bags Or Snack Bags
- Compact Reusable Bag
- Eco-friendly Toiletries
- Cloth Baby Wipes & Tissues
- Earth Breeze’s Laundry Detergent Sheets
In the end, for us, it’s a balance of doing what we can to travel sustainably. Traveling opens up so many adventures and has helped my family expand their knowledge of other cultures even domestically! I hope this list gives you a few ideas on how to travel more sustainably and some fun eco-friendly travel tips for families.
Have any additional thoughts or suggestions on sustainable travel? Or eco-friendly travel tips for families we missed? Share in the comments below for everyone to benefit and spread the word!
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