5 Best Ways To Do Sustainable And Responsible Tourism

April 20, 2017

As travelers with kids, you literally have the power to shape the future of travel. By practicing sustainable and responsible tourism, you can help preserve the cultures and environments of the destinations you explore. And you can ensure that future generations will do the same as well.

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 February 2, 2022.

This post may contain affiliate links. That means I may receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase something. But don't worry, this will not result in any extra costs to you.

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 have 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.

Learn more about responsible travel with my sustainable travel posts.

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

1. 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.

Sampling local cuisine in Vietnam (April 2020)

2. 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? When you're buying travel gifts for kids, are they responsibly sourced?

We make it a point to travel with eco-friendly travel products whenever we can. 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)

3. 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 a 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. For example, before visiting cities like Cadiz and Seville, we dived into the history of southern Spain. And in Indonesia, we took language lessons to learn some Indonesian phrases for travel.

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 Balinese culture in Indonesia (November 2019)

4. 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, and was giving tours to earn extra money. Talking to people helps to humanize the places you visit, and teaches your kids that everyone has a story worth hearing.

Doing slow tourism can help create more opportunities for you to connect more with locals. In Mexico and Indonesia, spending six months in the country allowed us to make friends with some of the locals.

Making friends in Guanajuato, Mexico (December 2018)

5. Practice sustainable and responsible tourism by living like a local

Responsible travel means understanding what it's like to be in another person's shoes. Living like a local helps kids get a glimpse of how kids in other places live their lives. And it also supports the local infrastructures that exist, which will ultimately benefit the local families who live in the places you are visiting. When we travel, we try to live like a local as much as we can.

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 locally-guided village tours or night market tours to learn about the local industries. During our visits to New York City, we took the subway everywhere we went. And in Paraguay, we helped a local family prepare a traditional meal for our friend.

Learn about the many educational benefits of traveling with you kids.

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!

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

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

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Want to connect with me on social media? Find me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. And for those of you who are dedicated to traveling more responsibly, sustainably, and ethically, join over 200 like-minded families on my Facebook group, Responsible Family Travel.

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