TIME TO EMBRACE A GREEN FAMILY VACATION.

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We’re willing to bet that when some parents imagine taking a green family vacation they picture a cramped, cold, wet tent in the middle of a field. We sure did until we learned that vacationing responsibly does not mean you have to sleep on the ground or cook your meals over an open fire. By doing your research and selecting travel suppliers that support the future of the environment, preserve cultural history and promote local economies we can all take greener family vacations. Natural Child World sat down with Kristy Hall of Two and a Half Travelers (twoandahalftravelers.com), a family travel specialist, and came up with four ways you and your family can  balance comfortable family travel and sustainability.

1 A CAR-FREE URBAN EXPERIENCE
Cities across the country are taking steps to become more sustainable. Reflecting these efforts, the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) launched the Smarter Cities (smartercities.nrdc. org) initiative to highlight cities doing it best. They actively profile and rank cities of all sizes, including beautiful tourist destinations such as Austin, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco. Cities are measured by their strengths in areas such as green space, public transportation, recycling programs and more. An urban adventure is perfect for families who enjoy the hustle and bustle that cities offer and who don’t mind walking and using public or alter- native modes of transportation. Even city hotels are employing sustainable best practices to lure today’s eco-conscious guests.

Two and a Half Travelers Recommends:

element by Westin

Element by Westin, is a new green hotel chain from Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide (starwoodhotels.com/element). Locations include Boston and New York City. All element hotels have committed to pursuing the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED Certification, the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. In addition, element hotels use features like low-VOC paints, recycled materials in construction, and dispenser systems for bath amenities.

Kimpton Hotels

Kimpton Hotels (kimptonhotels.com) is a boutique hotel group with a solid record of sustainability and numerous awards to show for their efforts. Some of the more walkable U.S. cities where you’ll find Kimpton include San Francisco, Portland, Cambridge, and Chicago. Kimpton’s  EarthCare® program guarantees restaurants with organic menus, water- and energy-efficient products in rooms and an aggressive recycling program.

2 TOUR AND AWAY

Family-friendly tours and responsible travel have a lot in common.  Taking a tour can be a great option for curious-minded families who enjoy a vacation on the go, don’t mind a schedule or the occasional unexpected change of plans. Through immersion, touring families get up close and personal with a destination’s local culture, heritage and traditions.  Also family tours are generally made up of smaller groups so they have more flexibility to provide a high impact experience with a lower impact to the environment. When choosing a tour company seek out operators who hire local guides and give back to the cultures and economies in which they operate.

Two and a Half Travelers Recommends:

Intrepid Travel

Sydney-based Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com) offers over 30 family adventures, from an 11-day journey through Kerala, India to itineraries in Egypt, Borneo and Jordan. These trips are suitable for children 5 years and older. With twenty plus years of commitment to responsible travel, Intrepid has a well-defined sustainable development policy aimed at ensuring they tread lightly. Of note, Intrepid also has a nice carbon offset program.

Tauck Bridges

Tauck Bridges (tauckbridges.com) runs international family adventures but also has some solid North and Latin American itineraries including   and Costa Rica. These tours aim not only to entrench participants in the area’s wildlife, but also the knowledge around the at-risk or endangered species and what you can do to help. In addition, Tauck Foundation collaborates with a range of agencies to help low-income youths to discover travel and learn about diverse cultures, histories and ecologies abroad.

3 PARK IT

Our nation’s extensive national park system is one giant working model for sustainability. A vacation here is great for nature seekers. Parks might be more appropriate for families with slightly older kids, especially if hiking is part of the plan. Today, several parks, including Glacier in Montana and Zion in Utah, make it easy for visitors to leave their cars and take shuttles throughout the park.

Two and a Half Travelers Recommends:

Zion National Park

Free shuttles transport visitors throughout the Zion National Park (nps.gov/zion), and run as often as every 7 minutes. For children and their families, there is a great Junior Ranger program. This Utah destination is also a leader in the National Park Service’s Climate Friendly Parks in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Further, everything from organic food, composting food scraps, nontoxic cleaning agents, and retrofitting cabins for energy efficiency, can be found at Zion Lodge, accommodations right in the park.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park (nps.gov/grca) has many sustainable practices in place including an aggressive recycling program in both public and residential areas within the park, a water reclamation facility that converts wastewater into a useable form of water for irrigation and toilets, a composting program for mule waste from park and concessionaire operations, and a shuttle bus fleet that runs on clean-burning natural gas.

In addition, all recently constructed buildings in the park meet LEED standards. On top of all the hiking and park programs, visitors can also take a train tour (thetrain.com) from The Grand Canyon Railway hotel in Williams, AZ up to the Grand Canyon for an overnight at one of the lodges and then back again. The trains themselves adhere to tight environmental standards.

4 ECO-LUXE

Surprisingly more and more all-inclusive resorts are taking steps to reduce vacationers’ waste and support the environments in which they do business. Even simple steps at larger all-inclusive resort like offering a la carte meals instead of wasteful buffets, growing organic vegetables on property or buying produce from local grocers can make a big impact.  Resorts that really get it are taking advantage of their beautiful surroundings and educating families on the plants, wildlife and wetlands around them.

Two and a Half Travelers Recommends:

Hotelito Desconocido

Hotelito Desconocido Sanctuary and Reserve Spa (hotelito.com) 60 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, offers “eco-luxury” plus a commitment to sustainable development and the local communities. The hotel is surrounded by Playón de Mismaloya, with nearly 40 miles of sanctuaries for marine turtles, and El Ermitaño Lagoon, a location that has been classified by UNESCO and features over 180 types of birds. Additional benefits include all-organic cuisine from the resort’s garden and a system that runs on 100 percent renewable energy. Though this resort is geared more toward couples, they can accommodate up to two children under 12 in the same room

The Lodge at Chaa Creek

The Lodge at Chaa Creek (chaacreek.com) in beautiful Belize is set upon a private 365-acre nature reserve. The resort has earned numerous accolades for its commitment to the environment, including Belize’s first ever Green Globe Certified business. There are family adventure packages (think child-friendly jungle safaris) and a fantastic Eco Kids Rainforest Adventure, great for children 6 and older.

 

ADVENTURES BEYOND

Choosing eco-friendly hotels, national parks, public transportation and ecologically-aware tour operators is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few more ways you can give back on your next family vacation:

• Support social sustainability by frequenting hotels that support gay and other non-traditional families like the beautiful Fairmont resort group.

• Go straight to the source and learn about local farming through a farmstay which includes a farm tour, participation in daily farm activities and home-cooked meals.

• Volunteer! Before you go on your next family vacation, ask the hotel concierge or a local guide if there is a volunteer activity that might be appropriate for your family. Several luxury hotel brands like Ritz-Carlton (www.ritzcarlton.com) have developed strong connections with local nonprofits through their volunteer programs aimed at corporate meeting and conference attendees. Ask if the hotel can adapt one of these programs for your family.

Regardless of your shade of green, there is a way to integrate sustainable living into your next family vacation.  By doing your research, speaking up and asking your hotel, resort or tour operator how they encourage responsible tourism, you can make a difference.