If your family loves to travel but you worry about the environmental, social and economic effect of doing so, it’s time to take a more sustainable approach to your trips. We’ve identified ten destinations where you can minimize the impact of your family’s travels.

A bright green lake surrounded by hills covered in woodland. There are several chalet-style houses on the lakeside
Take the kids for a swim in the stunning Weissensee alpine lake © Pawel Kazmierczak / Shutterstock

1. Austria

Explore the kid-friendly Austrian capital of Vienna, which offers more organic farmland than any other city and has both "Green Taxis" and plenty of bike-share stations for getting around. The city has a large number of playgrounds, some fantastic museums for children and the splendid Schloss Schönbrunn where kids can dress up.

Beyond Vienna, find a small-scale farmstay for accommodation, then keep the family’s legs moving by cycling, hiking and swimming in Weissensee. Make time for a visit to Werfenweng: a car-free, playground-rich lakeside town with green vehicles for visitors.

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2. Volcán Tenorio Area, Costa Rica

When you think about taking your kids to Costa Rica, you normally focus on viewing its incredible wildlife. But what about giving back to the human residents too? One way to support local communities and understand the Tico culture is by staying on a farm, and there are loads of lovely options around Volcán Tenorio and Río Celeste. Kids can take a hand in looking after animals and learning about traditional farming methods.

Base yourselves in Bijagua, a small town that’s a big leader in rural community tourism due to the cooperative behind the Heliconias Rainforest Lodge.

Two pre-teen boys are laughing as they hold an inflatable beach ball against an orange cone-like structure
Kids take turns at the Bernoulli Blower at San Francisco's Exploratorium © Image courtesy of Exploratorium

3. San Francisco, USA

San Francisco is perfect for a break that will both delight the kids and satisfy your sustainability principles. The city banned plastic bags and bottles years ago, diverts 80% of its waste from landfill and has more than 1000 eco-friendly hotels. Plus, most of the fun things to do with kids can be accessed without using a car and many involve green spaces, having fun on different forms of public transport and learning about sustainability. Head to the Exploratorium: an incredible hands-on science museum in a purpose-built solar-powered building, which is aiming for zero net energy.

4. Wales

For a relatively small area Wales packs a large punch in terms of sustainable activities for kids. Camp in one of many green campsites around Pembrokeshire or travel north to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Powys, where children can have fun learning about sustainable living. Don’t forget to factor in a spin on the world’s only people-powered rollercoaster at the eco-friendly GreenWood Forest Park in Snowdonia. Find an environmentally friendly campsite at The Greener Camping Club.

Six children and one adult sit on decking by the sea. The adult is showing a large blue starfish to the children
Inspecting a starfish in Fiji ©  Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort

5. Fiji

Leave the resorts and cruise ships behind and head off the beaten track to stay in a village homestay in Fiji. Your kids will learn all about Fijian culture and your money will go directly to the community. With older children you can go further and volunteer in both marine conservation and community projects, with the help of a reputable organization. If you do opt for a resort, stay at one such as Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort where guests can get involved in coral planting.

6. South Africa

As a country which has long had a responsible tourism policy, South Africa presents plenty of opportunities to explore its incredible culture and environment in a sustainable manner. It’s also really fun for families, with easy wildlife viewing (and on many reserves you can get involved with helping) and diverse experiences and landscapes to explore. Start your search for a responsible operator in South Africa at Fair Trade Tourism.

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Three canoes each carrying three people sit low in the murky water in river flowing through a dense jungle
Exploring Khao Sok National Park in inflatable canoes © Image courtesy of Anurak Lodge

7. Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

In Khao Sok National Park, you can show your children a different side of Thailand while minimizing your family’s effect on this incredible environment. Use a local guide to introduce you to the fascinating flora and fauna and make your base at one of the locally owned, community-focused lodges. You can even overnight in a rustic raft house on Chiaw Lan Lake, which involves using no electricity for the duration of your stay.Active families will love the eco-friendly rafting, cycling, swimming and hiking at the Anurak Lodge.

8. Ecuador

This small South American nation is leading the way in sustainable travel, with operators focused on preserving both the indigenous way of life and the ecologically significant worlds of the Galápagos Islands and the Amazon rainforest. Your kids can learn all about the importance of evolution and why our lifestyles need to be sustainable, take a socially responsible tourist train (the Tren Ecuador) and use bikes to get down the famous Ruta de las Cascadas.

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9. Tasmania, Australia

Tasmania is a magical place for families. Take treetop walks, mess about in boats, and frolic on the sand to the family-friendly “Discovery Ranger” activities available in the national parks. There’s plenty to keep everyone happy here, and the beauty of it is the distances are small. There’s also a strong ethos of using locally sourced (and delicious!) produce and a long-term sustainable approach to wildlife conservation and wilderness protection.

A close-up of a large brown cow with horns. Several other cows are in the field behind
Classic western experiences are on offer at dude ranches in the USA © Kris Davidson / Lonely Planet

10. Dude Ranches, USA

Visiting a dude ranch (a working cattle ranch where visitors are welcome) is super-fun for families: there’s a different pace to life (think of a day orientated around the farm jobs, out in the fresh air) and everyone can try something new, whether its horse riding, line dancing or fishing. As they are working farms, it’s not hard to find a dude ranch that is focused on self-sufficiency and sustainability, and many work carefully to support the local community.

The Dude Ranch Association has a useful blog post on ranches with sustainable credentials.

You might also like:
How to find an ethical wildlife conservation project  
Sustainable travel doesn’t mean sacrificing luxury  
How to reduce your use of plastic on a trip  

This article was first published Nov 14, 2019 and updated Apr 6, 2022.

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