Family Travel – Thinking ‘Green’

Travelling with kids is so rewarding. Memories are made and family bonds are strengthened. My kids are grown up now and we often look back at the places we’ve been to and the fun stuff we have done with fondness – my eldest is getting married soon and will begin making special memories of his own … this is what makes travel so very special.

Now on to the subject of travelling ‘green’ or being a responsible traveller – a phrase I prefer as it encompasses all aspects of sustainable and responsible tourism. In a nutshell responsible tourism is having a positive impact on local economies, local communities, conservation and the environment. Some would argue that all travel negatively impacts the environment, and yes, it probably does to a certain extent. But this is what makes your decisions in the planning stages and while travelling so important.

When planning your holiday, don’t just look for establishments that have great holiday activities for the kids, but check their websites for their environmental and community initiatives, ask questions if these seem vague and unsubstantiated. If nothing is listed, then ask… if they don’t have anything in place then ask ‘why not’ and keep looking.

I don’t know about you, but our kids definitely followed the ‘do as I do’ rather than the ‘do as I say’ precept, and if we slipped up on something were quick to remind us of our failings – as kids love to do! From an environmental point of view, this encompasses recycling (not all establishments have facilities for in-room sorting, but one would hope that they sort and recycle their garbage), reducing the use of energy (switching off lights & aircons when leaving the room), and not using an excessive amount of water (I know you’re on holiday, but most regions in South Africa suffer from water shortages from time to time, and it is the local communities that suffer most). When you’re out on excursions, keep your garbage in a packet until you can dispose of it in an urban environment – outlying areas find the logistics of recycling rather difficult and garbage is often burned or buried, neither of which is ideal for the environment. And definitely no littering!

A fun and educational thing to do with older kids is to take a tour of the ‘back-end’ of where you’re staying. Some establishments, like the Drakensberg Sun Resort, offer tours highlighting their environmental initiatives – visit their recycling facilities, worm farm, herb garden and water treatment plant … or plant a ‘family’ tree in one of their rehab forest areas. Even if there isn’t an official tour, most establishments would be happy to show guests what they are doing.

When selecting where to go for your ‘bush’ adventure, try choosing somewhere that has an exciting kids programme, one that includes bush activities and highlights conservation – like the ‘Junior Rangers’ at Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge or  ‘WildChild’ at Phinda Private Game Reserve. The advantage of this is that they have a great fun time learning and mom and dad have some special alone time too. We spent many hours in game reserves with our kids and they loved it. Armed with their own binoculars, bird and mammal books – we identified (or at least tried to) animal poop and spoor, and imagined various scenarios and told great stories. So if planned activities aren’t available, prepare in advance and your kids will have a memorable bush experience and make many fun family memories.

Kids love spending their pocket money on ‘stuff’ when on holiday – try to encourage them to buy local … choose hand made items from craft stalls and markets instead of imported Chinese goods: a hand made bead necklace or carved wooden animal is not only more appropriate, but brings valued income to local communities. Just watch out for products made from endangered species, hard woods and even special shells from beach traders – if in doubt, don’t buy. If bargaining for an item, bear in mind a small amount for you could be extremely important for the seller – this is a great way to reinforce the principal of honouring others less fortunate. Take the opportunity of asking questions when interacting with local people, discover the pleasure of seeing things through their eyes and the delight they take in telling their stories. Support local retailers and coffee shops in preference to chain stores as this boosts the local economy – many areas depend on tourist spend for their survival.

Try and include a cultural aspect to your holiday. A number of Southern African game lodges have community projects and arrange visits to these communities, such as Singita and Wilderness Safaris. These are a great opportunity for an authentic cultural experience (way better than the touristy ‘cultural village’ experiences on offer) that provides opportunity for meaningful interaction and an insight into the dances, songs and traditions of the community. Umngazi River Bungalows in the Eastern Cape supports a number of local entrepreneurs that offer community experiences, from ‘tea with Alice’ in the local village to a guided hiking and canoeing trip through the mangroves. They also facilitate a nanny service which means real R&R for mom and dad, fun for the kids as well as income for the nannies. Older kids may enjoy a ‘township tour’ – try a community based bicycle tour in Cape Town, go quad biking or bird watching in Soweto or even enjoy a homestay in Knysna.

Opportunities for contributing and ‘giving back’ are often available. Look out for establishments that support ‘Pack for a Purpose’, such as The Peech Hotel in Johannesburg and The Cavern in the Drakensberg. It’s as easy as checking the Pack for a Purpose website (www.packforapurpose.org) and seeing what items local NGO or community projects need (from crayons and books to toothpaste and band-aids), excluding that extra pair of shoes or jeans and including the requested items is a great opportunity to get the kids involved.

Another fun thing to do is to read up on the region you plan to visit, find story books at your local library or bookshop for your older kids and read the tales of adventure to the little ones. Try learning a few words or phrases in the local language … the welcome will be that much warmer and the memories far greater.

Go travel and enjoy, make memories, be a responsible traveller and make a difference in someone’s life.

By Tessa Buhrmann
For more info on responsible travel visit www.responsibletraveller.co.za

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