The Future of Sustainable Travel Is Family Travel. Here's Why.

Travel provides teaching moments that allow families exposure to the most pressing challenges unfolding around the globe—and may inspire future environmental leaders.

Family travel with kids exploring Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica, Central America

Gemma Can Fly / Stocksy

For years, there's been a steady drumbeat within the travel industry about the importance of sustainable travel and its critical role in protecting the planet.

As this movement has grown, it's also become clear that family travelers are an integral part of the transition toward exploring the planet more mindfully. There are many reasons why family travelers are an essential demographic when it comes to the future of sustainable travel and its more recent development—regenerative travel.

To begin with, travel provides teaching moments unlike any other, allowing children to be exposed to some of the most pressing challenges unfolding around the globe in vivid, unforgettable ways—whether it's climate change, plastic pollution, wildlife conservation, or deforestation.

Ideally, this real-world look at such issues not only educates, but also inspires family travelers—especially the youngest generations—to become social and environmental evangelists who are dedicated to protecting our fragile planet for years to come.

What's more, engaging families in hands-on regenerative travel activities—which are activities specifically designed to have a net positive impact on a destination (rather than simply minimizing one's impact)—has the equally important benefit of supporting slow travel.

A key element of sustainable travel, slow travel emphasizes visiting fewer places during a vacation and spending more time in each place to reduce one's carbon footprint and truly connect with the local culture and environment.

And there's one last, perhaps even more hopeful reason why the future of sustainable and regenerative travel and family travel are inextricably intertwined: Because the youngest travelers are demanding opportunities to take action and be part of the solution.

"With the growing concern about the climate crisis, particularly among those age 16 to 25, who are extremely worried about the climate and the negative effects on marine and wildlife, weather patterns, and agricultural production, we're seeing many families seeking out travel experiences that offer opportunities to help improve social and environmental systems," says Jennifer Spatz, founder, and CEO of Global Family Travels, a Seattle-based company that specializes in creating immersive, regenerative travel experiences for all ages.

The travel industry hasn't missed a beat in responding to this desire. Over the past 12 months or more, travel companies have been unveiling an increasing number of unique and compelling opportunities designed to meaningfully educate travelers of all ages about pressing global issues, while also incorporating opportunities to pitch in and help.

The Long-Term Impact of Regenerative Family Travel

Sustainable and regenerative travel exist on something of a continuum. Sustainable travel focuses on reducing the harm done by tourism activities, while regenerative travel goes beyond just minimizing the negative impact of tourism to create a positive impact by actively regenerating the environment and communities.

Engaging family travelers all along this spectrum is important, because at their best, these travel experiences enable family travelers to spend time walking in someone else's shoes, while also creating a newfound awareness of the interconnectedness of the world and the challenges it faces. And if all goes well, these immersive experiences inspire alignment between how travelers of all ages will think, feel, and ultimately, act for years to come.

While these goals may sound lofty, they have never been more important, says Matt Berna, president of Intrepid Travel and managing director of the company's efforts in the Americas.

"The global challenges we face—from the devastating effects of climate change to civil and social unrest and division—are all parts of interconnected, interdependent, global systems," says Berna. "Many families are trying to find ways to help young people cope with this complexity through travel, to interact with diverse cultures, build compassion, and to bring awareness of interconnectedness, as we seek solutions to these worldwide issues."

Here are four examples of how sustainable and regenerative travel is joining forces with family travel to energize future generations of global stewardship.

Borneo Family Holiday, Intrepid Travel

Intrepid Travel Borneo Orangutan Sanctuary

Intrepid Travel

Intrepid Travel's Borneo Family Holiday was created with even the youngest travelers in mind. The trip includes a hands-on marine conservation activity—coral replanting—that's open to those as young as five years old.

The experience, new for 2023, was created to educate family travelers about the importance of marine biodiversity and sustainable methods of coral repair. It's one of many such learning moments during the nine-day Borneo itinerary, which also includes exploring a monkey sanctuary, an orangutan rehabilitation center, and an immersive overnight stay deep in the jungle, where the hosts are a community-run conservation organization whose mission is to provide local villagers with the means to make a sustainable living from the forest.

More and more families are looking for these types of rich, meaningful activities that change their world perspective, explains Berna. And their search couldn't be more timely.

