The perfect picnic location in Christchurch, New Zealand: the Port Hills overlooking Lyttelton Harbour. When we're packing for picnics, we like to use zero waste food storage, reusable straws and cups, and a sustainable lunch bag.

Zero waste food storage: Packing for picnics

When we’re travelling for extended periods, I tend to pack a picnic lunch for us most days (eating out every day gets expensive but we don’t want to have to come back to wherever we’re staying to prepare lunch, so taking food to have while out makes sense).

Likewise when we’re hiking or likely to be far from amenities for a good portion of the day, I always come prepared with plenty of food and drink (it’s one of my top tips for hiking with children; check out this post for my other suggestions).

So what do I store everything in to make sure it stays fresh, the right temperature, and doesn’t leak everywhere?

These are my zero waste food storage essentials. I would recommend them to anyone, not just families, looking to move towards a less wasteful, less plastic-filled lifestyle.

1

Snack bags

We use these every single day, not just when packing for picnics. Theo’s snack bags get filled with everything from rice/corn cakes, to nuts and seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables, and homemade sweet and savoury treats. These are a great zero waste food storage solution for any age (I use them for my snacks too!) that remove any need to use cling film or plastic sandwich bags.

We love Planet Wise; made to last (ours are still going strong with no wear and tear after more than 2 years of daily use), no leaks, the perfect size, and they come in a lovely range of patterns. I wash them at the end of the day in the kitchen sink, but they can also be put in the washing machine if you prefer.

2

Sandwich wraps

My go-to picnic lunch for us all are sandwiches; energy-boosting, tummy-filling, easy to prepare in travel accommodation, and can be packed full of goodness. Sandwich wraps are therefore a staple when it comes to packing for picnics.

A piece of cloth with an easy wipe-clean lining, they fold around your sandwich and seal with Velcro, keeping it fresh and secure. When unwrapped, they act as perfect plate.

We use two brands: Keep Leaf and Planet Wise. Keep Leaf are circular and more flexible, which equates to more forgiving when trying to pack thick sandwiches (or two on top of each other), whereas Planet Wise are square and less prone to staining; pick your priorities!

Both are great for zero waste food storage either at home for work lunches, or while travelling and out and about, it’s really a matter of personal preference.

Boy eating from a sandwich wrap. Sandwich wraps are a great zero waste food storage alternative when packing for picnics.

The Planet Wise tint range has the added bonus of forgoing the cloth lining, meaning both sides can be wiped dry after cleaning. While not as pretty as the cloth patterns, this has proved very useful when camping or when we have limited time or ability to hang items to dry.

3

Insulated stainless steel bottle

If you don’t currently carry a reusable bottle, where have you been??? Stop buying disposable plastic bottles and invest in a good quality reusable one. My preference for material is stainless steel, and I particularly love Klean Kanteen’s vacuum insulated versions.

For me, it’s all about keeping my water cold, but they’re just as effective at keeping hot drinks hot if that’s what you’re after. Many coffee shops and smoothie bars even do discounts if you provide your own bottle or cup so it’s worth asking! When I’m packing for picnics, particularly if the excursion involves some strenuous exercise and the weather is warm, cold water is essential and I can rely on our insulated Klean Kanteen bottles to keep us refreshed and rehydrated all day.

4

Stainless steel canisters

Maybe sandwiches aren’t your thing and you’d rather have salad, soup or yesterday’s leftovers. As plastic Tupperware is prone to leaking and breakages (even the expensive stuff!), it’s far from ideal when packing for picnics and doesn’t make the cut for zero waste food storage! Stainless steel canisters are a great alternative and if you opt for the vacuum insulated ones, you can even enjoy a hot meal followed by still-frozen ice cream!

Like their bottles, Klean Kanteen’s range is reliably leak-proof, made to last, and consistent with marketing promises regarding the length of time food will remain hot or cold.

I am not suggesting you throw out all your plastic Tupperware to replace it with these (or glass alternatives to keep in the freezer). Keep using what you have until it’s not longer fit for purpose, but instead of buying more plastic ones when you do need to replace them, you might like to consider these instead.

5

Lunch bag

So, where do you put all your sandwiches, snacks and hot food once they’ve been prepared and stored?

You could of course just stuff it all in your day bag (and when we’re only taking out snack bags, this is exactly what i do) but when I’m packing for picnics, I prefer to store all the food together so I know where it is, nothing gets squashed at the bottom of my rucksack and I have somewhere to put all the empty wraps (and leftover crumbs that would otherwise be destined to spend eternity squished into the seams of my bag) once we’ve eaten.

Although the idea of them is romantic and incredibly quaint, let’s face it, picnic hampers aren’t all that practical! Unless you fancy lugging your woven wicker basket up mountains or even just to the office every day, you may want to invest in a lunch bag.

The size you opt for will depend on your meal preferences; for us, we have a small, box-shaped one with a zip lid that’s made from recycled plastic bottles. It’s big enough for about 5 sandwiches plus fruit and a snack for each of us. This works for us (for now…we’ll likely need something bigger as the boys get older!), but there are lots of ethical brands out there making lunch bags in all shapes and sizes and in a range of sustainable materials. Fresk and Fluf are two brands with great ethics that are worth checking out to see if any in their ranges would suit you.

6

Stainless steel straws

I always have some reusable straws in my bag, not just when I’m packing for picnics, so I’m always prepared to decline any plastic ones. We like stainless steel ones as they’re incredibly durable and easy to clean.

Pack of four Klean Kanteen straws with silicone tips and brush. These are an essential anyone interested in zero waste food storage and they're ideal for packing for picnics.

We have tried two brands: U-Konserve and Klean Kanteen. My slight preference is for the U-Konserve ones simply because they’re straight and only made from steel, but Theo likes the Klean Kanteen ones as they have a colourful silicone bendy tip which detaches from the metal straw.

Pack of four Klean Kanteen straws with silicone tips in a Klean Kanteen steel cup. These are a great zero waste food storage item and they're ideal for packing for picnics. A popular eco friendly travel tip is to take straws with you.
Klean Kanteen straws

If you don’t like metal in your mouth or you want to allocate a different colour to each member of the family, Klean Kanteen are the ones for you. I also imagine that the soft, curved tip would be better for some people with disabilities. Personally, I don’t like the silicone tips; they’re unnecessary dust magnets whether they live in my bag or in the kitchen draw.

Klean Kanteen straws come in a pack of four with a little brush for cleaning but I find it gets stuck very easily and is more hassle than it’s worth. The U-Konserve straws can be purchased in a two-pack or as a single with a brush (we don’t have a U-Konserve brush so I can’t comment on this).

7

Beeswax wraps

The final zero waste food storage essential on my list for packing for picnics are beeswax wraps. Eliminate the need for cling film by getting (or making) some of these wraps in a range of sizes.

There are a growing number of brands on the market and I’m sure they are tough to differentiate. We have tried Abeego and Honeywrap and love them both.

Our Abeego wraps have been heavily used for about 2 years and are still going strong. The Honeywraps, which we’ve only had for about a year, seem a bit more durable so I expect to last for even longer.

We use the extra large ones to keep bread fresh, the large for covering plates or wrapping sandwiches, and the medium and small are ideal sizes for chopped fruit and veg (perfect for corn on the cob, which is one of Theo’s favourites!) and covering bowls.

They’re a great addition to your kitchen cupboard and your travelling kitchen kit, but consider what you’ll use them for. They’re certainly not as long lasting as the sandwich wraps so if this is all you envisage using them for, your money is probably better spent on an extra couple of those.

If, however, you end up with a lot of chopped avocado halves, half eaten apples and pears (I believe this is symptomatic of a household with young children!) and you’re looking for a zero waste food storage solution for purchasing bakery items, beeswax wraps will be ideal for you!

An additional use for travellers is that they can be used to store soap or shampoo bars. The wax sticks to itself, keeping in even wet, sudsy soap!

Remember to wash with cool water only (otherwise the wax will melt) and with a mild soap or dish soap.

So, next time you’re packing for picnics, whether they be for a family hike or a mid-week office/school packed lunch, be sure to try out some of these zero waste food storage items to reduce your family’s footprint and make eating on the go a fun, mess- and waste-free affair.

A bee feeding on lavender. Protecting species like bees is of great importance to eco travellers.

20 Sustainable travel tips for eco travellers

If you’re looking for easy ways to be more sustainable, particularly when you travel, you are in the right place! I asked a few fellow travel bloggers for their sustainable travel tips and together we came up with this fantastic list for budding eco travellers.

I think many of us aspire to being mindful of the environment when we travel and we aim to make choices that will reduce our footprint, but for many it can feel a little overwhelming and at times hopeless; I mean, how much difference can little old me really make? Perhaps you’re unsure where to start making changes or you feel sceptical about ‘greenwashing’ and wonder whether products and accommodation marketed as ‘eco friendly’ are worth the extra cost, but still want to do your bit? (You can find some great suggestions for eco destinations that are definitely worth it here!)

Being green doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming; many of these eco friendly travel tips are free or of minimal cost, and won’t take any time at all, leaving you to enjoy your travels with a clear conscience.

