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You may be committed to going green, but—what with kids and all their stuff—hitting the road with the family makes both the “going” and the “green” pretty tough. Here’s how to reduce your carbon footprint—and help your family appreciate the planet.

 

For day trips

Where to go: Does a nearby town have a botanical garden or a working organic farm? Most kids love interacting with creatures, whether praying mantises or piglets or parrots. With a nature-focused adventure, you’re showing that trees and animals matter as much (or more!) than movies and waterslides.

Do it greener: Give everyone an eco task, and it won’t be just you trying to green this trip: A 4-year-old can help you make a treat to bring along (so you won’t have to stop for a prepackaged snack), a 9-year-old can gather and sort your family’s trash to bring home to recycle, and adults can carry the reusable water bottles when they get too heavy for little arms.

Think green while you’re there: Underplan. Sure, the state park might have 10 great hiking trails, but leave some time in your day to encounter the unexpected: a pond with big orange fish or a tree with a sturdy trunk, perfect for climbing. Opportunities to explore the world around them can help kids commit to protecting their environment.

 

For weeklong vacations

Where to go: Choose destinations where you’ll be able to walk, bike, and boat, so you won’t spend all your time in a car. And don’t be afraid to venture outside the U.S.: Many eco-friendly destinations are closer than you might think. The coral reefs of Belize are just two hours from Houston; Boundless Journeys (boundlessjourneys.com) offers not-to-be-missed sea kayaking tours—complete with beach camping and gourmet food—in Baja, Mexico, 200 miles from Los Angeles.

Doing it greener: For when you do need a car, consider renting a hybrid or smaller car than the one you have at home (in addition to reducing your carbon footprint, a compact car will save you about a dollar in gas every few miles compared to a minivan.) Think you won’t fit? Pack the kids’ stuff in one suitcase, and the adults’ in another: It can be done!

Think green while you’re there: Ask the locals. Wait to schedule most activities until you get to your destination; locals can tell you where to find the best open-air markets or tours of the ruins. That’s one of the best ways to support the local economy, too.

 

For once-in-a-lifetime getaways

Where to go: The Galapagos Islands are one huge national park, where knowledgeable naturalists accompany every tourist and point out diverse birds and lizards. AdventureSmith Explorations (adventuresmithexplorations) offers trips on small, eco-friendly yachts there as well as in Alaska, Peru, and other destinations. An African safari in Namibia or Tanzania offers unforgettable opportunities to see animals in the wild while leaving their natural habitats pristine; check out Micato Safaris (micato.com), an outfitter that educates travelers about sustainability. Need more ideas? Check out familytravel.com and click on Eco Spots.

Do it greener: Choose coach seats, large planes, and flights with fewer stops to reduce your carbon footprint. And consider purchasing a carbon offset pass through TerraPass, which puts proceeds towards environment-sustaining projects (sample cost: $35 for a family of four traveling to South America.)

Think green while you’re there: Volunteer! Sharing your own energy for a day can expose your kids to how different cultures live—and give something back to the incredible destination you’re visiting. Learn about places families can lend a hand at volunteerfamily.org.

 

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