8 great eco-conscious items for traveling with kids

Taking care of the environment is something a lot of people are interested in doing, and often it seems to be even more true for kids. Like many other parents, I try to discuss these issues with my kids and make them aware of how we can try to make better choices for the environment.

Here are some suggestions of travel gear that is both useful and ecologically friendly.

1. A water bottle
This is a big one. Instead of buying bottles of water, you can just refill one of these, and reduce how much money you spend, and how much garbage you throw away (it's not always easy to find recycling bins at airports!). Just remember that if you're traveling by plane, you might not be able to bring a refillable water bottle through security unless it's empty.

2. Something to clean your water
In some countries, the tap water is not always safe to drink, and you might end up buying a lot of bottled water instead. However, there are some nifty gadgets on the market that can help you "clean" the water and make it safe for drinking. One is the SteriPEN. This portable little device uses 4 AA batteries and ultra-violet light to kill bacteria and other harmful things in water. To quote the manufacturer's website: "SteriPEN eliminates 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoa that cause Traveler’s Diarrhea. Disinfect fresh (non-salt) water or bottled water in any country." A product with a very similar purpose is the Purificup, which uses a built-in filter to make your water safe to drink.

3. Reusable snack containers
Packing your own snacks for a trip is a great way to save money, and to bring snacks you know your kids will like. It can also be a good way to bring healthier snacks than the salty and sweet stuff that can be found in convenience stores. I like the Lock N' Lock containers, but there are many other kinds that you can use.

4. Rechargeable batteries for travel
At home, we use rechargeable batteries almost exclusively. However, it's not always easy to do that when you're traveling, since you'll need a recharger that is compatible with the electrical outlets where you're traveling to. One solution: batteries that can be recharged in a USB-port.

5. A solar charger
Many of us travel with a lot of different electronic gadgets these days, from phones and tablets, to handheld games and laptops. One great way to power up those devices, is a solar charger. There are lots of different ones on the market, and they can really help you stay connected and fully charged on your trip.

6. Reusable containers for toiletries
Instead of buying new, tiny bottles of products like soap, shampoo, body lotion, and so on, it makes a lot more sense to just keep some travel-sized containers around and fill them up with your usual products. Lots of companies and stores sell these kinds of containers, but one really ingenious one is Toothpaste2Go, which makes it possible for you to make your own, reusable travel-sized tube of toothpaste!

7. Eco-friendly bags
Taking the ecologically friendly idea a step further, you can also look for bags and suitcases made from recycled or more "earth-friendly" materials. Lots of bags are now manufactured from recycled materials, like this diaper bag, this camera bag, and luggage set.

8. Eco-friendly clothing
Several clothing manufacturers now offer clothes for both kids and adults that uses recycled material and materials that are more "sustainable". For example, there are UV-protective shirts, fleece sweaters, and jackets.

Flying with liquids - advice & potential problems

Once upon a time, airlines would allow passengers to bring liquids on board without any special restrictions. However, those days are gone, and in spite of occasional rumblings that the current regulations will be changed or dropped, that has not happened yet. I don't think it's likely to happen very soon either.

If you've traveled by plane in the last few years, you probably know the rules by now:
  • Liquids also include gels, creams, and products like chapstick.
  • Each liquid in your carry-on has to be in a container no larger than 100 ml (3 ounces).
  • The containers with your liquids all have to be put into a clear, 1 litre (1 quart) plastic ziploc bag. 
  • Each passenger is allowed one such bag in their hand-luggage.
Those are the rules, and here are my tips on how to deal with these rules, especially if you're traveling with kids:

1. There are exceptions to the rules
There are special exceptions for things like baby food and prescription medication. Usually, you are allowed to bring those things with you on board. Just be prepared to prove that you have a prescription for any medication, and that it is actually baby food in the containers.
The problem: While bringing such items is usually allowed (check with your airline before you leave to be safe!), it will slow you down when you go through security.
My advice: If at all possible, avoid bringing liquids over and above the "regular" allowances, simply because it will speed up getting through security. Bring formula powder, and ask for warm water on the plane to make formula. Also: Bring wet-wipes for diaper changes and to clean your hands, rather than hand sanitizing gel or sprays. Wet-wipes do not count as liquids.

2. Tax-free shopping can be problematic
Buying items like perfume, beauty products and liquor can be cheaper in the tax-free shops at airports and on board the airplane. However, if the container you just bought holds more than the allowed 100 ml (3 ounces) that can cause problems during your journey, especially if you're going on more than one flight.
The problem: Airport shops will usually seal your purchase inside a plastic bag, and that will then be allowed on your flight. Products you buy on board are often treated this way too. If you buy products on one airline's flights, you should be able to bring them on other flights with that same airline as long as the bag remains sealed. However, if you're changing airlines you might have to check the product rather than bring it on board with you.
My advice: Ask before purchasing, just to save yourself a potential headache!