1

Random acts of earth kindness

First up, Scott from The Line Trek suggests practising ‘random acts of earth kindness’:

While hiking in El Chalten, Argentina (Patagonia) recently, I witnessed a man carrying a plastic bag and picking up random small trash as he was hiking. 'What a brilliant (AND FREE) idea', I thought. (Though I must admit that my husband has been throwing away random trash at beaches for quite a few years now). Next time you’re walking down the street and you see that candy wrapper lying on the ground, don’t just shake your head… pick it up!!

What a great idea! T is already a determined litter-picker. He knows that we never leave rubbish behind and that it needs to be sorted into the correct bin, so you can see that it bothers him when he finds rubbish on the street, at the beach or in the playground, and he’ll happily carry it with him until he can dispose of it properly. We teach him about the importance of looking after our planet and it’s great to see him developing good habits already.

Could you take part in a local beach clean (or park/forest etc)?

Emma from Small Footprints, Big Adventures also collects rubbish from the beach with her family. She comments that it’s sad how much they find, but it’s a great lesson for her two children . If you have kids that enjoy a bit of fun family competition, why not turn it into a game to see who can collect the most?

2

BYOB

Continuing the bag theme, Scott suggests ‘BYOB’:

No, not 'bring your own beer', you lush! Bring your own bag.

A reusable shopping bag takes very little space in your suitcase or backpack, and can easily be carried with you daily. You’ll have a convenient bag for groceries and will cut down on single use plastic bags that are littering cities across the globe, sitting in landfill for centuries and destroying ocean wildlife.

Emma points out that having cloth bags handy is useful, not only for shopping, but also for storing and transporting laundry.

Like these guys, I keep a spare cloth tote in my handbag at all times so I’m never caught out.

I also recommend taking reusable fresh produce bags to both supermarkets and farmers’ markets (I like these from The Rubbish Whisperer) so you never have to use plastic bags. They’re small, lightweight and easy to stuff in a bag for the day just in case you stumble across a market on your travels.

Rubbish Whisperer produce bags

3

Use reusable water bottles and coffee cups

Use a stainless steel water bottle and refill it rather than buying bottled water. I love our Klean Kanteens, particularly the insulated ones that keep water cold throughout the day. We have a 12oz TKWide, a 20oz Classic, a 32oz Classic, and a 32oz TKWide, all of which are great for hiking and other sports. They have a range for the whole family with a variety of size and lid options. C uses non-insulated Kid Kanteen bottles in place of a traditional sippy cup (T also used these when he was younger), and their 12oz insulated Kid Kanteen is ideal for taking out on hot days. We also get a lot of use out of Klean Kanteen’s 10oz cups (they’re great if you’re at all worried about breakages on hard floors in an airbnb, in restaurants and on patios).

If you’re travelling somewhere with no access to clean tap water, rather than buying single-use plastic bottles, take the time to either boil your water first, or treat it with water purification tablets.

If you absolutely must buy bottled water, consider getting one large bottle to share rather than an individual one for each member of the family.

Woman drinks from 12oz insulated Klean Kanteen TKWide bottle
12oz insulated Klean Kanteen TKWide
32oz insulated Classic Klean Kanteen

Take away coffee cups can’t be recycled as they have a plastic layer on them, which can’t be separated during the recycling process. Klean Kanteen to the rescue again!

The insulated ones are just as good at keeping drinks hot as they are at keeping them cold. They don’t leak and they will keep your drink at the right temperature ALL day. Coffee shops tend to also give discounts if you supply your own cup, so this is a double win!

If you’re a coffee shop addict or are planning a trip somewhere cold and would like to have a warm drink to sip on while you’re out and about, consider using a TKWide with café cap lid. This is also great for smoothies and storing ice lollies for the kids…and the big kids!

4

Say "no" to straws

Unless you have a medical need for them, straws are totally unnecessary. But, for some reason, on occasion we like sipping our drinks through a tube, and I’ve never met a child who doesn’t enjoy using a straw. So, I always have a couple of reusable straws in my bag. We have three different brands, all of which we love.

The stainless steel U-Konserve straws are straight and long, with a 7mm diameter. The Klean Kanteen stainless steel straws come with colourful silicone tips, great for identifying which belongs to whom. These are a slightly wider 8mm diameter. TheOtherStraw make fully compostable bamboo straws, with three diameters to choose from: 7mm, 10mm, 12mm. They arrive in zero-waste packaging and come with a handy bag to keep them (and your bag) clean, as well as a coconut fibre cleaning brush.

I’m always ready to refuse a plastic straw but have learnt that you need to speak up quickly (particularly in countries where it is customary to give iced water to customers as soon as they walk in the door). Sometimes I’ve been left feeling frustrated when I’ve been given one anyway or water for the kids arrives in a disposable cup with a disposable lid and straw (why?!?).

According to National Geographic, Americans alone use 500 million straws daily. While these small, lightweight bits of plastic seem fairly innocuous, they are having a catastrophic effect of marine wildlife.

You just have to look at our beaches to know that straws don’t get recycled and many will end up in the ocean. Fish, shellfish, mammals and sea birds consume them (meaning they also end up in our food chain, which you can read more about here), and sea life gets entangled in them (you may remember this horrible video of scientists removing a straw from a sea turtle’s nose after it went viral in 2015 – please note that this footage is distressing).

So, say “no” to straws.

‘What do you store dirty ones in?’ you ask? Try a reusable wet bag pouch from Planet Wise.

Pack of four Klean Kanteen straws with silicone tips in a Klean Kanteen steel cup. These are a great zero waste food storage item and they're ideal for packing for picnics. A popular eco friendly travel tip is to take straws with you.
Klean Kanteen straws
Child uses a U-Konserve straw and Klean Kanteen cup
U-Konserve straw and Klean Kanteen cup
TheOtherStraw bamboo smoothie straw

5

Use reusable food bags and wraps

Ditch the plastic wrap and ziplock bags completely!

Planet Wise sandwich bags

We use our Planet Wise sandwich bags every single day. The leak-proof design and waterproof lining makes them ideal for both wet and dry snacks (fruit, both fresh and dried, nuts, seeds and rice cakes are favourites here), and we cut down on packaging waste by buying in bulk and then only taking out what we need for the day. The zipper means the kids can easily help themselves whenever they’re hungry, and they can be machine or hand washed.

On the left of the photo are three from the tint range, which are slightly opaque (as they don’t have the fabric outer layer like the ones on the right) so you can see what’s inside, and are top rack dishwasher safe (although I haven’t been brave enough to try this!). Personally, I prefer the look and feel of the fabric range, as they come in a huge variety of fun designs. I find the tint range more industrial and stiff, but both serve the same purpose equally well so this is entirely down to individual preference.

Emma uses her reusable snack pouches to store bits of rubbish while the family are out and about without access to a bin. What a clever idea! You could also use them to store small toys or art supplies while travelling. The bright colours would make it easy to quickly locate the item that will keep your little one entertained before all hell breaks loose (if you need eco toy recommendations for stress-free journeys, check out this post)!

Keep Leaf (red) and Planet Wise (green) sandwich wraps

If you’re packing a picnic lunch to take out with you, check out this post on zero waste food storage. Spoiler alert: sandwich wraps are brilliant! No more soggy, cling film wrapped sandwiches! We have both Keep Leaf and Planet Wise wraps, both of which fold around your sandwich and secure with velcro. They open up into a convenient plate so there’s no need for a disposable one. The two brands are different shapes but a similar size, both fitting one sandwich comfortably and two stacked on top of each other at a squish.

Keep Leaf and Planet Wise sandwich wraps

I find that Keep Leaf is more susceptible to stains (the inside layer isn’t as robust as the Planet Wise ones) but they are more flexible (so better for folding around fresh bread rather than packaged, uniformly-sliced bread) and the stitching around the edge is more ‘finished’. Like the sandwich bags, Planet Wise do both a fabric and tint range.

Planet Wise tint sandwich wraps
Abeego and Honeywrap beeswax wraps

Beeswax food wraps are ideal for use at home (I use mine to put over leftovers in the fridge and wrap around bread or cut fruit to keep it fresh) and for out and about (I always use them to wrap cooked corn on the cob and crudités). I have used both Abeego and Honeywrap while travelling and would recommend them both. They take up no space at all in your luggage and will significantly reduce your waste.

6

Take away in your own containers

Emma and her family try to avoid getting take away food in order to minimise their use of disposable containers and cutlery. “Eating in restaurants and cafes, and making our own breakfasts is working well for us.”

For maximum flexibility, I recommend staying somewhere with access to a kitchen; airbnbs are my go to choice for families, but many hostels also have good kitchen facilities. We tend to make our own breakfast and I’ll often do a packed lunch (although not always), and then dinner can be had in or out.

When we eat out, we often take away restaurant leftovers, particularly when portion sizes are large (yes, USA, I’m looking at you!)? Klean Kanteen canisters are great for this. That’s lunch the next day sorted! The canisters come in insulated and non-insulated. Use the non-insulated ones for storing leftovers in the fridge or for larder storage. The insulated ones are perfect when you want a hot meal later in the day but won’t have access to a microwave. Heat it up before you go and then place in the canister, where it will stay hot for the rest of the day. This is also really handy when camping!
Klean Kanteen canisters

7

Use bamboo cutlery

Keeping a set of bamboo cutlery in my bag means I never have reason to use disposable cutlery. Like straws, these can cause significant harm to marine wildlife. Street food and food markets can be wonderful places to experience the local cuisine, but both can cause a lot of waste. By taking a reusable canister and bamboo cutlery, you can easily minimise your footprint. Bambu make sets for children, consisting of a fork and spoon, that can easily be taken on days out and on plane journeys. TheOtherStraw also have an Essentials range of cutlery and bowls. The beautifully rustic bamboo cutlery is fully composable, comes with a little storage pouch and the knife actually cuts! My only slight negative is that the set doesn’t also include chopsticks, but I am told they are working on this, so watch this space!

