Teaching Kids Responsible Travel


responsible travel
Connect with the locals


Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. – Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad


We’ve always been firm believers that children should travel, however and wherever, from an early age. Travel is one of the best ways for everyone – young and old – to achieve a greater understanding of other countries and cultures. Surely greater awareness and empathy can only help everyone get along better? This can be no bad thing given how much hate and anger there is in the world right now.

However, there’s a difference to travelling as a tourist and to travelling as a traveller. While we love a good beach holiday as much as the next family, we’re also big advocates of connecting with locals when we travel so that we can experience as much as possible from our chosen destination. Of course, this is not always possible, particularly when you have very small kids in tow, but even the smallest act can go a long way and leave an indelible impression on your child too.

Also, introducing your child to art and culture from a young age can help to foster an interest – or at least an awareness – that stays with them for a lifetime.

The following are some of the ways that we’ve found we can help our children learn to be responsible travellers.


The Planning Stages

It’s great to get kids, particularly older ones, involved in the planning stages of your holiday. In addition to getting children excited about the upcoming trip, there are certain issues you can discuss so that they are aware of what impact their travels can have, both good and bad.

Plan the holiday with your kids


Your Route

Try and find the most direct route to your destination and talk to your kids about the environmental impact of travel, particularly air travel. Consider offsetting the carbon emissions of your flight. Better still, try and stay closer to home.


Your Destination

While it’s unlikely that Afghanistan is your family summer destination of choice, it’s worth considering what kind of track record your chosen country has in terms of human rights, treatment of animals and in its protection of natural areas. This list of the World’s best Ethical Destinations can be helpful. Of course, travelling to countries with less than squeaky-clean reputations can also be hugely educational and can force the discussion of issues such as the need to protect the environment.


Your Tour Operator

If you use a tour operator, make sure that you ask about their commitment to responsible tourism. How do they promote sustainable and responsible travel?


Way of Thinking

Rather than approaching family holidays as a means to tick off another country / sight / wonder of the world, get your kids to start thinking about travel as a way of experience a new country, culture and way of life. Consider ways that you can connect with locals in your chosen destination and in doing so the whole family will develop a better understanding of that place and its people.


support locals 2
Find out how your family can connect with and support local communities and NGOs.


Before You Travel

Learn the Lingo

Get the whole family involved in learning a few words of the local language. It’s amazing how far a ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ spoken in the local dialect will go! Little Pim is a great language learning program for little kids.



Consider organisations such as Pack for a Purpose that aims to match travellers with communities and groups in need in their holiday destination of choice. Rather than pack an extra pair of shoes, you could bring some school supplies to children in need instead.


pack for a purpose 2
Pack for a Purpose



Ask your tour operator if there are any projects that you can help with when you are travelling, even if it is just for half-a-day.


Local Customs

Familiarise yourself with some of the local customs before you travel and find out if there are any traditional festivals that you can participate in, this is a great way to experience another culture!


Festivals holi
Holi Festival, India


While Away

Buy Local

Wherever possible, buy local produce and goods. In doing so, you will help support local communities. This also rings true of accommodation, consider booking a locally run B&B rather than a big chain hotel.


Indrashan Homestay, Jodhpur, India
Indrashan Homestay, Jodhpur, India


Respect local cultures & traditions

Make sure that the family is aware of what is and what isn’t allowed in your destination. Kids may find this fascinating – taking their shoes off before entering a restaurant in Japan for example or raising your hands in greeting (rather than shaking them) in Nepal.

And I’m sure we’ve all read this story, how US tourists were caught carving their names into the Colosseum in Rome or this story about tourists who were arrested for taking nude photos at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Obviously, these habits should not be encouraged!

Some sights encourage visitors to leave their name of course such as contributing to the restoration of a monument in Thailand and there are parts of the Great Wall of China that are official designated graffiti areas – although I’m still not sure how I feel about the latter! Get your kids to sign visitor books in museums or tourist spots instead, they might return one day with their own children and look it up.


Use local transport

Rather than hire a car, why not jump on a bike, hop on a ferry, take a rickshaw ride or walk!

local transport
Use local transport


Ask Questions

If in doubt, ask!


