Ecotourism already takes up 25% of the world's travel market, and experts forecast that by 2020, there will be 1.6 billion international arrivals. This will include children.
It's universal nowadays: parents work on helping to open the eyes of their children to see that not only are there other fabulous cultures and places to explore and learn about, but there's also a way to do it while giving back to the communities in which they visit.
Take a quick look at social media or mommy groups, and you hear the trend: "I want my kids to know the world is bigger than they are. I want my kids to recognize how lucky they are. I want my kids to want to give back to the world around them." How can we make this happen?
Related: What's it Like to Travel the World With 3 Kids?
Eco-travel or eco-tourism is defined as responsible travel to natural areas that conserve natural resources while improving the welfare and lives of the local people. More and more, families are planning philanthropic family travel, where they travel to areas that they can make a difference in small and large ways.
With young kids, eco-travel often involves visiting places that teach them about biodiversity and introduce them to other cultures while providing them with age-appropriate activities. These activities may include native tree planting, visiting a local school, gardening with local children, learning about the flora and fauna of that particular location - all in the name of "vacation."
Whatever it is, and wherever it is, eco-travel is great for kids.
Here are five reasons you should save up for an eco-travel family adventure:
1. Children learn about other cultures in an authentic way.
Irene Lane is the president of the eco-travel agency Greenloons. She says that eco travel gives families teachable moments - unplanned lessons and opportunities that children most often would never come across on a traditional vacation. According to Lane, eco-travel teaches young generations about how important culture and heritage can be. It teaches them to be open-minded to different cultures and ways of life, which is incredibly important in a globalized world that demands tolerance.
2. Children learn about the indigenous wildlife of other regions in an authentic way.
When you are eco-traveling, you typically go on tours led by leaders who are indigenous to the region you are in. They know about the habitats of the animals in the region and how they relate to the surrounding ecosystem. Eco-travel brings the colorful pages of the National Geographic to life as kids explore a part of the world that they are normally far removed from, and this hands-on experience develops their appreciation for Planet Earth and all its inhabitants.
Related: The Unexpected Benefits of Traveling With Little Kids
3. Children learn they are not alone in the world.
It's sometimes hard to explain to a child to be a good steward of resources when they don't necessarily understand the great need in other parts of the world. Telling my son that water is a privilege is hard for him to understand when he has but to walk to one of the eleven faucets in our house and turn the knob for water. But for him to go where water is scarce - to see first-hand how important it is to use every resource we have responsibly - he learns that his actions do make a difference and the world doesn't revolve around him.
4. Children are motivated to make a difference.
It's eye-opening to see how privileged our lives are when we vacation eco-travel style. We learn that not only do people in other places have different cultures and traditions, they also have very significant needs. By seeing this in person, our children automatically look for ways they can help and make a difference.
5. Children can see how desperately conservation is needed.
When children can see how tiny actions and disruptions to environments can make a big difference in footprint, they work harder to keep theirs smaller. When they see how fragile the world's ecosystems are, they recognize the need to help. Learning about the natural world in such an authentic way helps kids appreciate Earth's natural resources and inspires them to think about the consequences of their actions. Eco-travel teaches them the importance of sustainability and conservation - lessons that will guide their decisions in adulthood.
An eco-vacation with your family will ignite a passion in your children that you never knew they had. It will connect them with their family, their environment, and the world. As a family, you will create lifelong memories while making a positive difference in the world.