Travelling with bamboo straws and cutlery is a worthwhile green travel tip.
TheOtherStraw bamboo straws and cutlery set
TheOtherStraw bamboo cutlery and Klean Kanteen canister

8

Recycle and compost​

Be responsible for your rubbish and take the time to access recycling and composting facilities where possible. It doesn’t take long to sort your rubbish into the correct bins!

9

Walk, bike or use public transport​

Walking in Copenhagen

Most cities are very walkable, many have bike-sharing services, and public transport is a great way to explore a city beyond just the tourist spots, and an even better way to meet the locals. If you’re staying in a city, there is really no need to rent a car, call an uber or hail a taxi. You’ll save money, reduce pollution and keep fit! We walk everywhere when in cities and I really wouldn’t be without a sling or wrap!

Walking in NYC
Walking in Madrid

10

Don't use hotel miniatures

Yes, it may be space- and weight-saving for your luggage, but the complimentary little bottles of shampoo and other toiletries offered by hotels are incredibly wasteful. Sadly, most locations won’t reuse these by refilling them for the next customers and instead, any open bottles go straight in the bin.

Consider whether you can use your own toiletries and leave these little bottles unopened. The lure of something for free might be tempting, but the cost to the environment is not worth it. Airbnb hosts tend to have large bottles of shampoo available for guests, just as you would in your home. Hopefully the hotel industry will start to use refillable alternatives and be better advocates for sustainable travel.

11

Consider your toiletries and detergents

Choosing products that are going to be less harmful for the environment can seem a bit of a minefield. We’re hit with clever marketing that makes claims that we can’t follow up on easily. I’ve done some research on your behalf so let me recommend a few brands that I trust and use regularly.

Obviously, whatever products you choose, everything has some impact on the environment, so make sure you only use the recommended amount.

A range of eco friendly toiletries for eco travellers

Green People make the lovely Organic Babies and Organic Children range of toiletries suitable for the most delicate and sensitive of skin. We use the Organic Children SPF30 Sun Lotion and Aftersun on the kids. They’re natural, non-greasy and offer high UVA and UVB protection, as well as being reef-friendly so we don’t contribute to damaging coral reefs. You can read about our favourite eco-friendly sun protection toiletries and clothing here. We also like Green People’s shampoos and bath and shower gels that come in a range of fruity fragrances.

Weleda have a great range of calendula products that are gentle on skin and have a subtle fragrance. The bath products and body lotion have helped soothe both boys’ eczema when at its worst.

Violets make a great range of toiletries, laundry products and household cleaning products. Of their toiletries, we have only tried their mosquito repellent, which has a much more pleasant fragrance than most bug sprays and has worked well, even when camping near water. As it’s made from all natural ingredients, I feel much better about putting this on young skin than other mainstream brands. The laundry products can all be bought in bulk to cut down on waste; just fill a small container to take travelling. 

Kokoso coconut oil tubs get used a lot by all of us. I’ve used it on both boys since birth, firstly to treat cradle cap and flakey newborn skin, and then to treat eczema and dry skin conditions. I use it as my daily moisturiser and as make-up remover. One tiny tub to meet multiple needs makes it a must have for every travelling family!

12

Brush with bamboo

A toothbrush takes approximately 450 years to decompose in salt water, so make the switch to a bamboo alternative to help keep plastic out of our oceans and off our coastlines. We’re using Go Bamboo brushes in adult and child sizes. The handle is made of natural bamboo and an edible wax, making it suitable for compost. We also use their compost-suitable cotton buds.

As an alternative, if you’re not keen on bamboo, have you tried brushes made from corn starch? The kids like these because they come in fun colours.

Go Bamboo toothbrushes and cotton buds

13

Use reusable sanitary products

Both Emma and I have a menstrual cup (unsurprisingly, Scott didn’t weigh in on this one!) and we both also recommend cloth sanitary pads or period-proof underwear over the nasty, scratchy disposable alternatives. They’re breathable,  discrete, and they hold up to even postpartum use!

Cups are easy to use (you just empty the contents in the toilet, rinse, reuse, and wash in warm, soapy water at the end of each cycle), comfortable, and can be worn during the night and while swimming.

Organi Cup

If you use cloth pads, these Planet Wise wet and dry bags are the perfect size for storing both clean and dirty ones while out and about, and can be either hand or machine washed.

I like these larger Planet Wise bags, in small, medium and large, for use at home/wherever I’m staying so I can wait until I have a full machine load to wash. They’re also perfect for cloth nappies, wet clothing and swimming gear so these are a recommended purchase even if you’re not using cloth sanitary pads! You can read about using cloth nappies while travelling here if you’re planning a trip with young children.

Planet Wise wet bags

14

Conserve water

Scott reminds us of some basic, water-saving measures:

Don’t run the tap while brushing your teeth, don’t heat up the water for 10 minutes before getting in the shower, or take a 30 minute shower for that matter (no matter how good it feels!). Sometimes water has to travel many many miles to your tap; it’s precious, treat it that way!

He’s absolutely right, but I’d also add that we should all be considering the huge energy expenditure in treating water so that it’s suitable for human consumption. Since arriving in New Zealand, we’ve witnessed mass irrigation on a scale that we hadn’t previously imagined, not just in farming, but in everyone’s gardens (good old British weather means it’s never been an issue at home!).

Sprinklers are kept running everywhere to ensure that even the patch of grass between the road and pavement are kept permanently green. While, of course, it is a good thing (and earth-friendly) to water your plants, I’m of the opinion that using treated water on grass 24 hours a day during the summer months is unnecessarily wasteful. Read more about how eco-friendly New Zealand is (or isn’t) here.

15

Re-use your linens

If you’re staying in a hotel, make sure you hang your towels so you can reuse them, saving both water and energy. Likewise, let housekeeping staff know that they don’t need to change your sheets every day.

16

Turn off appliances

Switch off lights, the air-conditioning and electrical appliances when you leave your hotel or Airbnb for the day. Does the room really need to be ice cold when you get back? Probably not.

17

Shop local

Get your groceries from a farmer’s market, where produce is only transported locally, you support small businesses and you can enquire in to the environmental policies of the farm and the conditions in which any animals are reared. We also really enjoy taking the kids to pick-your-own farms to stock up on fresh fruit.

Pick your own cherries at Tram Road Fruit Farm, Christchurch, NZ.

18

Buy recycled or 'upcycled' goods

You can often find amazing and totally unique souvenirs made by local artists using recycled materials. Not only are you supporting the local community, but it’s also something a bit different to take home with you!

19

Ask about photography

Eco friendly travel tips aren’t just about environmental ethics.

While legally in many countries you are able to take photographs of anyone and anything in a public space (though, check local laws!), this doesn’t make it ethical. Ask before taking photographs of other people and let them know what you intend to do with it (who will see it if you intend to post it online, for example). Steer clear of taking photographs of children without a responsible adult’s consent (it really bugs me when strangers try to take photos of my kids without asking my permission!).

Be aware of the stereotypes, hidden messages and social implications of your photographs. What’s the story behind your image? What story might other people see (even if it wasn’t the one you were intending to tell)? What are the consequences of taking this image? Don’t tip children for allowing you to take their photograph, for example; if children are earning money on the street, it might dissuade school attendance. ‘Rich, white hero saves the day’ is a terrible story to tell – please don’t do this in your images.

Sarah from World Unlost also reminds us to preserve the history and culture of our destination.

When visiting museums, galleries, churches and historic sites, make sure photography is allowed before you snap that picture. Flash photography in particular can harm precious, centuries-old artworks. When in doubt, ask.

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid

20

Take only photographs, leave only footprints

As the saying goes, ‘take only photographs, leave only footprints’.

My heart aches when I see and hear of people who think it’s acceptable to collect rocks, corals, wildlife and other ‘memorabilia’ from their travels. Contributing to the destruction of both man-made historical sites and the natural world is never acceptable; we have a responsibility to preserve these wonders for the next generation.

While hiking in the redwood forests of California recently, I was also upset to see that people had carved graffiti into the trunks of these magnificent trees. I can absolutely appreciate the creative expression of street art (check out this post for a wonderful example of street art in Churchill, Canada), but ‘so-and-so hearts so-and-so’ and ‘Dave woz ere’ is very different and doesn’t belong on the back of a bus-stop, let alone an 800-year-old tree. And don’t get me started on the trend of people leaving padlocks at tourist spots!

Walking in the Redwoods

Take your photograph, soak it all in and take the time to notice all the fine details so you can commit them to memory and recall them at will, instantly transporting you back to this spot, but leave everything as you found it.

So, there they are, 20 sustainable travel tips for all you eco travellers out there to consider. I hope you’ve found it food for thought. Wishing you lots of sustainable travel with your adventurous family!

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Where can I buy the products mentioned in this post?

