Directly on the heels of our trip to Seattle, here are a few tips for eco-friendly travel as a family. Air travel, of course, isn’t without significant impact on the environment, but there’s lots we can do to mitigate our impact on the environment in other ways. With a little bit of thoughtfulness while packing and little bit of creativity on the road, I’ve found it’s easy to incorporate a bit of environmental mindfulness into our time away from home. But I’ll go a step further and say that sticking to an eco-friendly routine while traveling can actually mean more enjoyment of our time away. In my experience it forces me to get to know a place a little more intimately, it thrusts our family right into the middle of local habits, and we finish by getting a richer local experience of a place.
+ Carry reusables. Carrying around an entire family-sized supply of reusable gear is a bit daunting load-wise, especially for folks traveling long distances or hoping to pack light. Still, I never regret having a few basic reusables on hand while we’re away from home. In our family, we bring an insulated stainless steel water bottle for each water-drinking member of the family. (James and I strategize and devote my smaller bottle for shared coffee refills, and we use his larger bottle for water. Faye, thank goodness, gets a bottle all to herself.). We also pack two small stainless steel containers for lunches and snacks (and one of these bento bags). On this recent trip we filled them up with snacks and lunch items before catching our plane and they came in so handy as we explored the city and refilled them at local grocery stores and markets. A large reusable grocery bag that takes up hardly any room while folded is something we used nearly every day for everything from farmer’s market goodies to stashing extra sweaters and umbrellas during the day. This trip we also compromised by packing a limited wardrobe so that we had room to pack a supply of cloth diapers and still only bring our two carry-on backpacks and a small carryall for the kids.
+ Buy local. Whether it’s a visit to the local farmers’ market or a trip through a city’s organic food coop, one of my favorite parts of traveling is getting to explore the local options for grocery shopping. On this recent trip to Seattle we made a trip to a local coop on our first night and came home with locally made pasta, local spring veggies and cheeses, Washington-state wine, and bread from a city bakery. Buying local means that the carbon footprint of the food is limited, the local economy gets supported, and you get to taste locally-grown and made treats that you wouldn’t otherwise get to have.
+ Follow recycling rules. This one’s not very sexy, but it is kind of fascinating. Every city has different rules (and facilities) that determine what can and can’t get recycled. They’re usually pretty straightforward, available to read on the municipal website, and a good thing to familiarize yourself with if you’re staying in a place for any length of time. We stayed in three different Airbnb rentals while on this trip, and it was interesting to see how different owners approached relaying the local recycling and composting guidelines. (Seattle’s got a super impressive thing going.)
+ Enjoy sit-down meals. Sitting down for a meal in a restaurant or home instead of relying on food to-go automatically reduces waste. I like to go the sit-down route even for smaller treats like a lemonade or a coffee. It means a significant reduction in the amount of disposables you use while away, and you get to take in the sights and sounds of a place from the comfort of a cozy cafe; even better if you’re able to snag a spot to enjoy outdoors.
+ Take public transportation. Taking a little bit of time to research easy public transportation options from airport to your destination means great things for the environment, your wallet, and with kids especially, your headaches. Taking public transportation means not having to think about traveling with carseats (or renting or borrowing locally.) We took public transportation to and from the airport in Seattle and throughout our visit (ferries!) and felt like we really got to know the city’s neighborhoods in a way we might not have otherwise. (When it made sense to rent a car for a few days during our trip, we also rented carseats and opted for a hybrid so that we ended up only using a few gallons of gas over the course of a few days.)
+ Explore the great outdoors. Part of embracing eco-friendly travel is making an effort to enjoy the environment itself. Spending a day beachcombing and getting to know the local flora and fauna is one of my favorite ways to get to know a new place.
As always, the point isn’t to be perfect, the point is to try. In my experience, traveling with kids will automatically mean that well-meaning flight attendants supply them with individually wrapped cookies or pretzels or cups of juice (why, oh why!?). I sometimes manage to fend those things off graciously; I sometimes accept a little pack of cookies and count myself lucky that it arrived at precisely the right moment.
What about you guys? Eco-friendly travel tips you always put into practice?