Teaching young children to care about the planet so that they grow into adults who continue to do so is a critical task for parents. Immersive travel is one of the best ways to accomplish that goal.
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Travel has so much educational value for growing minds. It helps young children develop respect for different cultures and ways of living, makes kids more empathetic, and teaches them to be adaptable under a variety of circumstances. There are also experts who suggest that travel helps kids do better at school once they return home from a trip because it opens their minds to trying new things.

And, under the best of circumstances, travel educates children about their role as global citizens in our vast, interconnected world. That final benefit has never been more critical as the planet grapples with the challenges of climate change and the associated environmental destruction that's triggering such monumental devastation. 

An image of children in Iceland.
Credit: Getty Images.

"It's very important that our youth gain an understanding of how climate change impacts the communities beyond their own. And travel provides that context through a global lens," says Angela Bailey, with Discover Corps, a company focused on offering purpose-driven vacations. "By visiting receding glaciers in Alaska or artisanal fishing villages in Costa Rica, [kids get] the opportunity for conversation and understanding around critical issues, as well as experiential learning opportunities. It's these firsthand moments that ignite the responsibility and inspiration for change."

Often, however, the most immersive travel opportunities—those that allow family travelers to take part in some of the most remarkable and vividly eye-opening journeys the planet has to offer—come with a steep price tag. Luckily, that's not always the case. 

Here are some of the more budget-friendly travel experiences for families that (in between all of the fun), also include educational experiences and messages designed to illuminate some of the issues facing the planet, including the biggest challenge of them all: climate change.

1. Discover Corps: Costa Rica Family Volunteer Adventure

San Diego-based Discover Corps is a company that believes travel can be transformative and make the world a better place. In pursuit of that mission, the company makes it a point to offer "family-friendly" pricing in order to ensure that travelers of all ages can access the experiences. The company also reduces children's pricing on all trips for those 16 and younger.

As for the educational element of their trips, Discover Corps has crafted a wide variety of compelling and memorable journeys that often include teaching young travelers about the broad environmental, conservation, and climate issues impacting the planet at the moment, including those related to the climate.

The company's eight-day Costa Rica: Family Volunteer Adventure, for instance, allows participants to not only explore Costa Rica's contrasting geography—from the city of San Jose to the thermal terrain of La Fortuna—but also to participate in tree planting in order to learn firsthand about offsetting carbon emissions. The opportunity also offers insight into the ways Costa Rica protects its wildlife and lands through tourism-based conservation. 

"By participating in the reforestation project, travelers help mitigate the effects of climate change through carbon sequestration," explains Bailey. "This small-scale project jumpstarts the community's biodiversity while educating young travelers on ways they can execute these projects locally."

The trip's price ($2,995 for adults and $2,695 for children) includes all transportation, accommodations, activities, and most meals. There are no extra fees.

2. Intrepid: Borneo Family Holiday

Intrepid has long been the de facto industry leader in responsible travel and a trail blazer when it comes to operating in a planet- and climate-conscious manner. This effort has included being carbon neutral since 2010 and rolling out a seven-point commitment plan that supports its Climate Emergency declaration. In addition, Intrepid is the first global tour operator pursuing verifiable science-based targets through the Science Based Targets initiative, which is designed to limit global warming to 1.5C in the next decade.

These companywide operational efforts are just part of Intrepid's commitment to protecting the planet and addressing climate change. It also develops thoughtful trip itineraries (including plenty aimed at family travelers) that shine a light on global challenges, such as the environmental damage and degradation that's causing climate change.

Among the notable offerings is Intrepid's Borneo Family Holiday, an 11-day journey (which starts at $1,536) that, among many memorable experiences, takes families to Batu Puteh, a small village on the banks of the Kinabatangan River. Visitors here are hosted by the local community-run eco-tourism and conservation organization KOPEL, whose mission is protecting the forest habitat, wildlife, and biodiversity of the Lower Kinabatangan region, while also preserving the livelihood of the local population.

As part of the effort, KOPEL is managing a reforestation project that involves growing seedlings and replanting degraded forest areas—an effort Intrepid trip participants take part in while staying in the area.

"Intrepid realizes it is critical to educate the youngest of travelers," Intrepid CEO James Thornton tells Parents. "We believe that with great travel comes great responsibility. [Working with] responsible business and [providing] education have been at the heart of what we do."

3. Sacha Lodge: Ecuadorian Amazon

There are few better places to educate young travelers about climate change and protecting the planet than Sacha Lodge, a 5,000-acre ecological reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon. With a reputation for being South America's best primary rainforest sanctuary, guides at the lodge are all indigenous naturalists who explain in wonderfully vivid detail the importance of the flora and fauna in the Amazon and talk about how climate change has impacted the region's natural beauty and biodiversity. 

While visiting, families will also have the opportunity to paddle through creeks in search of monkeys and river otters, climb a giant kapok tree, and swim in a black-water lake. Four-day experiences start at $1390 per person. 

4. National Parks: USA

Our national parks are on the front lines of climate change. From experiencing wildfires triggered by the warming global temperatures and severe dry spells to receding glaciers and ice packs in some parks and loss of wildlife in others, there is no more eye-opening place to witness the changes impacting the planet. In fact, by some accounts, climate change is the biggest threat our national parks have ever faced.

Sylvie Coleman, of Family Destinations Guide, suggests taking young children to camp at one of the nation's many parks, which provides an opportunity to mix education with a hefty dose of family fun. 

"A national park is one of the best places to start explaining the importance of the environment and why we should help in preventing further damage," says Coleman, who recommends Yellowstone National Park in particular as a great place to start. "From rainforests to mountains, our national parks have a lot to offer," Coleman adds.

For its part, the National Park Service is stepping up efforts to educate visitors of all ages about climate change. This has included rolling out the 2016 National Climate Change Interpretation and Education Strategy, which mandates a systematic approach to communicating about the science and impacts of climate change across the national park system. What does that mean in practice for you as the family traveler? Parks are increasingly engaging in "place-based" climate change programming that's focused on helping visitors discover more about this pressing issue.

"Climate change is not a future event; it is happening now. It is time for the NPS to participate in, facilitate, and inspire critical conversations around this very important issue," states the NPS website page dedicated to this effort. "There may be no conversation more important in our time."

5. Global Family Travels: Power of Community Gardens

Global Family Travels is another industry leader when it comes to creating thoughtful, educational itineraries designed to address the challenges facing the planet. The company is a signatory and launch partner of the Glasgow Declaration to accelerate climate action in tourism.

And while you can certainly take big-budget trips with GFT to teach your children about climate change, including the company's fascinating and newly launched Iceland journey, which was specifically designed to inspire climate action among travelers of all ages, there are also more budget-friendly options closer to home.

For instance, GFT also runs a two-hour tour called the Power of Community Gardens, which is operated in partnership with the Black Farmers Collective. The experience takes participants to a 1.5-acre urban farm and provides guests a powerful learning experience about creatively growing food and sustainable urban solutions to fighting climate change, says company CEO, Jennifer Spatz.

"Guests who participate in this experience will also come away with knowledge about the intersections between urban farming, environmental justice, climate change solutions, and food access," says Spatz.

Best of all, this community experience is very family-friendly. Kids can get their hands dirty and be creative while helping in the garden and learning how the farm offers a healthier approach to food and alleviates the rate of global warming. 

Tours are $50 per person.