The in-text links will take you either direct to the product website (please note some of these are affiliate links; I receive a small commission if you purchase at no extra cost to you) or to the item listing on www.babipur.co.uk I do not work for BabiPur, nor do I receive any incentive for recommending them, financial or otherwise. I am simply a loyal customer and always recommend them as a great place to buy eco friendly child and household products. They are a trusted ethical retailer and you can rest assured that they’ve done their research into the best eco brands on the market; everything they stock is made from sustainable materials and the manufacturing processes are both socially and environmentally ethical. Their customer service is second to none and their online presence is friendly, personal and transparent. I have always received purchases in double quick time and everything arrives in recycled or reused packaging. Spend over £40 for free UK postage, and international postage is very reasonable starting at just £5.95. Top marks all round!

People dance at a celebration of Maori culture. A guide to Te Reo Maori.

A beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori

Te Reo Māori is New Zealand’s official language, although in practice it’s secondary to English and few non-Māori New Zealanders speak it fluently. The country is a bi-cultural society and Te Reo words are often used interchangeably with English in everyday language by everyone. This beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used words will arm you with all the basics.

I’ve also written A guide to Kiwi slang on the home-grown ‘Kiwi English’, a local mishmash of British English, American English, Kiwi slang and Te Reo. The two posts tell you everything you need to know to get started conversing with Kiwis!

A beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori - pronunciation

Te Reo Māori has 15 distinct sounds, including 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u), 8 consonants (h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w) and 2 digraphs (two letters that combine to form one sound; ng, wh).

The vowels can be a short sound or a long sound and they can also be combined (into diphthongs). A long sound is denoted with a macron (a line above the letter). You have to be careful to get this right as the length of the vowel can change the meaning of the word.

The consonants not listed below are pronounced the same as in English.

a

a

(as in aloud)

ā

ar

(as in are)

ae

ai

(as in eye, said with a rising intonation)

ai

ai

(said with a falling intonation)

ao

aow

(as in crowd)

au

oh

(as in ‘oh dear’)

e

eh

(as in entry)

ē

ehr

(as in there)

ea

eh-ah

ei

ey

eo

eh-oh

(said with a rising intonation on the ‘oh’)

eu

eh-oh

(said with a falling intonation on the ‘oh’)

i

ee

(as in eat)

ī

ee

(as in three)

ia

ee-ah

ie

ee-eh

io

ee-or

iu

ee-oo

ng

Pronounced like the ng in ‘singer’.

o

or

(as in ordinary)

ō

or

(as in pork)

oa

or-ah

oe

or-eh

oi

oi

(as in oil)

ou

ohr

r

Pronounced as a rolled r, which can sound a bit like a d. For example Kauri sounds very like Cody and is a popular boys name, as well as the name of a large indigenous tree.

t

At the beginning of a word, it sounds like a normal English ‘t’ sound but after vowels it’s much softer. After ‘a’, ‘e’ or ‘o’ it has no sibilant emphasis, almost like a ‘d’, and after ‘i’ and ‘u’ it only has a slight sibilant sound (tip: just bring your tongue further back on the roof of your mouth further from your teeth).

u

oo

(as in two)

ū

oo

(as in loot)

ua

oo-ah

ue

oo-eh

ui

oo-ee

uo

oo-or

wh

f

(as in forest)

A beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori - words and phrases

Tip: When reading Te Reo, break the word into each syllable ending after every vowel (or diphthong).

Aotearoa

New Zealand

Literally ‘land of the long white cloud’.

Kia ora

Hello

Haere mai

Welcome

Iwi

Tribe

Whānau

Family

Note that the Māori definition of family may be more extended than you are accustomed to; it may include anyone of importance including non-blood relatives, close friends and neighbours. Pronounced ‘faar-noh’.

Tamariki

Children

Kai

Food

Hangi

Traditional style of Māori cooking in an earth oven

Kauri

Large native tree species

One of the largest and longest-living trees in the world. Pronounced ‘ko-rrree’ with a rolled ‘r’.

Haka

War dance

I hope this guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used words is of use during your time in New Zealand.

This may not be the only hurdle you encounter while conversing with Kiwis though! Some of the slang is just as puzzling if you’re unfamiliar with it, so check out A guide to Kiwi slang before a trip to New Zealand.

Kiwi slang That Wanaka Tree in Autumn

A guide to Kiwi slang

New Zealand’s version of English (both spoken and written) can be a weird and confusing mix of British English, American English and home-grown ‘Kiwi English’, with a good dose of Te Reo Māori (New Zealand’s official language) thrown in as well. Deciphering the slang and the two-language melting pot can be puzzling (though much of Kiwi slang is shared with Australian, British and Irish slang).

I’ve also written A beginners guide to Te Reo Māori, with pronunciation and commonly used words. The two posts tell you everything you need to know to get started conversing with Kiwis!

Sweet as!

Great!

No, there is no noun missing to complete this simile. I spent the first few months of our time here waiting on the rest of the sentence and finding it unbearably irritating that no one finished their comparison. Honey? Sugar? Sweet as what?!?!

She’ll be right

It will be ok

Don’t ask me who ‘she’ is. I can only assume the cat’s mother. This phrase pretty much sums up the Kiwi approach to life, work and, well, everything. Laid back to the core, nothing here happens in a hurry or with stress. Business deadlines are frequently ignored, even in the cities there’s no rush on the streets, and when things go wrong, instead of frantic problem solving and hurried attempts to fix mishaps, you’ll instead hear the collective mumble of “she’ll be right”.

Yeah, nah

No

This isn’t an indecisive split second change of mine. The ‘yeah’ is totally redundant and unnecessary. Kiwis just like to add an extra syllable in sometimes. Speaking of which…

Eh / Ay

Used at the end of a sentence, sometimes to turn it into a question (but usually a rhetorical one that requires no answer), sometimes to add emphasis, sometimes to give or request confirmation for a statement. My theory is that it comes from the Te Reo Māori word for ‘yes’ (‘ae’). More often than not, it’s used for no reason at all. Like I said, just an extra syllable to fill a bit of silence.

Togs

Swimwear

Both women’s costumes/bikinis and men’s trunks.

Jandals / jandles

Flip Flops

Not that everyone uses them, mind; you’ll see many a Kiwi, adults as much as kids, walking around barefoot, and not just at the beach!

Gumboots (gummies)

Wellington boots (wellies)

Dairy

Convenience store / newsagents / corner shop

Tramp / Tramping

Hike / Hiking

Ute

Pickup Truck

How you goin’?

How are you?

This is used more as a greeting and doesn’t require a response about how you are (I made that mistake a few times when we first arrived, politely responding with “I’m well, thank you. How are you?” only to be met with confused expressions).

Veges / vege

Vegetables

Pronounced like ‘veggies’ and ‘veg’, but spelled differently.

Across the ditch

Australia

Carked it

Dead

Can be used to refer to a person, animal or inanimate object (car, phone, etc).

Munted

Drunk / broken beyond repair

Feeling crook

Feeling ill

Yakka

Hard work

Bach

Holiday home

Pronounced ‘batch’.

EFTPOS

Payment by card

Short for Electronic Fund Transfer at Point of Sale. You’ll then get options for paying from by cheque, savings or credit. Which brings me to my next point…

Cheque / chequing account

Current / debit account

Paywave

Contactless payment

Hokey pokey

Honeycomb

Lolly

Sweet / candy

Refers to all sweets / candies, not just the ones on a stick! A lolly shop is a sweet / candy shop.

Ice block

Ice lolly / popsicle

Scroggin

Trail mix

Kindy

Kindergarten / nursery school / preschool

It refers to all schools for under 5s, not a particular chain. (Playcentre is different – it’s not considered a Kindy, as the philosophy, financing and level of parental involvement is wildly different to other early years education providers.)

Wop-wops

In the middle of nowhere

Tomato sauce

Ketchup

Wee

Small

This one will likely be known to Brits and Irish, but it may be new to those not so familiar with Scottish slang.

Spuds

Potatoes

Again, familiar to the Brits and Irish, but perhaps not to others.

Pants

Trousers

This one will be familiar to the Americans. As in American English, ‘pants’ refers to ‘trousers’ and underwear is ‘undies’ not ‘pants’. ‘Trousers’ is only used to refer to old-man-style trousers.

With two British parents, Theo has learnt that his underwear are pants and his trousers are trousers, but this has admittedly caused some confusion when others have commented on his ‘nice pants’!

Chips

Crisps or fries / french fries

Just to confuse you, again not the Americans, Kiwis call both crisps and fries ‘chips’. The former are often ‘potato chips’ to help distinguish the two (as if that really helps…they’re all potatoes!) but they do also use ‘crisps’, and the latter can be ‘hot chips’.

Weirdly, as you can see above, Kiwi’s have picked the American word for some things and the British word for others, but they typically (but not always!) spell like Brits (there’s a ‘u’ in colour and neighbour, for example).

Be aware that Kiwis use the British words ‘nappy’ not ‘diaper’, ‘flat’ not ‘apartment’, ‘rubbish’ not ‘trash’, ‘dustbin lorry’ not ‘garbage truck’, ‘petrol’ not ‘gas’, ‘fire engine’ not ‘fire truck’, ‘post code’ not ‘zip code’.

Your head hurting yet?

