Traveling with kids: Earth-friendly travel gear

It's not always easy to be environmentally friendly when traveling, whether you're traveling with kids or without. (Just getting on a plane or in your car means you're using fuel and causing some kind of pollution!) However, it is possible to choose travel-gear that helps you be more "green". Here are some suggestions:

1. Reusable water bottles
I love my reusable water bottles. They come along for hikes in the woods, in the car, and starting this year I am also going to bring it along on flights. Some airports have even installed water-filling stations, specifically for people who bring their own bottles, rather than buy bottles of water that then end up in the garbage. Sometimes I know I'll have to make sure that bottle is empty before we go through security, but that's a minor inconvenience.

2. Litterless juice-boxes
I don't get on a plane with my kids without two of these in my hand-luggage. It's a great way for the kids to drink their juice or water on board, without worrying about spills. They're also handy because they make it possible to save a drink for later in your hand-luggage.

3. Reusable snack containers
These are great for bringing along your kids' favorite snacks from home, rather than buying snacks at the airport (where they will definitely cost more). They also help protect snacks from getting crushed and squashed when you're carrying them. There are lots and lots of brands, and not only in plastic: some snack containers come in stainless steel as well.

4. Travel-sized containers for toiletries
Instead of buying travel sized products, it makes a lot more sense to me to put my favorite products from home into reusable, travel-sized containers. Kids' shampoo, conditioner, my shampoo, hair-care products, body lotion, facial cleanser... once I start packing these items, it seems there's no end to how many of those little bottles I need. Just wash them out when they're empty and use them again and again! There are even travel sized, refillable spray bottles you can use for your favorite perfume.

5. A greener charger for your electronic devices
These days, most of us travel with several electronic devices and charging the batteries in all of them is always an issue when you're on the road. (For example, if you're traveling out of the country, you might need an adapter in order to recharge your phone, or other electronics.) For example, the IDAPT I1eco Universal Charger, does look good:
  • it's made from recyclable materials
  • it automatically shuts off when the devices are charged, so it wastes less power
  • it has interchangeable tips so it's compatible with several devices
  • you can plug it into the car, a usb port, or the wall
  • it charges two devices at the same time 
There are also solar chargers that uses sunlight to power up your devices. One product is the sCharger-5. It can be used to run and charge cell-phones, e-readers, iPods, and several other devices.

    6. Safe & effective sun-protection
    Sunscreen is a must, especially if you're heading anywhere near a beach, or anywhere warm and sunny with your kids where their skin will be more exposed. Most sun-screens do contain very long lists of chemicals, and not everyone is comfortable using them, especially on young children. The Shopping Mama has a list of the safest sun-screens for kids, that looks very useful. And it also helps if your kids are wearing some clothing for sun-protection: rash-guard shirts and outfits, like Sun Smarties, are a great help when you've got little ones spending time in the sun.

    For some more tips and information about "green" travel gear, you can also check out:

    On the beach with my kids

    Centennial Beach, Tsawwassen.
    I know I go on and on about how great it is to spend time outdoors with my kids, and how much we love the beach, but I do it for a reason. I do it because there are few things in this world that are as enjoyable as spending a day outside, by the water, with my kids.

    In the shallows.
    A recent outing took us to Centennial Beach in Tsawwassen, one of our favorite places. The weather felt like summer, even though it's May, the tide was waaaaay out, and we walked out on the sandy flats and looked at the ocean critters, the birds, the water, and the gorgeous view.


    My daughter hunted for sand-dollars, we waded in shallow waters, we picked up rocks and shells, we walked barefoot in the wet sand. We saw barnacles growing on dead crabs, cracked clam shells, swaying seaweed, and felt the sand between our toes.

    Beautiful beach-combing treasures.
    It was warm, the sun was shining, Mount Baker looked majestic in the background, my kids were having fun, and they were exploring the world around them with all their senses. Few things can beat that kind of day.

