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How to holiday sustainably with young children (to a friend’s house)

Holidaying, children and sustainably are not normally 3 words you would see together in a sentence.

Nevertheless, we went a holidaying, with Eldest (3) and Youngest (1) with a great desire to do so in a sustainable fashion. Here’s how we got on…

Our destination and travel options

We were travelling to see a friend in Northern Ireland, a truly beautiful country set alongside our own (Scotland) but separated by a stretch of water known as the Irish Sea. The choice of travel is either boat or plane. Either way, with young children, a car is a necessity. Money wise, it was much cheaper to take our own car and car seats than it was to go by plane and hire a car.

I’ve not done the stats for environmentally-friendly travel, but boat and our fairly efficient car seems a better option than the plane and a hire car. We packed the car as lightly as we could to reduce cost of fuel since a heavier car uses up more fuel.

Sustainability applies to our bank accounts also, can we sustain the expenditure? We couldn’t afford to make this journey often, but once or twice a year as a family is do-able and sustainable.

Car snacks for the family that work without reverting to snacks in plastic packets


We are very fortunate that both our children (age 1 and 3) really love fruit, so this is an obvious option for car snacks. However, we find we need to choose carefully and think ahead.

Bananas tend to go brown quickly in the car, and banana skins can become smelly quickly in the car if not disposed of immediately.

Apples are great for our kids because they can have one each and it lasts them ages without having to cut anything up.

Oranges are good if they are small, but these need to be peeled by parents and handed back piece by piece to avoid choking (kids can tend to stuff all the bits in at once and spit out when they realise they can’t swallow).

Pears are a tricky one. Greatly beloved by most children, but they can be very juicy and lead to sticky hands. They either need to be a small variety to allow one each, or cut in half in the car (they don’t keep massively well if cut up too far in advance).


  • Take something to wipe hands with – an old towel will do!
  • Take a ‘rubbish bag’, but ideally something that can be emptied into a bin then continue to be re-used as the car rubbish bag!
  • Think about size and portion, can your family share one piece easily or have a whole one each?


Think about taking dried fruit

Dried fruit in glass jars

Fortunately, we had been able to visit Glasgow Real Foods in Giffnock a few days prior to our holiday. I had taken some jars with me, so was able to stock up on dried banana and dried mango.

These work perfectly as car snacks as they last for ages and my children genuinely think dried mango is as good as a sugar-laden sweetie. Something to think about with this might be whether you want to take something to be a wee plate or bowl, but for us, a few pieces given into a hand works perfectly well.

Bread for travelling

We had a two and a half hour car journey before the boat, so I figured that sandwiches were probably a necessity! What with one thing and another, we hadn’t had time to make bread beforehand, so we grabbed this freshly made low-GI loaf from our local Lidl. Of course, we used our awesome Onya bags instead of a disposable paper-and-plastic bag they provide. The staff don’t even bat an eye-lid.

Sandwich boxes

Plastic lunchbox

We haven’t been able to replace all our plastic lunchboxes with beautiful stainless steel yet, so they came with us! Definitely better than  buying 4 pre-made sandwiches in disposable plastic containers, but we still have this as a change to make. See my post on why plastic isn’t great, especially for use with food.

As I say, this is our green journey, on which we are endeavouring to make one sustainable change at a time. We’re getting there, but still a long way to go. We’re always encouraged though; it isn’t difficult to make one change at a time, and it is very rewarding.

Juice bottles

Our trusty Klean Kanteen bottles come everywhere with us, and holiday is no exception! From use in the car, on the boat, to out and about picnics, they are simply one of our best purchases. They really don’t seem to heat up in the sun like their plastic counterparts, and they keep whatever is in the bottle tasting like it should, even water! See my blog post on Klean Kanteen for more information.

My birthday present! 

Stainless steel tea flask

My husband bought me this stainless steel and bamboo tea flask for my birthday from The exotic teapot. This will only be used for tea (I’m a tea purist, and not a coffee fan!) and it’s great to know that it won’t start to be flavoured by plastic. It makes a real difference knowing your tea will taste like proper tea.

This flask fits snugly in our car cup holder in the front, and also into the side pocket of my rucksack. It literally keeps tea hot for hours (I’ve burnt my tongue several times) so is a total win for taking on holiday.

And for the inevitable..

Ecoleaf Toilet Roll

Children make mess. It’s sort of inevitable. Noses, mouths, hands, drinks, food, you name it, we’ve experienced it! I thought ahead enough to realise this, so instead of investing in a load of pocket-packets of tissues (disposable plastic wrappers) I grabbed a roll.

Toilet Roll

You may well query my picture of a toilet roll…but I’m convinced this is a top tip for someone! This is how to take a toilet roll with you, travelling…simply unroll a bit, and tuck it into the middle. Works perfectly every time!

Our particular variety of toilet roll is the most ethical/sustainable that I could find, so we bought in bulk to reduce cost and packaging. Even the ‘plastic’ is biodegradable. Check out the information and reviews here.

Travelling on the boat to Northern Ireland – where we won and where we struggled!