If the Kiwi slang wasn’t enough to get your head round, Te Reo Māori is very present in everyday language. You’ll notice it instantly in place names and the names of native birds and plants, but certain words and phrases are also used interchangeably with English by all New Zealanders.

You’ll want to familiarise yourself with the basics before a trip to New Zealand! Check out this post for A beginners guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used words.

Alex-Miller-photography-Joss-Alex-Mozambique

8 Destinations for the eco-conscious traveller

Are you looking for the ideal ecotourism destination? Somewhere committed to both environmental and social sustainability? Look no further! I’ve asked some of the top travel bloggers out there for their input on their favourite eco locations.

1

Kahang Organic Rice Eco Farm, Malaysia

My family and I stayed at a rice farm in Malaysia recently, which was a beautiful place to relax in and an excellent eco-friendly accommodator to support. KOREF (Kahang Organic Rice Eco Farm) is a “leisure farm”, so it is not a place to work hard on farm chores, but rather learn a bit about farm life while having some fun. There are many activities visitors can choose from, including rice planting or harvesting, bamboo rafting, kayaking, a water obstacle course and jungle trekking. KOREF also has a sustainable fish farm, which guests can learn more about and even try to catch and release some fish.

Another activity was wonderful for cultural understanding. Visitors can choose to visit an Orang Asli village in the nearby rainforest, with an excellent guide who works closely with KOREF staff. We did meet the beautiful people there, and were very grateful for the experience.

KOREF is and organic farm at heart, and they use their own food as well as locally-sourced produce for the delicious meals provided to guests. KOREF also provides free filtered water from a fountain to everyone, and separates their rubbish for recycling. Unfortunately, this is uncommon from what we have seen in Malaysia.

We loved staying there and getting a taste of farm life in such a beautiful setting. It is a great destination for kids with all of the activities on offer, and the fun and stress-free ways they help people learn about farming. School groups from cities in Malaysia and Singapore arrive often to get a very different view of life!

Submitted by Emma Walmsley from Small Footprints, Big Adventures

2

Las Terrazas, Cuba

Looking at Las Terrazas, Cuba, through the trees

Initiated in the late 1960s as an ecotourism project, Las Terrazas is a UNESCO biosphere reserve about an hour west of Havana, in the Cuban countryside. It is a lush complex with dense foliage, tropical swimming holes, waterfalls and 18th century abandoned coffee plantations. Although you can see Las Terrazas in a day, this is a place that merits more time to truly experience it.

The town has something for everyone. Bird lovers will appreciate that Las Terrazas is home to almost half of Cuba’s endemic birds. The nearby Sosoa Botanical Gardens maintain a collection of rare orchids. There is a selection of trails led by students at the biosphere that take you through the local flora.  For the more adventurous, there is also a thrilling canopy tour which whizzes you over six lines extending over lakes, a forest and much more.

The artists in the colony live in town and their workshops are in their homes.  People are welcome to enter their homes and watch them work, browse their creations and possibly purchase some very nice and authentic pieces of art.  There is a little coffee shop in the area, Café de Maria, that bills itself as having the world’s best coffee. With advertising like that and at about .40 cents a cup, you have to try it.

The local Hotel Moka sits on a hill-top with a beautiful view overlooking the forest and the small village. In keeping with the eco-friendly theme of the location, the hotel has a tree growing in the middle of the lobby and serves only locally grown produce. The two must-try restaurants in town are vegetarian and delicious!

Submitted by Talek Nantes from Travels with Talek

3

Tasmania, Australia

Tasmania hills and forest green

Tasmania is a nature lover’s paradise. This small island, about the size of Ireland or West Virginia, is home to vast wilderness and completely unique ecosystems compared to the rest of Australia, complete with endemic animal species and subspecies not found on the mainland. So precious are Tasmania’s varied landscapes — from verdant rainforests to mountains to white-sand beaches — that around 20% of its landmass is World Heritage listed. And that’s without mentioning its quaint country towns, impressive local food scene, and wealth of convict-era sites and ruins testifying to a rich, if often dark, colonial history.

Unsurprisingly, Tasmanians are increasingly embracing sustainable tourism. But few places boast the eco-friendly credentials of a certain private nature reserve in Tasmania’s northwest by the name of Mountain Valley. Situated on some 61 hectares, this reserve is run by a husband-and-wife team with a passion for wildlife and conservation. To protect the vulnerable habitats and fauna on site, they’ve signed schemes agreeing that their property can never be logged or degraded. It’s also a release area for rehabilitated wildlife — and a one-of-a-kind, no-frills accommodation option, complete with 1970s-style log cabins.

With old growth forests, caves and even a glowworm grotto, Mountain Valley is a haven for wildlife. Wild echidnas, wombats, platypi, possums, Tasmanian native hens, pademelons, spotted tail quolls and the sadly endangered Tasmanian devils all call this place home. Lucky guests may even just find a few local critters on their very doorstep.

Submitted by Sarah Trevor from World Unlost

4

Iceland

Rocky cliffs and ocean waves on the coast of Iceland

Iceland is a wonderful eco-friendly destination and one of the world leaders in sustainability.  The nature of Iceland is so pristine and clean that it is almost impossible to wrap your head around how pure things are there.  While tourism is on a major rise there, the country is doing everything it can to cater to this tourism boom in a sustainable and ethical manner.  Nearly 100% of Iceland’s electricity comes from renewable energy, which is remarkable and a model that every country should aspire to follow and achieve.  Another thing I loved about Iceland, Reykjavik in particular, is how easy it was to find vegetarian and vegan options.  You don’t necessarily associate Iceland as being meat-free, but the options are there in masses.  You can rent a bike with ease in Reykjavik, too.  I think Iceland is a country that really sets the benchmark for clean energy and spectacular nature.

Submitted by Megan Starr from meganstarr.com

5

Eco Hostel Gili Meno, Indonesia

Gili_Meno_Eco_Hostel

In Indonesia, just a boat ride away from Bali, in the paradise island that is Gili Meno, you can find the Eco Hostel Gili Meno.

Gili Meno is a small island that can be walked in 1 hour and the Eco Hostel is conveniently located by the seaside in front of Turtle Point, where you can snorkel with turtles.

The Eco Hostel is an incredible place that is all built around the logic of sustainability and eco-tourism.

You can sleep in bungalows by the beach on just a simple mattress or in the fantastic Treehouse, while the concept of dorm-room is taken to another level by letting you sleep in hammocks that can be zipped from the inside to avoid mosquitos nuisance in the night.

The toilets are composite toilets and the showers are half salt water and half spring water. Everything is built out of wood.

There is a bonfire area by the beach and in the morning people wake up before sunrise to enjoy the majestic natural show in the communal area.

It is a place that you will never want to leave, once you get used to the slow pace of life and to the chess challenges with the young Indonesian boys working in the hostel.

Submitted by Sara and Ale from Foodmadics

6

Wisconsin, USA

Kayaking at the Apostle_Islands_Sea_Caves

Wisconsin offers unique travel destinations and was home to environmental legends, John Muir, Gaylord Nelson, and Aldo Leopold. Travel Green Wisconsin certification recognizes businesses that have made a commitment to reduce their environmental impact.  Here are just a few.

Wilderness On the Lake is an upscale resort in the Wisconsin Dells, “The Waterpark Capital of the World”.  The dells offer indoor and outdoor waterparks, live entertainment, thrilling attractions, and awe inspiring natural beauty!

Door County Bike Tours is an eco-friendly way to experience Door County, “the Cape Code of the Midwest” – a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan – where you can watch both a sunrise and a sunset over the water!  It offers cherry orchards, art galleries, wineries/breweries, five state parks, 19 charming communities, fish boils, and 11 historic lighthouses!

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore consists of 12 islands and coastline on Lake Superior, hosting a unique blend of culture and nature including sea caves, nine historic lighthouses and shipwrecks.  Discover each island’s story via tours, kayaking, and hiking.  They host endangered plant species, important nesting habitat, and one of the greatest concentrations of black bears!

The Harley-Davidson Museum, in Milwaukee, isn’t your typical museum.  The interactive displays provide a unique experience, exhibiting more than 450 motorcycles and artifacts on a trip through time.  It was the first museum to gain the GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification and has an ongoing process for environmental improvements.

The Stonefield Historic Site, located along the Great River Road in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, includes a re-created 1900s rural village, the State Agricultural Museum, and the homesite of Wisconsin’s first governor, Nelson Dewey who has a nearby state park.

These are just a select few of Wisconsin’s eco-friendly destinations!  Explore the ‘Travel Green Wisconsin’ website and come take a look for yourself!

Submitted by Kristi Schultz, aka The Trippy Tripster, from Road Trippers R Us

7

Germany

Rieselfelder Bird Sanctuary, Münster

Germany is the ideal destination for the eco-conscious traveler. A country full of history, culture, fabulous cuisine, and beautiful landscapes, it has so much to offer, but it is impossible to be an economic leader and be ecologically oriented, right?  Wrong!

The German government is making dramatic strides in environmental issues. Nuclear power is being phased out, and replaced by renewable energy forms. The Cogeneration Act requires manufacturing firms to utilize the “waste heat” created in their production processes. Rather than being demolished, old factories are often converted into cultural centers and tourist attractions, old wastewater facilities into bird sanctuaries, and military bases into wildlife habitats. Old buildings are also upgraded to meet new standards of efficiency, and re-forestation efforts have saved the Black Forest and cemented its status as one of the country’s greatest treasures.

