Your Kids Should See the World … and Protect it, Too

School’s out and so is the sun – finally! After surviving another Illinois winter, we’re looking forward to lazy backyard cook-outs, bike rides on the lakefront, and splash-downs at the water park.

If you’ve been planning a family getaway this summer, you may already know that the United Nations has declared 2017 The Year of Sustainable Travel. The goal is to encourage people to consider global issues when they travel – protecting the planet, economic equality and social justice.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Just to take the kids on a road trip?

But it’s actually pretty easy. No matter where you’re headed, you can help protect and heal the planet – and teach your kids to do the same:

Support local businesses while you travel. Instead of that cookie-cutter hotel or fast food franchise right off the highway, opt for a bed and breakfast and a locally-owned diner. Your kids will get a much better perspective on the place you’re visiting.

Don’t just send your kids outside – TAKE them outside. Playing in state parks, observing wildlife and exploring nature helps kids develop an appreciation for the natural world, and a better understanding of the environment.

Learn about and respect the local culture. Smile, say good morning to strangers, absorb the daily rhythm of your vacation city. It helps kids see how different we all are — and how much we are the same.

Get your snacks at a farmer’s market; choose food grown in the area. If you see a quirky fruit or vegetable you don’t recognize, ask questions! Farmers love to talk about food.

Take home meaningful souvenirs by buying from local artisans and shops, instead factory-produced trinkets.

Studies show that environmentally conscious travelers spend more in local economies and stay on vacation up to three days longer. Not sure where to go next? For digital inspiration, try the Adventure Junky app, Earth’s Adventure Travel Game, which turns sustainable travel into a social media platform. Research destinations, find cultural tours, and be inspired by others’ adventures.

Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organization, sums up the challenge facing travelers and the travel industry like this: “Our natural capital is our environment and culture, and you don’t consume your capital.”

Our kids absolutely need to see the world beyond their own backyard. It’s our job to show them how our backyard is connected to everyone else’s.

This story originally appeared in Joliet Times Weekly.