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How To Make Your Next Family Trip More Sustainable

Written by Lauren Matison

Is seeing more of the world with your family on your list of resolutions this year? Indulging in some wanderlust—especially if it’s to the great outdoors—is a wonderful way to instill appreciation and respect for different cultures and environments (in both kids and adults), not to mention make some lasting family memories. But as the reality of climate change comes into full relief, it’s also time to be real about the footprint we are leaving while traversing the world. While activists like Greta Thunberg have set the gold standard when it comes to eco-friendly travel (the 16-year-old has sworn off air travel completely), we also know that even small sustainable travel habits can have an impact. So, we tapped Lauren Matison, New York Times travel journalist, Hike It Baby ambassador, and co-founder of offMetro, an award-winning eco travel blog dedicated to car-free adventures, to share her packing list for family trips that are light on the land. Below are her must-haves for every type of family adventure.

Reusable Utensils. “Whether we’re camping, on the train or ordering take out in a city, this lightweight cutlery set always comes in handy, and we each have one of our own.” Titanium Fork & Spoon Set, $25.95, Snow Peak.

Reusable Shopping Bag. “I used to collect new reusable bags with reckless abandon until I learned that any single bag needs to be reused at least 130 times to equal the production and climate impact of a plastic bag. So, I’ve stopped buying new bags, and say no to free ones. I bring at least a couple on the road with me, including my favorite bag, Don’t Mess with Mama, from Package Free Shop.” Reusable Tote, $14, Baggu.

Reusable Produce Bag. “These produce bags are great for grocery runs at home—as Remy puts items on the conveyor belt in the check-out aisle, he likes to announce, ‘Yay, we did it again! No plastic!’—but I’ve also used them around the world, from Marché Mouffetard in Paris to San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru.” Eco-Bags, String Bag, $20, Eco Bags

Reusable Straws. “It’s only one straw, said eight billion people. When you consider the average person uses 600 plastic straws per year and it takes 500 years for a straw to decompose, buying a reusable straw becomes a no-brainer—be it bamboo, silicone, or FinalStraw’s foldable stainless steel one.” FinalStraw 2.0, $24.95, Amazon

Biodegradable Wipes. “When the inevitable messes arise, a biodegradable and compostable plant-based fiber wipe like Joonya (which plants one tree for every order) is a winning alternative to paper napkins and toilet paper. Not-fun fact: Paper towels and toilet paper kill 94,000 trees in the U.S. every day.” Joonya Eco Wipes, $19.99 (3-pack), Amazon

Efficient Luggage. “My son and I fit everything into this one lightweight and super durable, weather-resistant convertible duffel backpack, which is made of 100% recycled polyester.” Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 100L, $179, Patagonia

Reusable Snack Bag. “The Re(zip) bags are easy to clean and easy for little hands to open. Plus, one reusable snack bag replaces 300 disposable ones.” Re(zip) Bags, $8.99, Target

Reusable Coffee Cup. “I keep a reusable coffee cup in a handful of different bags. If I forget a cup for some reason, then I simply don’t get a coffee (which is a downer when you’re an exhausted parent!). I love the rCup because it’s spill-proof, lightweight, dishwasher-safe, unbreakable, has a 360-degree lid and it’s made from used paper cups. Not to mention the reusable coffee cup discount—offered at major chains like Starbucks, Joe Coffee, Blue Bottle, Peet’s Coffee, and I bet your local coffee shop, too—never ceases to make me smile.” Joe Cup, $9.95, Amazon.

Reusable Bottle. “Every minute, one million plastic bottles are bought around the world. This number is set to increase by 20% in 2021. The only plastic bottles my son is caught holding are the ones he finds during weekly trash cleanups on our local hiking trail. I always carry a bunch of reusable bottles when we travel, whether it’s HydroFlask, Klean Kanteen, or a water-purifying option like Lifestraw.” Klean Kanteen Classic Stainless Steel Insulated Water Bottle, $27, Amazon.

Everything/Diaper Bag. “This lightweight versatile bag has all the bells and whistles without looking like a diaper bag. I appreciate the simple design, recycled material, comfortability, and infinite practical pockets; it’s my magic Mary Poppins bag! When you have everything on you, you don’t need to buy anything.”  Lässig Green Label Type Diaper Backpack, $134.95, Amazon.

Sustainable Snacks. “These filling, adventure-fueling, 100% organic, all-natural oat bars help keep things running smoothly on our trips. My son loves the lemon poppyseed bites!” Bobo’s, $6.99, Amazon

Versatile Maternity (and Beyond) Top. “It’s just a simple white silky top, but for some reason it makes me feel like a sexy mama every time I put it on. It’s become my wardrobe staple for pregnancy and nursing and also makes it easy to stick to my minimalist travel style.” Storq Button-Up Shirt, $98, Storq

Reusable Take Out Container. “Since we started bringing our reusable containers a year ago, we’ve eliminated more than 50 days worth of plastic takeout packaging (which accounts for 50% of plastic waste, according to the United Nations Environment Programme). We love the Thin Bins because they’re lightweight, leak proof, and collapsible.” Thin Bins Collapsible Containers, $19.99 (4-pack), Amazon

Kids’ Backpack. “My son is proud to carry all his travel essentials when we’re exploring a new city or hiking. Plus, there’s no better way to raise a young minimalist than making them carry all their own stuff! Deuter’s lifelong repair service policy ensures we’ll have this bag for a long time.” Deuter “Kikki” Backpack, $50, Amazon.

Train Tickets. “As a car-free family, we are always seeking out alternative methods of travel transportation. Our son is always up for the next adventure, especially if it involves trains or biking. While ditching the car might involve more careful planning—definitely take a few practice swings before committing to any big escapes—it’s 100% worth it. Whether he’s on the train listening to a stranger tell a wild story or stopping on the side of a rail trail to spy on wildlife, I never get tired of seeing that sense of awe that lights up my kid in a way nothing ever did from a car seat.”

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  1. Sarah says...

    Love this! My family and I want to avoid air travel because of it’s contribution to climate change, although I know that might be a tough sell to many people. So happy to see articles that aren’t treating air travel as aspirational.

  2. Sarah says...

    I’m happy to see this article and there are some great ideas here. I too skip coffee or water if I forgot my container (though I’m far from perfect and occasionally break my rules when it feels like an emergency). We can always do better and there are a couple of notes I’d make to the list above – first, the ezip bags are plastic. I think silicone or fabric choices are healthier options. And those sustainable treats sound good but they’re individually wrapped. Better to buy bulk packaged and use one of those reusable bags than have a single use wrapper. Our kids’ school decided to ban single use wrappers this year.

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