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“Mom, can you turn down the bottled-water service?”
That question, asked by my 12-year-old at the InterContinental Marseille, was a big clue. I asked her why and she explained that the tap water was perfectly drinkable, so why waste the resources spent on water bottles? I had to admit, she made a valid argument. She also noted that “Evian” backwards spelled “Naive” and wondered if that was clever marketing.
My daughter’s interest in the environment has been raised for the last year or so, but this summer’s extended (but still budget-friendly) trip to Europe flipped a switch. Passing interest turned into genuine action.
I’m not sure if it was seeing bleached coral in Sardinia, experiencing record-breaking heat in Spain or just gaining a new respect for the world she has seen, but my daughter has gone all-in on minimizing how her actions affect the environment. Her desire to be earth-friendly has had an impact on many aspects of her life and on our family’s life.
From Tourist to Steward
Some of these new-to-her behaviors, such as turning down complimentary water bottles, directly relate to our travel. She bought a souvenir water bottle in Barcelona and has carried it everywhere since. The reusable water bottle habit is also a big money saver, so I’m totally on board from several perspectives.
Another example: My daughter used to leave her bath towels on the floor. Now, she carefully hangs them up because she doesn’t want to create unnecessary laundry. She hasn’t gone all-in on “making a green choice” by refusing housekeeping, but does make sure the sheets and towels don’t have to be changed frequently during our stays.
It’s a plus for me not to be stepping on her used towels as well. So far, this behavior hasn’t extended to home as much as I’d like, but I have hope.
I know that the trend toward full-size, wall-mounted toiletries generates mixed reviews, but I also know that my family is drowning in hotel shampoo. My daughter spearheaded an effort on this trip to create less toiletry waste. This is the first trip we’ve taken where most of our mini-bottles remained untouched and where we managed to carry our soap from one hotel to the next. Since we stayed in 15 hotels over five weeks away from home, the changes added up. I’ll confess the L’Occitane from the Marriott in Monaco made it into my bag, but my life isn’t any worse for having skipped the vast majority of small bottle amenities we encountered along the way.
Can We Do Things Better?
Some of her newfound environmental interest came not from the harm she saw, but from the good my daughter saw being done. She fawned over the bicycle-powered charging stations we found at the Monaco train station. I did too, and agree with her that pedal power recharging stations would be an airport amenity I’d love to see spread.
Where Did That Banana Come From?
Another thing she noticed while traveling and has taken home: a fondness for locally-sourced food. I like to think that travel encourages an adventurous palate, but I confess that with my two kids the results are decidedly mixed. Just last month, my teenage son finally ate a Subway sub that had lettuce on it: a major breakthrough. My daughter, on the other hand, is game to at least try new things when we travel. For a long time she thought ketchup was spicy. Fortunately, that phase has passed, but travel hasn’t so far translated to eating anything put in front of them.
But during this last summer of travel, her interest in food extended past the flavor: She wanted to know how it was sourced. Once she realized that most bananas have to travel thousands of miles to get to the US or Europe, she dropped that formerly favorite fruit from her regular shopping list. She took time looking at labels on grocery produce to see how far it traveled and if it was organic, which was a first.
My formerly ribeye-loving kid took things a step further and decided to stop eating meat altogether because it requires a lot of energy to produce, among other issues. We decided that she would continue eating fish as long as its origins were known. More than one waiter was surprised when a 12-year-old asked where and when the daily special was caught, but since we were on the Mediterranean, there was a fresh and local option at every place we visited.
No More Fast Fashion
“Mom, can we go to the thrift shop?”
That question didn’t catch me off guard as we often buy books second-hand, but what followed did. A girl about to enter middle school wanted to go to the thrift store for back-to-school clothes shopping. While many tweens and teens are deep into “fast fashion” from H&M, Old Navy and the like, my daughter no longer wants anything to do with it. When I asked further, she went into a lengthy explanation about the tons of perfectly good clothing that goes to waste, causing pollution during the production process and by ending up in landfills. I would have been less surprised if she had expressed a fashion-forward interest in vintage, but that wasn’t it: It was all about saving the earth.
Travel has taught my kids some important life lessons, including ones I didn’t consider or plan for when mapping out where to stay and what to do. Perhaps my daughter is simply now the right age to take some concepts to the next level, but this summer things went a step or two further than in the past. She learned not only learned about herself, but for the first time, connected her actions with global consequences.
We didn’t set out with this as a specific travel goal, but the lesson for me was that the more you invest in experiences for your kids, the greater the chance they can walk away with life lessons that will last longer than any souvenir.
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Featured image by Imgorthand / Getty Images
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