By Land or by Sea: Vacations that Protect our Children’s Future

How do you want to be remembered?

This question popped into my mind when our family met to make the difficult decision whether or not to travel to Hawaii. I thought about a parent friend who said recently, “When my kids are grown up and dealing with the full impact of climate change and all the carnage, they’re going to ask me what I did to help the situation. I want to have something substantial to tell them.”

So, I’m actually excited that we cancelled our plans.

Yes, there was loss in this decision. My son has always wanted to swim with dolphins, and I’d found an eco-smart woman scientist who took visitors into a cove to meet wild spinners on their own terms. My partner and I had studied the islands and were fascinated with the active volcanoes, the pristine beaches, the hiking trails.

But at New Year’s, after immersing ourselves in climate change studies and my son’s successful fundraiser to help clean up the ocean, we reflected once again on our legacy. Who do we want to be in this world? How do we want to meet this moment in history?

According to a study on tourism’s impact on climate change in the journal, Nature Climate Change, a whopping eight percent of all greenhouse gases are related to tourism. The US, China, and Germany are top offenders. Flying is the worst source of pollution. “Flying less and investing in payment schemes to offset damage caused by travel will be essential to avoid ‘unchecked future growth in tourism-related emissions.’”

So not only did we cancel that trip, but we also decided to stop flying.

More and more families are making travel choices with the planet in mind. In fact, there is an online community of scientists, academics, and regular folks, called No Fly Climate Sci, who have made the commitment to fly less or not at all.

Leda Schubert, a Vermonter, has flown just twice since 2000. “I would fly if I had to—to take care of a very sick friend, for example. But I made the connection between flying and environmental disaster a long time ago and realized it was one choice/action I could make.” Does she ever feel conflicted? Schubert answered no. “Sure, I’d enjoy traveling. But I care more about the future of animals and the planet than I do about being someplace new.”

Quebecker Laura Ykema explains that flying very infrequently is part of the legacy she and her fiancée want to leave for their kids. “The future state of our planet for our children is a concern. We tackle the areas in our life where it would have the greatest impact. I am not saying we never will fly, but we are VERY selective, both for our planet and for our health.” In addition to air travel being highly polluting, recent studies are showing that cabin air can be quite toxic.

Laura says that sometimes she feels conflicted because she wants to share new adventures with her children. But, she says, “We always finds something else as exciting that is more in line with our values.”

How can you make greener and healthier choices when traveling? Actually, it’s pretty easy. There are so many ways!

First of all, select destinations that have made good choices in regards to climate change. By “rewarding” such locales with your business, you are contributing to a thriving economy, a concrete way of encouraging their green practices. An article in The Washington Post cites Namibia, Ecuador, Uzbekistan, and Bonito, Brazil as great picks. And this Executive Summary provides the top performers and can help you choose where to spend vacation dollars.

You can also rethink about how you’ll get to your destination. Maybe this will factor into where you choose to go. For example, you can take a train to a destination that’s closer than one requiring an airplane. Even buses are greener than fossil fuel-powered cars and certainly far better than airplanes. Kids love trains and learning about how they work and all the places you pass through can be part of the adventure.

If you do end up deciding to drive, consider the option of renting an electric car. There are more and more electric charging stations as time goes by, and what you spend on rental fees will be offset by the gas you won’t have to purchase throughout the trip. Hertz and Sixt both have a special line of electric rentals.

Cruising is a vacation option that has an extraordinarily high negative impact on climate change. If it’s the open seas you love, think about a trip on a wind-powered boat like a catamaran. If you aren’t willing to change your plans to cruise, look at this report on different cruise lines and their ratings as far as impact. Choose a line with the highest rating.

If you must fly, there are choices you can make to reduce your impact. Choose larger flights that are full, fly less frequently and stay in your destinations longer. Fly direct since takeoff and landing are the most fuel guzzling parts of the trip. Pick airlines that are efficient, like Norwegian Air, Finn Air, Alaska Air, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific. Also you can make a contribution on some airlines to offset your portion of the harm done by the flight (Delta and United have set up programs called “carbon offset” by which you can do this).

An app called “Pack for a Purpose” lets you know what residents in different regions where people travel might need so travelers can do some good in the communities they visit. By helping out, you’re making a contribution to the folks who live where you’re visiting rather than just consuming.

Food choices can make a big difference as well. Laura says, “We try to bring our own food to limit takeout and the garbage that creates.” Eating in local restaurants instead of chains and choosing options other than red meat are simple ways to reduce your footprint on vacation.

For lodging, pick hotels that commit to greening up. The app Glooby helps people find eco-conscious hotels and flights. Once you’re there, put out your “do not disturb” so the hotel staff don’t change sheets or towels if you’re visiting for less than a week. Keep your air conditioning and heating to moderate levels and make sure all lights are off when you leave your room.

Sometimes a perspective shift is all we need. Sure, a trip to Hawaii is exciting, but there are many other experiences that are fabulous for both kids and the planet. We decided to set half the money aside towards an electric car and the other half for a big vegetable garden. Our son is excited to pick out the right spot, design a fencing system and other elements to keep animals away, and my partner’s been researching the latest crop of battery-powered vehicles.

If we all look at our legacies, at how we can make choices that are both exciting and healing, we may be able to turn the climate crisis around. Let’s start today!


Additional Resources

* YouTube video about flying damage and paying for your own share of pollution :

  • Leaders as role models and belief managers :

* Dissertation about impact of leaders who give up flying :

By Gail Marlene Schwartz

Gail Marlene Schwartz is a mother, a runner, and a writer. As Content Curator for JogAlong Stroller, she writes blog articles, video scripts, and ad copy.