But what is refreshing is that the German people embrace the environmental policies. Extensive recycling is legally required, but also widely practiced.  Each home and public venue has a number of separation categories for trash, so that little more than biological waste ends up in the landfills.  These separations were diligently applied in homes.  Nosier neighbors even make a point to check on the recycling practices of others on the block!

But more surprising is that the separations are made in public as well.  On the train, in the park, walking down the street, people visibly separate their disposable items into the correct categories, and take the time to put each in the proper bin.  Watching this gave me hope!

Submitted by Roxanna Keyes from Gypsy With A Day Job

8

Guludo Beach Lodge, Mozambique

A starry night at Guludo Beach Lodge, Mozambique

Time for my contribution! There are so many wonderful places to choose from but this one deserves a special mention; Alex and I chose it as our wedding venue for good reason!

Guludo Beach Lodge in the Quirimbas National Park is an award winning ecotourism destination, with an ethos firmly rooted in social and environmental sustainability. The lodge was designed so that no trace would be left, and has been constructed using only local, natural materials. There is no running water or electricity, and yet it feels luxurious. Built and staffed by the local community, every decision was, and still is, made following consultation with the village residents. Located right on the beach, the setting is beautiful, the seafood is fresh and delicious, and there are numerous activities on offer to delight both adults and children. A percentage of your fee will go to the onsite charity, Nema Foundation, which has funded multiple wells, school meals and resources, ambulance vehicles, and construction projects. The staff are Guludo’s best asset and they will go out of their way to make your stay memorable. Certainly, we will never forget them or their bright smiles! Find out more about the highlights of this beautiful country here in my recommended two week itinerary, which will give you a taste for all that Mozambique has to offer. Thanks to Alex Miller for the photo, taken at our wedding.

A selection of three images from Iceland, Mozamabique and Tasmania, advertising a post on 8 destination for the eco-conscious traveller
Polar bear lies sleeping on a rock. Churchill travel information includes the best time to see polar bears.

Churchill Travel Information

Churchill travel information: Everything you need to know to plan your trip to Churchill, Canada!

How to get there

Currently, the only way to get to get to Churchill is to fly, as the railway is closed as a result of storms last year. Calm Air operate flights to Churchill from Winnipeg and Thompson.

Murals around the town, like this one on ‘Miss. Piggy’, tell the story of climate change and its impact on both humans and wildlife.

Where to stay

Lazy Bear Lodge is popular and it’s easy to see why.

Staffed by seasonal workers, they were all professional, knowledgeable and hardworking, but, more importantly, they exuded passion and a love for what they were doing, particularly the excursion guides.

The lodge is cosy, warm and comfortable, with a nice dining area.

The only thing I hated was the use of dead animals as decor; I want to see polar bears and grizzlies out in the wild, not with their skins pinned across the walls. I hate to think that I was inadvertently supporting trophy hunting.

What to eat

There aren’t many options for dining in the town but we found it to be plenty for the length of our stay.

We enjoyed the food served at Lazy Bear Lodge. They have an extensive menu with plenty of veggie options, and dinner specials, which change every evening, included Canadian elk, buffalo and Arctic char. Service will of course vary as most staff are seasonal, but those who were there during our stay were friendly, polite and a great help in entertaining Theo while we finished our food!

Gypsies is a great place to pick up a picnic lunch or a no-frills meal, and is famous for their donuts. Managed by the charismatic Fred, highflying corporate Montrealian turned small town friend to everyone, his sense of humour and generosity make every visit here memorable. He rented us his beaten up, barely-working pickup to get out of town in search of polar bears. We found bears, but had to ditch the ride; sorry, Fred! Read the story here.

Currency

Canadian Dollar.

Language

English.

How to get around

A vehicle isn’t essential here, but I recommend having one, at least for part of your trip (or make friends with someone who does!).

We went off by ourselves in search of bears twice and I’m so pleased we did! We didn’t disturb them at all because we weren’t in a huge tundra buggy, there was no fighting for the best view with dozens of other tourists, and we were able to take our time and observe these magnificent creatures just doing their thing on our watch rather than having to stick to a schedule.

If you’re lucky to have the right conditions to witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis, you’re going to want to get off the main strip in town. We hitched a ride with some new friends to the beach, away from the light of the town, and my goodness it was worth it!

Climate and best time to travel

The best time to travel will really depend on what you want to see and do during your visit. October is prime polar bear season because they travel through Churchill on their way back out onto the ice. During the Summer months, Belugas come into the shallow waters to breed. It is possible (but by no means guaranteed) to see bears, belugas and the Aurora Borealis in one trip; this is why we travelled in August.

Other useful info

All excursions can be booked through an operator (I recommend Lazy Bear Expeditions). This includes cultural tours of the town and Cape Merry, guided tours to the Prince of Wales Fort, dog sledding, wildlife watching (polar bears, elk, arctic foxes, arctic hares, sea birds, seals and more), beluga whale watching from a zodiac, kayaking with belugas and snorkeling with belugas.

Please note all excursions are season and weather dependent.

Lazy Bear Lodge also operates an Aurora alert system, allowing guests to opt in to receive a call to their room if the Aurora is visible overnight.

aurora-borealis-northern-lights-churchill-beach-canada

Churchill: Home of bears, belugas and borealis

N

icknamed the ‘polar bear capital of the world’, Churchill, Manitoba, is a bucket list destination that delivered on all its promises. When we decided we were going to Canada, this was the first location that was put on the ‘we must go here’ list and I meticulously worked out when would give us the best chance of seeing polar bears, beluga whales and the Northern Lights. I decided on the last week of August and left the rest of our Canadian adventure to fall into place around it. My forethought paid off and we were treated to incredible experiences with all three! Most tourists descend on the small town to witness the polar bears migrating back out onto the ice in October and November, a time when the number of bears passing through Churchill outnumber the human population, but they sadly miss out on seeing and interacting with the playful and curious beluga whales, so I recommend planning your trip for the summer months.

The whales started coming, bumping up against our kayaks and paddles, diving beneath us, and resurfacing on the other side.

We booked guided excursions with Lazy Bear Expeditions and stayed for five nights at Lazy Bear Lodge. Staffed primarily by young seasonal workers, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Everyone we met was personable, knowledgeable, helpful and made a huge fuss of Theo! My only complaint is that management wouldn’t let us wash Theo’s nappies. This is the first and only time this has been an issue; most places have offered money off laundry as a ‘thank you for using cloth’! The staff were great though and helped us find an alternative solution. We very rarely book packaged trips or organised excursions like this, but to get the most out of your trip to Churchill, it’s somewhat necessary. Polar trips are often this way as the threats of extreme weather, difficult terrain, few conveniences aimed at tourists and deadly predators put people off doing it alone; we found Svalbard to be the same, for example.


Churchill itself is a small town but is well equipped for its 800 residents. We were surprised that the Town Centre Complex houses a cinema, a bowling alley, a swimming pool, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, as well as various sports facilities, health services and a school. On the main stretch, there are only a few places to eat, including Lazy Bear Lodge Restaurant, which serves good food in a cosy environment, and Gypsy’s, a bakery and cafe with a friendly atmosphere. Stop into the post office to get Churchill’s polar bear stamp added to your passport, and I recommend a trip to the Eskimo museum to browse their collection of Inuit carvings, artefacts and artwork, learn about Inuit history and culture, and pick up locally-made gifts and artwork. Outings to the Prince of Wales Fort and Cape Merry also make for interesting historical afternoons, and offer picturesque views over the Churchill River and Hudson Bay.

The Inuksuk is an Inuit navigation tool

Following flooding this spring that caused extensive damage to the Hudson Bay railway line, Churchill was left even more cut off from the rest of the world, many people lost their jobs and the community now faces steep price increases in food, fuel and vital supplies. The disaster prompted artists from around the globe to travel to Churchill for the Sea Walls Festival, a conservation event that raises awareness about the importance of protecting our oceans. You’ll notice 18 vibrant, eye-catching murals painted in and around the town. Through this artwork, the artists highlight the impact of global warming and the fragility of our relationship with our environment. One of my favourite murals was that painted by artist Pat Perry on the side of Miss Piggy, a Commando cargo aircraft that crashed in November 1979 400m/440 yards short of the runway with no fatalities. We climbed up into the aircraft to admire both the eerie remains of the plane and Perry’s artistic vision, which portrays solidarity and the coming together of people when disasters that threaten communities strike, just like the extreme weather that has hit the Churchill community so hard.

On our first day, we were taken out on a zodiac boat with only one other couple, down the Churchill River and out into Hudson Bay. The boat ride itself was fun, bouncing over the waves with the fresh northern air awakening our senses. This trip was unlike any other whale watching cruise I’d done; I was used to running from port to starboard to catch the best glimpse of humpbacks and orcas on larger boats that take you out for a full 4-5 hours. I didn’t imagine that this would be such an intimate experience. White in colour when fully grown, with a dorsal ridge instead of a dorsal fin, and a bulbous head containing the organ used for echolocation, Belugas are among the most distinctive of whales. They are known to be very sociable and usually travel in pods of approximately 10 whales, although they can also congregate in much large groups. First, one pod came, followed by a second, and within minutes we were surrounded by a super-pod of 40+ whales. Curious, playful and within touching distance, the belugas appeared to smile as they rolled in circles next to us, inviting us to interact with them.