    10 important things to do before you fly with kids

    When it comes to flying with kids, planning ahead can really help make your trip easier. Of course it's impossible to plan and prepare for everything, but a little bit of forethought can definitely save you a lot of trouble.

    Here are 10 things, big and small, to do before traveling with your children that will help make your trip go more smoothly:

    1. Tag your luggage, a lot
    Most airlines provide luggage tags that you can put your name and contact information on at the airport, usually at the check-in counter. However, it's a good idea to also put some more permanent luggage tags on each piece of luggage, and also put a sticker or tag with your information inside each bag as well. 

    2. Request kids' meals ahead of time
    On long-haul flights, some airlines still offer free meal service, and many do have kids' meals options available. These usually feature foods that are a little more "fun" for kids, and also easier to eat. Check with your airline what options they have: some even offer special meals for babies! Read more here: Flying with kids: all about kids' meals.

    3. Ask for a cot
    This is one of those tips I keep mentioning because it's just too good to miss out on. If you're traveling with an infant, do ask your airline if they provide cots (also called bassinets) on board. These are usually free of charge and offered to passengers on a first-come, first-served basis. Your baby gets a bed on the plane, and you get to have your hands free a lot more. My old blog-post Flying with infants: all about cots & bassinets, has more information.

    4. Prepare your kids
    Some suggestions: talk to your kids about the trip and what will happen at the airport (security checks for example); and on the plane (take-off and landing, putting on seat belts, and so on). Read about airplanes and airports. Talk about how they will be expected to behave: no kicking seats, no running around while going through security, etc. In my experience, even young children can really benefit from this kind of preparation.

    5. Get your paperwork in order
    Make sure everyone has a valid passport if you're traveling abroad. If you're a single parent traveling with your kids, you should also have a letter from the other custodial parent, just in case you're asked for this by immigration. Unfortunately, child abductions do happen, and authorities in many countries might want to make sure you are allowed to take your kids out of the country. This post has more information, including a link to a sample consent-letter.

    6. Put together your travel pharmacy
    Bring whatever prescription medications your child uses, and also some other basic supplies like pain reliever, decongestant and anti-nausea medication. To get through security faster, make sure you follow the rules for bringing liquids on board. Basically this means that liquid medications should be in 3 ounces/100 ml containers, and that you can fit them all into a 1 quart/1 litre clear, ziploc-type plastic bag. Some ideas on what to bring can be found here.

    7. Think about what clothes you really need to bring
    When you're packing, it's easy to bring too much, especially when you're packing for kids (at least that's my own experience). Try to only bring stuff you know your kids will wear. Anything they don't usually wear at home (even if it's nice!), can probably stay at home. If you will have easy access to laundry facilities on your trip, you can bring a lot less as well.

    8. Keep copies of important numbers
    I keep a hard-copy of my phone numbers, e-ticket numbers, account numbers, and assorted passwords with me when I travel. (A small address book does the trick.) This is just in case your phone (where most of us keep essential contact information) gets stolen or broken on your trip. Another option is to email important information to yourself so you can access it that way if needed.

    9. Get your cell-phone travel-ready
    If you're traveling out of the country, it is a very good idea to check with your provider what calls and texts will cost you while you're away. Data usage is usually very expensive, and you might just want to disable that altogether while you're away. More tips for how to travel with your cell-phone (without it costing a fortune!) can be found in this post.

    10. Check with your airline about car seats and strollers
    If you're thinking of bringing a stroller or car seat on your flight, it is definitely a good idea to check with your airline ahead of time. Different airlines can have very different policies when it comes to what you get to bring on board, and what you have to check with your luggage. Knowing what goes before you travel can save you a lot of time and trouble. Information about several airlines can be found on the Airline Resources page.

    Farmers' markets to visit with kids in & around Vancouver

    It's finally spring-time in British Columbia, and that means the local fruits, berries and vegetables are starting to be available at grocery stores and markets all around the province. I love taking the kids to buy fresh produce at farmers' markets: there's just something exciting about all that gorgeous food, some of it familiar, some of it new, and most of it nice, ripe, local, and fresh.

