Sustainable Family Travel Lessons from a Worldschooling Mama

 We've recently interviewed Emma and Ant of @smallfootprintsbigadventures to learn about their intentional, sustainable global adventures.  Their conscious family lifestyle focuses on sustainable living while worldschooling their two young ones.  Their story is inspiring and we're lucky to share their adventures and philosophies with you.  Grab a cup, settle in and go on an adventure (albeit virtual) with an amazing Global Guardian family!


1- Tell us a little about your family.

We are a family of four from Australia. My partner is Anthony, I’m Emma, our son Dante is 8 and our daughter Allegra is 4. We have always unschooled Dante with a view to travelling as a family once Allegra was out of nappies, and in 2017 we began travelling for extended periods together. Ant and I have always loved to travel: he backpacked around the world in his 20’s, and I went to Bali for weeks on a high school trip which sparked my love of Asia. Together we have travelled through most of Australia, and while the kids were very little we took them on numerous little holidays to different places here too. We all love beaches and warm weather, but are happy exploring pretty much anywhere. 

2 - Why did you choose sustainable travel for your family?

Since having kids I have become even more conscious of our environmental impact, and I have always had a big social conscience. Knowing we wanted to travel a lot as a family, I researched how it can be done with the least amount of negative impact, and was pleased to find many ways in which we could minimise our emissions, give back to local communities, and not contribute to social and environmental issues.

We offset any emissions we do create, and we aim to leave a positive trail behind us as we travel. Some of the best ways we achieve this are by supporting social enterprises who empower disadvantaged communities, supporting locally-owned and/or environmentally-conscious tours, accommodation and eateries, taking reusable gear with us and remaining conscious of the waste we’re creating, supporting animals living in their natural environments, doing impromptu beach clean-ups, and volunteering ethically when we find a place that allows for families and needs our skills (or unskilled labour). Our first volunteering experience was helping a turtle conservation project for a week on Tioman Island, Malaysia, and it was wonderful! 

3 - What are the three biggest benefits your family receives from sustainable travel?

  1. Travelling slowly is a big part of sustainable travel, as it is the opposite of just skimming the surface and only seeing the big attractions. Going slower cuts our emissions and allows for deep immersion in our destinations, so we have time to take the bus to our next destination, meet people, try lesser-known activities, and to just relax and enjoy wherever we are. Then we move on with our own impressions formed for each place, new friends made, and many interesting experiences too!
  1. Seeking to see animals who are not contained or made to perform, and seeking ways to be of help to our destinations, have led to some of our most memorable experiences. Our volunteering experience was a real highlight of our South-East Asia trip, because we helped with meaningful work and we got to meet other passionate travelers from all over the world. We are still friends with many of them and plan to go back again one day to volunteer some more.

Similarly, we chose to see Asian elephants in the wild in Thailand, and found a wonderful organization who is returning elephants to the jungles there. Their program supports whole communities too, so we got to experience a rural homestay as well as a magical viewing of happy elephants living naturally. That 3-day experience also holds a special place in our hearts, and we plan to return to see our hosts again too.  

  1. The learning that is gained from travel is always beneficial, yet I think with our focus on sustainable travel we have created deep opportunities for learning about compassion and respect also. I wrote once that choosing to travel sustainably is choosing to travel with love, as we are focusing on supporting others as we grow ourselves. Being mindful and respectful of all people and cultures is woven into our philosophy, and we can already see Dante and Allegra demonstrating how well these principles are being learnt. Practicing our best qualities as we travel is wonderful for our own happiness, and for much more than our own well-being too.   


4 - Tell us a little about your educational philosophy?  How do your children receive their education?

We simply follow our kid’s interests, and provide resources and experiences for them to draw from. We also prioritise time together so they can always ask us questions, and we can read together or create whatever they’re into at the time. We ask them to do a bit of focused work first thing in the mornings, like online maths, learning Spanish or adding to their travel scrapbooks. Then after an hour or so they can choose activities to do together or independently, and we make time for exercise, errands, friends and household chores.

While we travel we don’t do the focused work so much, as every day provides so much rich learning. Yet they always love reading in downtime, and it is a beautiful part of our everyday life. They also enjoy activity books and apps as we travel, and anytime really. Allegra loves crafts and caring for dolls, while Dante loves building Lego and drawing, and we find ways to incorporate their favourite things into our travels. I have more about how our kids learn is in my post about home education, travel with kids and worldschooling.


5 - What’s the one most underrated country you've been to that we need to know about?

Many of our friends were surprised that we were heading to Cambodia before we left, but we really liked it there. It is poorer than other South-East Asian countries we had visited, but the Khmer people are highly motivated to give visitors a great experience, and their tourism industry is very good. The food scene in Siem Reap is outstanding, and as you would expect from a major tourist destination, there are options for eating, sleeping and touring to suit every taste and budget. Yet the people there are among the poorest in the country, because most of the money from tourism doesn’t benefit them: it goes to big companies instead. So we highly recommend Siem Reap as we had a lovely time there, but we advise supporting social enterprises, local artisans and eateries, and conscious tours, so the income from your travels benefits the people who need it.



We also enjoyed our time in Battambang which is not far from Siem Reap, and some friends of ours just loved the southern beaches in Cambodia too. It was a bit harder as a traveler to see the poverty and get approached for money more often than we were used to, but we understood why it was happening from reading about Cambodia’s history and talking to locals. The time of the Khmer Rouge is still fresh in many people’s lives, and the whole country is still recovering from their atrocities. And today Cambodian people do not receive any form of help from their government, so if they don’t fight for it, they really struggle. It is a great lesson for anyone in tolerance and compassion, and I think it makes it all the more worthwhile to visit Cambodia. It is a beautiful country with ancient wonders, stunning landscapes and a fascinating culture to learn about, and you can do all that while supporting the people who need a boost from tourist dollars.


6 - What do you think families can do from home to spark a sense of adventure and curiosity for our world, even if they can't travel?

 I have a few ideas about this, from the times we have waited to start our travels or get going again! Reading a wide range of books together, including non-fiction ones suitable for kids, is one of our favourite ways. I let my kids choose whatever they like from the library, and I seek out stories and references about topics they’re currently asking about too. (Global Guardian Project resources have been great to assist their learning!) Following their interests has led us to all sorts of places, and it’s amazing how much we all learn together!

We also love to ‘travel in our home town’, by getting out to new areas or taking a picnic to a favourite spot and just enjoying an afternoon together. These activities are refreshing and connective, and to children they can be just as exciting and beneficial as travelling to a very different place!

Finally, just being available to answer questions and to play and create together, sparks excellent conversations and innovations. Kids are naturally curious and have millions of questions as they make sense of the world, and I think nurturing that by treating them seriously and respectfully is probably the best way to keep their interest alive.

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