You can also book kayaking and snorkelling as additional Beluga watching excursions. Despite our best efforts, Theo wasn’t allowed on the kayaks (due to age-related insurance restrictions) so he stayed on the zodiac support boat with a lovely member of staff while Alex and I had a paddle. He was always within waving distance and continued to point out whales to me from his slightly higher vantage point, so this was a good solution for us all to be able to enjoy the excursion. Initially, the whales were shyer than they had been during our zodiac tour, and we were feeling a little disappointed. We were advised by our guides that the whales are attracted to noise so we could try imitating the clicks and whistles that earned them the nickname ‘sea canaries’. One lady in our group took this information a little too much on board. For the full extent of our time on the water she squealed, shrieked, caw-cawed and sung out of tune. We paddled away from the group, trying to put a bit of distance between us and the incessant racket, and to instead enjoy the tranquillity of being on the water. Lo and behold, the whales started coming, bumping up against our kayaks and paddles, diving beneath us, and resurfacing on the other side. We were greeted by mums and their calves, still a youthful grey, as well as larger males. It seemed that, on this occasion, they were also put off by the piercing shrieks of our tour buddy!

The increasing temperature of our planet is melting the sea ice earlier and thus forcing polar bears onto land for longer periods each season.

We always seek to explore destinations by heading off the beaten track and, despite the necessity of booking some organised tours, Churchill was no exception. We hired a car for the day, packed a picnic and drove off on our own in search of polar bears. There are only a few roads in Churchill and every one of them is a dead end; it is impossible to get lost or stray too far! Information on bear sightings is shared throughout the town so before heading out, I recommend asking for tips on where to go. A female bear and her two cubs had been spotted making their way along the beach, and a lone male had been seen further down the coast. Over the course of the day, we found several bears, all looking sleepy and completely nonchalant about our presence. During the summer, when the ice melts and polar bears make their way to land, they conserve energy and spend their time resting during a period of what has been termed ‘walking hibernation’. The increasing temperature of our planet is melting the sea ice earlier and thus forcing polar bears onto land for longer periods each season. The formation of sea ice is vital to the survival of polar bears as it provides a platform for mating during the Spring and hunting bearded and ringed seals. Over time, polar bears are getting lighter as they spend more time away from their hunting ground, and lighter female bears means fewer cubs. Underweight polar bears struggle to have successful pregnancies; a protective mechanism that ensures only bears fit enough to withstand pregnancy, labour, nursing and 6 months in their maternity den through Winter without food will carry cubs. Those that do manage to see their pregnancy through will birth smaller and more vulnerable cubs. Unlike the huge tundra buggies that provide a viewing platform for groups of tourists, we were able observe the bears’ natural behaviour from close range without disturbing them from their vital rest.

 

Our second solo outing was less successful but makes for a good anecdote:

Off we go in a hired beaten up old 4×4. We head out towards the research centre (which is worth a quick visit for a coffee and to learn about current projects) in the hope of finding cubs. There are a few glaring faults with the car, but we persevere (apparently we just have to “hit the dash” if it fails to start! In hindsight, this should probably have raised a few more red flags!) We take one of the smaller unpaved tracks towards the beach, constantly turning our heads like owls, searching for any sign of white against the greens and browns of the tundra. We veer slightly to avoid a large flooded pothole at a breakneck speed of 20mph, but no big deal, that’s what the 4 wheel drive is for. Uh, the 4 wheel drive doesn’t work and we’re now well and truly stuck in a muddy bog. Alex gets out to push and I slip into the driver’s seat. “1, 2, 3…vroooom!” Nada. A lot of revving, we’ve not budged an inch and now Alex is covered in mud, spat at him by spinning tyres. We swap. Great, now I’m muddy too and Theo is beginning to think that this looks like a great game! We all start searching for sticks to assist in digging out the tyres, now icebergs in a sea of mud. With no trees or large plants, it’s not really surprising that there are no sticks. We resort to using our hands. Now looking like we’ve had some sort of spa treatment gone wrong, we decide that digging our way out is not going to work. Obviously there’s no service on our phones as we’re in the middle of nowhere, so calling for help isn’t possible. The only option, bar huddling together in the back of the car for the night with no food, no warm clothing and very little remaining water, is to walk back to the main road and wait for rescue. Churchill has one rule: do not walk on the rocks. Bears can be hidden from view and appear only when you quite literally stumble across them. The road is surrounded by rocks and we can either climb over these rocks to the main road, or take the long way by following the track. We sensibly choose the latter and cautiously begin our trek back down what we later learn locals refer to as ‘Polar Bear Alley’. Clutching Theo and a can of bear spray with equal vigour, and with darting eyes and escalated heart rates, we quicken our pace. If it weren’t for the constant rendition of nursery rhymes sung at an eardrum-bursting volume both to deter any bears and distract Theo from the cold, we would be obvious prey. We thankfully don’t meet any bears and make it back to the road alive, where we sit and hope that someone will be along shortly. A car rounds the bend so we start waving. They slow, wind down the window and ask with puzzled looks “where on Earth is your vehicle?!” It’s not common for people to wander this far out of town due to the risk of becoming dinner, much less with a toddler and clearly not dressed or equipped for a hike, so this was a fair question. Recounting our tale, we bundle into the car and return to the town with the researcher and his visiting girlfriend. We’re greeted with exclaims of “you walked down Polar Bear Alley?!” and met with laughter when we proudly point out that we had bear spray; “You’re in polar bear country! I don’t go anywhere without my gun!” The car was rescued too and all was well. We had a fun adventure but next time, if the car has faults, we won’t be going out looking for polar bears…or we’ll just travel prepared for a breakdown!

I was fascinated by the ‘polar bear jail’ and would love to see research supporting its safe and successful use for both bears and humans. A former aircraft storage hangar, the inside of which only official ‘prison guards’ and ‘detainees’ can enter, is a designated holding facility for polar bears that venture too close to the town of Churchill. They are captured in large, can-like traps using seal meat as bait and transported to jail, where they remain for 30 days in solitary confinement, total darkness, and without food, before being taken back to the wild and left at a safe distance from the town. My feeling was that this sounded utterly horrendous but, on being grilled thoroughly, our guide reassured me that the procedure is as humane as possible, and that the bears are kept in optimised temperatures and given water. The aim is to ensure the safety of both bears and humans and to prevent bears associating humans with food; obviously if they cross paths, injury to both species increases. As Churchill sits on the migration route, the Autumn season sees hundreds of hungry polar bears passing right through the town, making Halloween a particularly scary time of year for the people who live here. Not feeding the bears is controversial; some argue that, if the bears are on land, it is not their typical hunting season so they do not miss access to food, and that humans have a responsibility to keep interspecies engagement to a minimum by not feeding wild animals, whereas others believe that confining hungry animals without food amounts to starving them. My view is that punishing the bears for following a migration route that has existed long before Churchill became a town, cannot be the best way to keep both species safe. While the model of a ‘polar bear jail’ is supported by research on operant conditioning, psychologists understand that this approach is relatively ineffective in teaching children, so I find it hard to believe that it would be effective in encouraging other mammals to change behavioural patterns that have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. Certainly, I find the use of tranquilisers for this purpose unacceptable. As someone with expertise in human behaviour but little knowledge about animal behaviour, I also had a lot of questions about the impact of being in ‘jail’ on the bears’ circadian rhythms (of course, during the summer the sun shines for long hours, but they are still kept in darkness), mating patterns, and the survival rates of cubs following release. These are unfortunately questions I am still searching for the answers to.

 


Lazy Bear Lodge operates a helpful ‘Aurora Alert’ system, whereby you can request to receive a phone call to your room at any time if the Aurora Borealis is visible in Churchill. We had studied the weather predictions and arranged to take a car down to the beach with another couple on the night that we thought would offer the best chance of seeing the infamous Northern Lights. Alex and I had sat by the window for a couple of nights, allowing Theo to carry on sleeping but feeling teased by glimpses of green against the black of night, and itching to get outside and away from the artificial light of the town. Ultimately we were grateful we waited until the best day to actually drag him out of bed; it was definitely a show worth seeing, and I’m sure he’ll understand when he’s older, although he was a little perplexed at the time! We wrapped him up in warm clothes and he curiously gazed at the bouncing colours filling the sky before tiredness won over and he happily nursed back to sleep. Patterns effortlessly shimmied from one end of the sky to the other, like leaves caught in a breeze, constantly changing form, colour and shape. A shimmering, twirling circle beamed down from above, marking our spot on the planet. We were in the centre of a dancing petticoat, our attention captured by the graceful ballerina performing pique turns above us. The colours float, then dart suddenly into a new formation. Utterly bewitching, the sight of the Northern Lights is a magic like no other.

Utterly bewitching, the sight of the Northern Lights is a magic like no other.