    Here are some places you can take your kids to find fresh, local produce in and around Vancouver. Some are seasonal; others are open all year round.

    Granville Island Public Market, photo by Dominic Schaefer.
    Granville Island
    The Public Market on Granville Island is open year round, and it's a lot of fun to visit any time of year. My kids love to go here and browse the market or just hang out, watching the pigeons and boats and listening to the buskers. There's local produce when it's in season and a lot of imported fruits and vegetables too. The Public Market also has a lot of other food to drool over: bread, seafood, meats, cheese, baked goods, candy, pasta, deli goodies, and more.

    Vancouver Farmers Markets
    If you're looking for local produce in urban Vancouver, Vancouver Farmers Markets website is a good place to start. Right now the website shows dates and times for markets in five locations: Trout Lake, Kitsilano, West End, Kerrisdale Village, and Main Street Station at Thornton Park. The market vendors include farmers selling produce, food vendors, and people selling various crafts and providing services like bike repairs and massages. 

    Richmond Country Farms
    Richmond Country Farms is one of the markets my family visits most often. It's located in Richmond, just off HWY 99, near the Massey tunnel to Ladner. They have locally grown produce from their own farm, as well as produce from around the Okanagan and further away. For us, it's a convenient location and when it's in season they have great new potatoes, corn, berries, and fruit.

    Picking strawberries on Westham Island.
    Westham Island, Ladner 
    Westham Island has a lot of little farms, especially berry farms, and it's where my family usually goes for U-Pick strawberries in June, and later on for other berries. Some nice local vendors here include:
    • Bissett Farms - This is where we often go for strawberries, raspberries, tayberries, marionberries, and more. There are usually preserves, honey, and various veggies like potatoes and green beans for sale here too.
    • Emma-Lea Farms - Great place for berries and potatoes.
    • Westham Island Herb Farm - The market here sells a lot of different kinds of vegetables, herbs, plants, fruits and berries. In the fall, it's a great place for pumpkins as well!

    Yellow Barn Country Produce, Abbotsford
    This is a bit of a drive for us, but we usually end up here a couple of times in the summer anyway. Yellow Barn Country Produce is located just off highway 1, and it's easy to spot. They sell nice local veggies and fruit in season, and there's also some baked goods and a small deli on the premises.

    If you're looking for a farmers' market around British Columbia, a great place for information is BC Association of Farmers' Markets. To quote the website:

    There are over 125 farmers' markets throughout British Columbia. In 103 of these markets are members whose vendors make, bake, or grow your food. Markets vary in size and sophistication from large, sheltered, year round markets to a few farmers with trucks parked on a lot once a week during the summer months.
    As for me, I can't wait for some of those tender, sweet, local, nugget potatoes with just butter and salt...

    Photo of Granville Island Public Market thanks to

    5 places off the beaten track I'd love to visit with my kids

    The world is full of adventures and fantastic places to visit, and once I start cruising the internet or just browsing travel guides, I often find so many destinations I'd love to go with my kids. Here are 5 of those destinations that are a little bit off the beaten path:

    1. Vietnam
    I recently listened to a radio program about people going on bicycle-holidays in Vietnam, and it sounded like a lot of fun and definitely not like any generic, packaged vacation. If you Google "Vietnam beaches", you will also see that this country has some spectacular seaside destinations to visit. On top of that, there's a lot of history and culture to explore, including several beautiful pagodas.

    Lonely Planet and Travel And Leisure have some great articles about Vietnam if you want to dream about going there too!

    2. The Galapagos Islands
    These very remote islands off the coast of South America (the islands are part of Ecuador), are famous for the tortoises of course, but also for other wildlife, like seals and birds. Going here would definitely be an adventure off the beaten path for my kids and the whole family. It would make for an amazing trip, with lots of time spent in the outdoors, hiking and watching the local animals.