"Adopting sustainable and experience-rich travel—which focuses on local people and considers the holistic wellbeing of people and the planet–has never been more important," says Berna. "As families seek out unique and transformative travel experiences, they have a central role to play in the future of the sustainable travel movement."

Bali Global Classroom Adventure, Global Family Travels

Global Family Travels Bali Adventure

Global Family Travels

Bali is a destination that's been suffering from the impacts of one some of the planet's most pressing environmental challenges, including plastic pollution, destruction of marine environments, and a local water crisis that's exacerbated by tourism industry activities. Recognizing this fact, Global Family Travels has crafted an itinerary called the Bali Global Classroom Adventure.

The trip is punctuated by a series of learning moments, which are followed by regenerative travel activities. For instance, trip participants spend time learning about how one local community moved from destroying marine life to protecting and nurturing it, after which there's a chance to participate in service projects focused on preserving the health of the ocean.

There's also a chance to learn about challenges with clean water access in Bali and then work alongside local organizations that are dedicated to addressing this very issue.

"Tourism is an important contributor to sustainable development, economic growth, employment, and cross-cultural understanding, and the family travel sector is one of the largest growing segments of the travel industry, both from the perspective of the number of travelers as well as the amount of money spent per trip," says Spatz. "Family-focused, regenerative travel has a crucial role to play in educating travelers of all ages and providing them with hands-on, community and nature-based experiences that will hopefully inspire them to be better global citizens."

Peru, Thailand, Vietnam, and Costa Rica Family Adventures, G Adventures

Girls Playing Games on a Boat

G Adventures

G Adventures offers yet another example of a company that recognizes the importance of family travelers in the sustainable and regenerative travel movement and is pioneering family trips that continually emphasize these themes. The global tour operator accomplishes this through unique learning moments and a heightened focus on actively engaging with local people and businesses throughout trips, in order to help support a sustainable future.

To make their efforts on this front completely transparent, each G Adventures trip includes the company's "Ripple Score" (an industry-first) on its booking page. This score lets family travelers know how much each trip's itinerary integrates and supports local people and communities.

What's more, journeys to destinations like Peru, Vietnam, Costa Rica, and Thailand, which allow participants as young as six years old, boldly emphasize "G for Good Moments," "Discover Moments," and "Local Living Moments" throughout itineraries. These thougtfully crafted moments emphasize themes like sustainability, learning, conservation, and respect for local cultures and traditions.

G for Good moments, for instance, are borne from the company's effort to preserve and conserve the world. In Peru the "G for Good Moment" takes family travelers to a local weaving co-op to meet the women who are part of the co-op and learn about traditional weaving methods, thus supporting the survival of local business and cultural traditions, and emphasizing their importance.

While in Vietnam, the local living moment includes a homestay in the Mekong Delta region, allowing family travelers to connect with people from other cultures and ways of life.

"At G Adventures, we ensure that our trips benefit the communities we visit and we show our travelers that community tourism is a mutually beneficial way to create a sustainable tourism model," says Jamie Sweeting, vice president for social enterprise and responsible
travel at G Adventures.

Costa Rica Adventure Family Holiday, Exodus Travels

A Toucan

Exodus Travels

While exploring Costa Rica with Exodus Travels, families (including travelers as young as nine-years-old) have the opportunity to witness the relationship between nature and local communities, support local economies through visits with handicraft sellers, and help to protect biodiversity through visits to protected nature reserves.

The 15-day trip also works to reduce the carbon footprint generated by participants via the integration of stays at family-run hotels that are focused on sustainable resource use.

"This trip will inspire young people to call for more regenerative travel experiences in the future, making sustainable tourism a must, rather than simply an additional benefit," says Charlotte Cheesman, sustainability executive for Exodus Travels, a company with a well-known sustainable travel ethos.

Indeed, children are often the ones demanding that their families recycle or turn off lights to reduce energy use because they're learning about these major global issues in school, continues Cheesman. And family travel provides an opportunity to take such lessons beyond the classroom and connect them with real life, thus playing an important role in not only the future of sustainable tourism, but also sustainable living.

"We want all our holidays to educate and inspire families to become social and environmental stewards," says Cheesman. "Young people are impressionable, and understanding these messages at a young age means that they have a better chance of understanding the power and importance of nature, and demanding regenerative experiences when they travel in the future."

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