Where we won

On the Wednesday when we travelled across, the boat wasn’t overly busy and we managed to get a table and seats in their family-friendly cafe. Because we were able to get a table, we could purchase food relatively plastic-free for lunch. I say relatively, because sometimes when in a new place, you can get caught out with unexpected items.

For example, I ordered a veggie burger – entirely plastic free, came with chips and salad. Awesome.

My husband ordered fish and chips, which came with a wee plastic pot of tartare sauce – not so great, as this is a single-use item that the customer might not even want but was given anyway! Had we known this, we could have asked for the sauce just to be put on the plate rather than in a plastic pot (which they had clearly filled themselves anyway).

Where we struggled

On the Saturday when we travelled home again, the boat was HEAVING with people, and what felt like a majority of children were running around in princess and pirate outfits, or football team shirts!

Given the busyness, we were unable to find a table at the cafe we had frequented on our previous journey. We were forced to venture further afield to hunt out our lunch.

I hadn’t had time to make a picnic up for us, and hadn’t worried about it because we had managed lunch easily before.

We found another mini-cafe that sold pre-packaged sandwiches and cakes, so unfortunately we had to make do with this. The room was quiet and the food did appear freshly made and healthy at least.

I comforted myself with the thought that we weren’t buying drinks because we had our trusted Klean Kanteen bottles. I am in the habit now of refilling our bottles now every time I go anywhere with the children. Going green can be as simple as making a swap to a non-plastic item and making a habit of using it.

A Green Day Out!

We visited Kilbroney park, Co Down, Northern Ireland. There is a forest ‘exhibit’ on the theme of C.S.Lewis’s Narnia series. Here, you can go through a forest walk and interact with the wardrobe, lamp post, Mr and Mrs Beaver’s house and dryads amongst other things!

Our small people loved it. Going in June meant it was quiet and we were fortunate to have a great day weather-wise for a picnic.

Narnia at Kilbroney park Co Down Northern Ireland

Our view for a Northern Irish picnic…

Lunch with a view

We had a truly beautiful view at the park for our picnic. The weather was perfect and Youngest was asleep in the buggy so we could eat in peace!

We had picked up a packet of Tayto crisps for the picnic (as the photo shows, caught red-handed!). They are really tasty, and made in Northern Ireland. Something of a classic for anyone brought up there in recent years. Though when we looked at the ingredients afterwards…contains MSG 🙁 (MSG has had bad press, but when I looked at it recently, the reports were all incredibly mixed).

I don’t usually buy crisps, due to the un-organic nature, high salt levels, and of course, the plastic packaging. I justified this by using the crisp packet as a rubbish bag. Feasibly, it could be washed and re-used as a bag.

Tayto crisps are ridiculously salty (even compared to normal crisps), and stick out as a sore thumb in our go-green attitude, so the likelihood is we won’t be buying them again, but they were good whilst they lasted!

Other picnic items..

  • Leftover tuna pasta bake (used lunchboxes as containers)
  • Fresh bread from the local garage bakery (sliced and put in lunchbox)
  • Ham, tomatoes and cucumber, all bought locally
  • A packet of plain biscuits that lasted us all 4 days of our holiday (our only deliberate plastic purchase, it’s very hard to do life with young children without some sort of sweet treat for bribery purposes!)
  • Tangerines (from home, but travelled well in our food bag!)

Holiday treats of the plastic-free variety!

Selective focus on the front ice cream in the cone

Instead of lollipops or something else with a plastic element, we tend to opt for an ice-cream cone, something that you eat all of and that doesn’t come with any plastic. We found a truly scrumptious ice-cream cone in the village that we were staying.: handmade honeycomb cone. Mmmmmm…

Instead of full-on takeaway that comes in multiple disposable plastic containers, we opted for pizza. Still fresh and local, but comes just in a cardboard box: ta dah, no extra plastic!

Or try a “fakeaway.” If you’re feeling short on cash (as we were), try buying the constituent parts of a takeaway and cooking at home. This time, we were inspired whilst in Ikea for a Swedish takeout, comprised of potato rosti, vegetable burger (Swedish style), lingonberry sauce (glass jar) and meatballs (our only plastic packaging element). £11 fed 3 adults and 2 children!

What I would do differently next time

Nappies! I wasn’t quite brave enough to take our awesome Totsbots cloth nappies and I totally should have! I opted for the cheaty option of going back to disposables for a few days, coupled with the annoyance of disposable wipes (I find them really ineffective, we use cloth wipes instead).

Staying with a friend meant access to a washing machine and drying rack. Our nappies easily dry within a couple of hours, and don’t smell. The weather was so hot that drying nappies would’ve been no bother at all.

Even in the winter, the flat had underfloor heating so drying wouldn’t have been a problem then either.

So my advice would be, take a risk. Try new things, you never know, it might just work out. I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone else here!

Final thoughts on holidaying sustainably with small people

Holidays are full of challenges, no matter which way you choose to do them, so each person who is on their own green journey will have unique insights into holidaying sustainably.

Do share your top tips to save us all some stress when presented with similar holiday challenges! If not here, check out the Our Green Journey Facebook page and let me know your thoughts.

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