    Galapagos Travel has some straight-forward tips and information about traveling to the islands with kids.

    3. Namibia
    I definitely want to travel to Africa with my kids one day, and Namibia has some amazing places to visit. Top of the list would be Etosha National Park where you can see lions, zebras, elephants, rhinos and all sorts of other wildlife. Namibia's coastline has some beaches, but eve though this is a tropical location, the water is the Atlantic Ocean so it's apparently not all that warm. However, there are places where you can see seals, whales, dolphins, and flamingos, so it still sounds like a fantastic place to visit.

    Travel for kids and have some good articles about Namibia.

    4. Peru
    Peru, and South America in general, is a part of the world I would love to explore with the kids. Macchu Picchu is on my bucket list, and the Andes seem like such an amazing place to see and visit. From what I've read, visiting Peru with small children might be challenging, but also worth it if you come prepared (and if your kids are ready for it of course).

    Frommer's has some good information about places to go in Peru if you're traveling with kids. Helen from Ciao Bambino has a great blog post at Lonely Planet about traveling to Peru with kids as well.

    5. Haida Gwaii
    This destination is a lot closer to home for me than the other places on my list. Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands), is a group of islands of the coast of British Columbia. These islands are a place with a lot of history and culture, a lot of it connected to the local Haida people. There's also a lot of nature and wildlife to see and experience: both on land and on the ocean.

    I'd love to take the kids here to experience some Haida culture, including the local food, go ocean-fishing, hiking, beachcombin, kayaking, biking and maybe even surfing. The GoHaidaGwaii website has a lot of travel information for the islands.

    Low-tech & no-tech travel games

    When you're going on long flights or long drives with kids you will have a lot of time on your hands. Air travel, for example, involves a lot of waiting: waiting in lineups, waiting to board, waiting for the flight to be over, and so on.

    These days of course there are lots of gadgets to help you pass the time, from iPads and smartphones to hand-held games and music players. But it's always good to have some no-tech and low-tech travel games up your sleeve for when your kids are going a little nuts with boredom. Here are some suggestions:

    Rock paper scissors - This classic never gets old. Well, yes, I guess it does get old, but you can always update it by playing rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock.

    I spy - Another classic game that is easily adaptable for all different ages. You can spy things by color, first letter, whatever you choose.

    20 questions - This was a favorite on car trips in my own family when I grew up. One person thinks of something: a person, a word, a thing, and the other people get 20 yes-or-no questions to try to figure it out.

    Bingo games - These involve some pre-planning, and usually you would bring along some bingo boards specifically made with things you would see on your trip (car trips would differ from plane trips obviously). You can find some pre-made car bingo games at for example.

    Scavenger hunts - Make a list of things that everyone has to try to spot on the trip. Again, the list would differ depending on your mode of transport and where you're traveling. Some suggestions can be found here.

    Keep a travel diary - For kids who like to write or draw, this can be very entertaining. Get them a travel journal or diary before you leave (a nice notepad can do just fine), and then let them draw things they see or write down what happens on the trip.

    Fingerplays - Young children usually LOVE fingerplays. I have a rather limited repertoire myself (Itsy Bitsy Spider and Where is Thumbkin), but you can find lots of ideas at websites like Preschool Rainbow. These can be a great way to entertain or distract a child on a flight or in a long lineup.

    Make hand-puppets - Bring along some paper bags, or use the paper bags usually provided on flights, and decorate them with stickers, crayons, and markers.

    Story-telling game - Have each person take turns making up one sentence of a story. This can get pretty crazy, depending on the people doing the telling...

    Virtual hide and seek - I just saw this game mentioned in USA Today. Very cool idea: you imagine a place in your house (or some other location) where you're hiding. You also agree on how small you are in this imaginary game (a mouse or ant can hide places a person couldn't), and then the other people have to guess where you're hiding!

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