 


 

As a final excursion, we booked a dog mushing trip with Blue Sky Expeditions. Alex and I had previously enjoyed dog sledding in Svalbard, and thought that Theo would love it. During our outings by car, we had seen large groups of dogs tied up and abandoned outside in the middle of nowhere, and were concerned that they would become easy prey for bears. Unlike some of the other companies that sadly own these abandoned dogs, we were pleased to discover that Gerald Azure and his wife, owners of Blue Sky Expeditions, care deeply about their dogs and treat them properly. We were given a lot of information about the dogs and the history of dog mushing (as well as some delicious freshly baked treats!) and had a fun short outing with the dogs. Theo was beside himself with excitement! Feeding whiskey jacks (also known as Grey Jays or Canada Jays) was another highlight of this outing for him, and a great opportunity to see and interact with Canada’s national bird!

A father hiking with children through the forest

7 Tips for hiking with children

Hiking with children is one of those things that people often assume is too hard, not worth the effort, or simply isn’t possible. Alex and I did a lot of hiking before Theo was born, but this hasn’t changed just because we now have a little person, soon to be two little people, in tow.

Thankfully Theo is also an outdoors person and he enjoys being in fresh air and surrounded by nature as much as we do. Sure, some kids just don’t enjoy this kind of activity so a rethink may be required. If your kid(s) fall into this category but you’d love them to share in your passion and enjoyment, I suggest trying these 7 tips for hiking with children before giving up all together. Ensuring that it’s an enjoyable experience for everyone can require a bit of forethought, patience and creativity, so here are our top tips.

1

Know everyone’s limits

If you intend to go hiking with children, the route you plan for will depend on your children’s ages and development. It pays to have an accurate idea of what everyone can manage without getting tired and grumpy.

Theo was introduced to hiking at 4 days old. Of course at this age, he was in a sling for the entirety of our outing and as long as he could still feed on demand, he was happy.

As we got past the newborn stage, we’d get him out of the sling for stints so he could crawl around, explore and eventually toddle about. By 16 months he had scaled England’s highest peak as well as many of the Lake District’s other fells. By the age of about 18 months, he was a very confident walker and was happy to go on hikes of approximately 10 miles (16 km). Of course this still included stints in the sling either to rest his legs or to have a nap.

Over the following year, he managed longer and longer stretches of walking by himself and was happily doing over 6 mile (10 km) hikes up mountains by the age of 2 and a bit without the need for breaks in the sling. The steeper and more technical the terrain, the more fun he had!

We’ve found that the age of 2.5 to 3 has been most challenging so far in terms of planning long hikes, and have needed to drastically cut back our expectations. I suspect it’s partly that he’s out of practise (it’s been winter here so we’ve been hiking less over these past 6 months), partly that his current learning is based on role play rather than exploration of the physical world, and partly that he’s at a stage where he wants to exert his independence and make his opinions heard. That’s fine, we encourage this, and we see it as our responsibility to tailor activities so that they cater for his current learning, preferences and needs rather than drag him on things he has no interest in just because it’s what we want to do. So, our recent hikes have been shorter and slower. I go into a bit more detail below in point 6 about how we’ve adapted our outings to suit his current learning.

2

Bring loads of snacks (and water!)

Most parents don’t leave the house without ample snacks so I’m sure you’d probably think to do this anyway. The difference though is that when on a hike, if you run out of food, you risk having a hungry child on your hands for potentially miles of walking and then perhaps also a drive back home or to the nearest shop. A ‘hangry’ child is a very good way to instantly ruin your peaceful hike through a beautiful setting, so try to avoid this at all costs! 

Bringing water on a hike is hopefully obvious. Stay hydrated by stopping for short water breaks regularly, particularly in hot weather. A bottle of water is also handy to wet cloth wipes on the go, for post-snack sticky hands and faces, nappy changes/unfortunate accidents/stops behind a tree, and to mop up muddy and scraped knees and hands.

3

Bring a sling

This is obviously most relevant for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, but may also apply to some older children, particularly those with disabilities or medical conditions.

Likelihood is you won’t forget a sling for your baby because they’ll need to be carried the whole time, but once they are walking confidently it’s an easy item to overlook. Little legs get tired though and having a sling or carrier of some kind will save your back and arms! If your child still has a daytime nap, a sling is the perfect place for this and having this option will mean you can also plan for longer hikes as you’ll cover a lot of ground while they sleep.

The type of sling or carrier you choose will depend on the age of your child, the length and difficulty of your hike, and what you and your child both find most comfortable to use. A stretchy or woven wrap may be ok for younger babies and for shorter hikes, but a buckle carrier may feel more secure on longer or more technical hikes and for heavier children. I recommend the Ergo 360 Cool Air Mesh, and the Connecta Solar, both of which are lightweight and breathable, and can be worn to front or back carry. If you prefer a heavy duty backpack style carrier, or you’re embarking on a very lengthy hike and envisage carrying your child for longer periods, I recommend the Osprey Poco AG Premium. It’s very breathable, has useful storage space, and has a maximum weight of 22 kg (48.5 lbs), meaning it may also be suitable for older children with disabilities.

4

Plan for double the time you think the hike should take

When you look at the trail map and it gives an estimated time for a particular route, ignore this and double it!

Older children and teenagers will of course be better able to keep up with this predicted pace (perhaps even storm ahead of you!) but younger children have shorter legs, they may be liable to run off back the way you’ve just come, and regular stops to explore their surroundings are to be expected.

The exact deviation from the predicted time will of course depend on your kids’ ages, their personalities, everyone’s fitness and hiking experience, and how often you stop for rests/food/photographs/learning etc, but the point remains: everything with children takes a bit longer (even leaving the house!) and hiking with children is no exception.

If your kids need to be back by a specific time for food or sleep, I recommend planning accordingly and leaving more time than you think you could possibly need!

5

Be flexible - sometimes you have to back out

I’m sure you’re used to this as parents but flexibility is key. Sometimes plans have to change last minute and it can be annoying, but personally, I’d rather back out or take a shorter route than endure the frustration of hiking with children who just don’t want to be there. It’s ok if your child’s just not feeling it today, adult’s have days like that too; hopefully you’ll have another opportunity to try again another day.

6

An opportunity for learning and play

Hiking is not just about getting from A to B. It presents a wonderful opportunity for children to learn a wide range of skills and knowledge while being outside and enjoying the natural world (as well as getting some exercise, fresh air and vitamin D). So, like in everything else we do, we play and we learn while we do it.

Between their first and second birthdays, your toddler is likely to enjoy working on their gross motor skills so you may find that games revolve around walking, running and climbing. At this age, Theo loved finding objects (sticks, pine cones etc) for us to throw further up the path and then he’d run off to find it (yes, just like playing ‘fetch’!). We also liked this game because he kept him heading in the right direction rather than going back on himself all the time! Hide and seek also has this positive effect providing that whomever is hiding does so further up the path!

For the littlest of hikers, a simple blade of grass can be a fascinating. For infants, opportunities to use their senses are in abundance. Explore the texture of grass, bark, different leaves, mud and water (if you come to any); take the time to smell flowers and point out the sounds of birds and branches waving in the wind; name objects and their colours as you come across them.

Climb fallen trees, practise jumping off rocks, kick and jump in fallen Autumn leaves; burn all that toddler energy!

Theo was also curious about flowers and insects at this age, so it was the ideal time to practise being gentle with fragile living organisms, and learn to observe and appreciate them without causing harm. He enjoyed taking photographs of the things that interested him along the way. Although not all of these images were in focus or even included his intended subject, they’re a wonderful documentation of a particular hike through the eyes of a one-year-old. I printed them and together we stuck them in a scrapbook and talked about where they were taken. I write captions about where we were, what we were doing and what he was finding interesting, but as he gets older, I’ll instead encourage him to write about his memories.

After their second birthday, you will likely find that your toddler’s speech really erupts and, although they may have been talking for a while, they may suddenly be able to engage with more complex conversations. As certain topics cropped up on our walks (often as a result of a ‘why?’ question!), we started introducing concepts such as the life cycle of plants and animals, the water cycle, and we talked in more detail about the insects we saw while hiking.

Theo still loves exploring the outside world and working on his gross motor skills, but as we approach his third birthday, he is really engaged in role playing. While he still collects sticks, looks at flowers and marvels at bugs, our more recent hikes have also included time pretending to be a lion hunting in the grass, collecting stones to use as money in exchange for ‘goods’ (also collected along the route) in whatever shop he has created, and rescuing vehicles or people that have got stuck in the mud/water/steep or rocky terrain. He loves ‘fixing things’ at the moment so a stick becomes a screw driver and he finds trees with holes to fix.

As his play and learning interests continue to change and develop, so will our hikes.

7

Pack light but don’t forget the essentials

You don’t want to have to lug around everything except the kitchen sink, particularly if you’re likely to also be carrying a child at some point during your hike, but forgetting sun cream, hats, bug spray or spare supplies for children in nappies or those who are not yet reliably toilet-trained, is a recipe for a potentially unpleasant hiking experience. Children (and adults!) with sunburn, bites or soiled clothes are going to be pretty miserable!

I made the mistake of forgetting a spare set of clothes for Theo once when he was about 2 months old. Halfway up a mountain in the British Lake District, I changed his nappy and had to improvise some trousers using my fleece, one leg in each arm! I was cold, but at least he was warm. Suffice to say, I didn’t forget spare clothes for him again!

Hiking with children really is a pleasure; it’s a joy to see the world through their eyes. It will almost certainly be slower than an all-adult excursion, but don’t let that put you off! With these tips, I hope your family can enjoying hiking together as much as we do.