Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. - Mark Twain,
We’ve always been firm believers that children should travel, however and wherever, from an early age. Travel is one of the best ways for everyone – young and old – to achieve a greater understanding of other countries and cultures. Surely greater awareness and empathy can only help everyone get along better? This can be no bad thing given how much hate and anger there is in the world right now.
However, there’s a difference to travelling as a tourist and to travelling as a traveller. While we love a good beach holiday as much as the next family, we’re also big advocates of connecting with locals when we travel so that we can experience as much as possible from our chosen destination. Of course, this is not always possible, particularly when you have very small kids in tow, but even the smallest act can go a long way and leave an indelible impression on your child too.
Also, introducing your child to art and culture from a young age can help to foster an interest – or at least an awareness – that stays with them for a lifetime.
The following are some of the ways that we’ve found we can help our children learn to be responsible travellers:
The Planning Stages
It’s great to get kids, particularly older ones, involved in the planning stages of your holiday. In addition to getting children excited about the upcoming trip, there are certain issues you can discuss so that they are aware of what impact their travels can have, both good and bad.
Try and find the most direct route to your destination and talk to your kids about the environmental impact of travel, particularly air travel. Consider offsetting the carbon emissions of your flight. Better still, try and stay closer to home.
While it’s unlikely that Afghanistan is your family summer destination of choice, it’s worth considering what kind of track record your chosen country has in terms of human rights, treatment of animals and in its protection of natural areas. Of course, travelling to countries with less than squeaky-clean reputations can also be hugely educational and can force the discussion of issues such as the need to protect the environment.
Your Tour Operator:
If you use a tour operator, make sure that you ask about their commitment to responsible tourism. How do they promote sustainable and responsible travel?
Way of Thinking:
Rather than approaching family holidays as a means to tick off another country / sight / wonder of the world, get your kids to start thinking about travel as a way of experience a new country, culture and way of life. Consider ways that you can connect with locals in your chosen destination and in doing so the whole family will develop a better understanding of that place and its people.
Before You Travel
Learn the Lingo:
Get the whole family involved in learning a few words of the local language. It’s amazing how far a ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ spoken in the local dialect will go!
Ask your tour operator if there are any projects that you can help with when you are travelling, even if it is just for half-a-day.
Familiarise yourself with some of the local customs before you travel and find out if there are any traditional festivals that you can participate in, this is a great way to experience another culture!
Wherever possible, buy local produce and goods. In doing so, you will help support local communities. This also rings true of accommodation, consider booking a locally run B&B rather than a big chain hotel.
Respect local cultures & traditions:
Make sure that the family is aware of what is and what isn’t allowed in your destination. Kids may find this fascinating – taking their shoes off before entering a restaurant in Japan for example or raising your hands in greeting (rather than shaking them) in Nepal.
And I’m sure we’ve all read the story, how US tourists were caught carving their names into the Colosseum in Rome or the story about tourists who were arrested for taking nude photos at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Obviously, these habits should not be encouraged!
Some sights encourage visitors to leave their name of course such as contributing to the restoration of a monument in Thailand and there are parts of the Great Wall of China that are official designated graffiti areas – although I’m still not sure how I feel about this! Get your kids to sign visitor books in museums or tourist spots instead, they might return one day with their own children and look it up.
Use local transport:
Rather than hire a car, why not jump on a bike, hop on a ferry, take a rickshaw ride or walk!
If in doubt, ask!
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:
Minimise your footprint! Consider taking a re-fillable water bottle and make sure to dispose of your rubbish correctly, remembering to teach your kids why it’s important to do so.
Don’t feed the animals!:
Make sure you talk to your kids about how important it is that they look after the natural environment – so no littering or chasing of wildlife. If you’re considering a visit to a zoo, aquarium or National Park, do you research to see if your chosen animal park / safari operator supports animal conservation and education.