3. Water bottles: some can stay, some have to go
Water bottles, whether disposable or refillable, are a great thing to bring on a flight, especially if you have kids, but bringing a full water bottle through security is not allowed of course. The way around this is to buy, or fill, a bottle once you're inside security. Then you should be able to bring it on board. 
The problem: Sometimes though (especially if you're traveling on long-haul flights, such as those between North America and Europe), the airline will have their own security checkpoint at or near the gate before you're allowed to board your flight. If you have a water bottle, you will then either have to throw it away, dump the contents, or drink it all right then and there. Very annoying, but not much you can do about it!
My advice: Bring a refillable water bottle because it's a really good way to save money and be a little more ecologically conscious at the same time. Just be ready to drain it if you have to. I'm still hoping the idea of water-filling stations at airports (like at San Francisco airport) will catch on!

Fun outdoors: sliding on Seymour Mountain, North Vancouver

For Christmas, my kids got some fancy inflatable snow-tubes as presents, and early in January we took them up on Seymour Mountain in North Vancouver to try them out.

Because the designated "sliding hill" on the mountain did not allow inflatable rides, we had to find a small slope "in the wild" to ride on. Once we got going though, the kids did not seem to mind!

I have to say that sliding, tobogganing, tubing... all these snow-activities are just a total joy to do with my children. It's good fun, it's a thrill, and it's a workout. Sure, they usually complain when they work their way up the hill, but going down makes up for all that.

What a great way to spend a day in the snow!

As an added bonus, we got to enjoy some absolutely spectacular views of Vancouver and the lower mainland on that beautiful, clear day.

There are three ski hills in North Vancouver, just across the inlet from downtown Vancouver:
Each one has its own flavour, and they all have great winter activities to offer for families.

10 random tips for living & traveling with kids

Traveling with my kids through the years I've learned so many things I didn't know before. Here are some random tips that I've come to value:

1. Always bring antibacterial wipes on your trip
At home, I swear by regular soap and water, but on trips (especially flights), it's a different story. I used to get sick every time we'd been on a flight, but once I started bringing the anti-bacterial wipes with me, that does not happen anymore. Bring a big tub of them, and then use them to wipe hands and any surfaces you feel are suspect.

2. Always remember to pack your liquids correctly for flights
I've read rumours that the rules for bringing liquids on board airplanes might be relaxed sometime in the near future, but it hasn't happened yet. Each one of your liquids (including gels and creams) have to be in a container that is 100 ml (3 oz) or smaller, placed inside a clear ziploc bag, and one of those bags are allowed per person. Not doing this properly will likely lead to delays in getting through security, and that is never fun.

3. Don't forget the small stuff
When you're traveling with kids, it's sometimes important to forget about the big-deal sightseeing you want to do, and instead look at the small things your kids see that you might miss. On our trip to Maui in 2009, I probably would have never even known that a herd of snails passed by our condo every morning, unless my kids had alerted me to this amazing fact.

4. Kids are sometimes messy eaters: prepare accordingly
On flights and on other trips (in the car for example), it's good to be prepared for messy eaters. For example, I bring:
  • antibacterial wet-wipes
  • reusable juice-boxes for drinks (great for preventing spills on planes and in cars)
  • a change of clothes for each child (definitely on flights, and on longer car trips as well)
  • a roll of paper towels in the car
  • a bib for babies wherever you go
  • reusable snack containers with lids that the kids can easily open and close on their own.

5. Being outside makes for happier kids & parents
Every day, whether we're at home or traveling, and regardless of the weather, I try to make time for some time outside with the kids: a walk, a hike, a visit to the beach... It's the best method to improve my mood and my kids' mood that I have found.

6. Backpacks are great on board & off
I love backpacks. They make great hand-luggage if you're traveling by plane with kids because they free up your hands, and they're great when you're hiking or just going to the park with your kids and need to bring some supplies as well.

7. The backyard can be a terrific destination
Going outside, and finding something to do for your kids doesn't always have to involve travel, or even a car-ride. If you have a backyard, it can be a terrific destination for your kids: trampolines, swings, sand-boxes, a play pool, and outdoor toys can make it fun. Or you can watch the birds, lay on your back and look at the clouds or the planes passing overhead. Or why not put the tent up for a night?

8. On long flights, sleep is best
On long flights, getting some sleep is the best way to pass the time. It will also make your kids less cranky for the rest of the trip. Try to get your kids comfy by taking off their shoes, finding them a pillow and a blanket, and cuddling them for a bit. And if they sleep: take the chance to get some sleep yourself. Even a short power-nap is better than nothing.

9. Beaches are awesome
In the summer, I could live at the beach with my kids. Sand and water to explore and play in, the relaxing sounds of waves... I don't need much to have a wonderful time with my kids there. Sunscreen, bottles of water, snacks, blankets to sit on, and some buckets and shovels are the only supplies we really need.

10. Sometimes, an indoor play-center is the best thing you can do
Indoor play-centers with slides, mazes to climb through, ball-rooms, trampolines, and whatever else is provided can be rather crazy and chaotic places. However, if the weather is terrible (for example, when we visited Sweden a couple of years ago in December, and it was below -20 Celsius for days and days), they can be just what you need to let the kids burn off some energy and have some serious, active fun.
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