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Minimise your footprint! Consider taking a re-fillable water bottle and make sure to dispose of your rubbish correctly, remembering to teach your kids why it’s important to do so. Do they know this Jack Johnson track? It’s a great one to have in the car.



Don’t feed the animals!

Make sure you talk to your kids about how important it is that they look after the natural environment – so no littering or chasing of wildlife. If you’re considering a visit to a zoo, aquarium or National Park, do you research to see if your chosen animal park / safari operator supports animal conservation and education.


Tara the elephant
Choose hotels that take animal welfare and conservation seriously.


What have we missed?! Let us know how you teach your kids about responsible travel in the comments section below!


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24 thoughts on “Teaching Kids Responsible Travel”

  1. What a lovely article!

    We don’t have any children yet, but when we do, we will be travelling with them and we will be teaching them all of the principles that we travel by.

    I was lucky enough to travel quite a bit with my parents at a very young age – not only did it develop my interest in travelling, but it made me respect people’s cultures, religions and belief. It taught me that people around the world are different and that those differences are something to be respected and cherished. I think this is a message that is getting lost a lot in today’s world.

    I’m already excited about the prospect of showing our children the world – and teaching them how to do it responsibly.

      1. Thanks for your kind words about our blog. We are only just starting out in the big world of blogging, but are hoping to highlight more places like Backstreet Academy. Thanks for sharing our post – we really appreciate it!

    1. Thanks for commenting! If you haven’t got a copy already, the ‘MAPS’ book listed at the start of the post is a really wonderful way for kids to learn about different cultures and customs. My kids particularly loved discovering what boy and girls names are popular in each country.

  2. You raise some very important issues that I admit I don’t always think of when we are traveling. I’ve tried to become more aware of ethical travel issues such as environmental impacts and ethical treatment of animals, but your post is thought provoking in new ways. I appreciate you raising the global awareness of ways to be a more responsible traveler.

    1. Thank you! I admit that we don’t always follow every tip on this list but we do try. I think there’s lots of way that we can get our kids involved in travel that will be fun for them to learn and hopefully (!) will make them better travellers too.

  3. Love this! Great topic and tips for getting kids to think about the world in a larger way and to care about how what they do and its impact on others.

  4. These are great thoughts and tips. Travelling with kids does offer lots of perfect teaching “moments” about pretty much everything so it’s important to use the opportunity

    1. Thank you! I find kids are so much more engaged when they are learning on the ground (as opposed to from a book), so travel is a great learning opportunity!

  5. One of the reasons we decided to travel full-time is for our daughter to experience the rest of the world as a local and not just someone visiting. Although travel of any kind is important and very good for the soul, we craved more. We wanted to make deeper connections to our world, connections which are sometimes hard to do on our 2-week holidays.

    Thank you for the tip on Coastal Cleanup Campaign and Pack for a Purpose, organizations that teach children and adults to give back are ones to support.

  6. This is a great conversation starter. Thank you. I wear two very different hats: covering luxury hotels and focusing on social justice work in maternal health for underserved populations. In both jobs I try and keep awareness of white privilege throughout everything I do. My goal as a parent is to help my children feel that have the capacity to connect with any human being they meet, and travel is the leader in teaching that skill.

    1. Thanks Robin. I’m fascinated by your double (work) life! That is quite a contrast but it must be extremely interesting. I agree that travel is a wonderful way to teach children how to connect with anyone, regardless of colour or culture. Thanks so much for commenting.

  7. These are great tips and you’ve raised some thought provoking issues. I had no idea that there is a portion of the Great Wall of China for visitors to graffiti. I thought it was an immense amount of fun to spray paint our names on the Cadillacs and Cadillac Ranch in Texas, but the thought of doing the same on an attraction as magnificent as the Great Wall makes me sad.

    1. Thanks Tonya. I know what you mean about the Great Wall, officials have said that giving visitors and “approved place” to leave their mark would better protect the wall in the long run but I agree that it’s sad that this has to be done. I don’t understand some people’s need to leave their mark on buildings or heritage monuments such as this one. On a separate note, we heard about the Cadillac Ranch from Shannon at 100 Routes Across America and it sounds like a lot of fun!

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