Pennsylvania Family Summer Vacations: 26 Tips for Sustainable Vacation Ideas

Inspire Clean Energy

May 31, 2023

7 min read

category: Sustainable Living

Sustainable Family Summer Vacations: 26 Eco-Friendly Vacation Ideas for PA Families

For many Pennsylvania families, summertime is a chance to relax and reset. School’s out, the kids are busy, the weather is beautiful, the pool’s open, the grill is hot. The livin’s easy, right? One way to make summer truly special is to take a memorable family summer vacation. Get out there, see the sights, snap some content for the ’gram, and bond as a family. 

But responsible citizens of the world also know travel can have outsized negative environmental impacts. In fact, tourism contributes to eight percent of the world’s carbon emissions, according to one study. That’s a significant amount in a world grappling with a climate crisis where every carbon emission counts. 

The good news is there are ways to go on an exceptional trip and limit the negative impact travel has on the planet. A sustainable summer vacation? A sustainable vacation this summer that provides eco-friendly fun for the whole family? That sounds just lovely. 

How to Take a Sustainable Vacation in Pennsylvania

Travel shorter distances

The single biggest factor in total carbon emissions is the distance of a trip and the mode of transportation taken. Generally, the further away, the higher the carbon emissions. Air travel, specifically, is carbon-intensive, emitting on average .82 pounds of CO2e per passenger per mile, compared with .13 for a train and .10 for a tour bus. (The most efficient mode of transportation? Ferry, with just .07 pounds of CO2e emitted per passenger per mile.)

There are many exciting destinations within a few hours’ drive of major cities in Pennsylvania that make for a great eco-friendly vacation

Driving distance from Philadelphia to… 

  1. The Pocono Mountains: 1 hour and 45 minutes
  2. Atlantic City/Jersey Shore: 1 hour and 5 minutes
  3. Rehoboth Beach: 2 hours and 15 minutes
  4. Allegheny National Forest: 4 hours and 45 minutes
  5. Presque Isle State Park/Lake Erie: 6 hours and 20 minutes

Driving distance from Pittsburgh to… 

  1. The Pocono Mountains: 4 hours and 20 minutes
  2. Atlantic City/Jersey Shore: 5 hours and 50 minutes
  3. Allegheny National Forest: 1 hour and 50 minutes
  4. Rehoboth Beach: 6 hours
  5. Presque Isle State Park/Lake Erie: 2 hours and 15 minutes

Sustainable Family Vacation Ideas & Tips

If further afield is the dream, set your sights on green cities and countries. Slovenia, for example, has a national sustainability and certification program, and  its capital, Ljublijana, has been voted Europe's greenest city. While getting there might expand your family summer vacation carbon footprint, once you’re in country, it can be a low-impact experience. 

Stay in one place

When it comes to traveling sustainably, staying in one location is better than moving from point to point to point. This helps create a more sustainable family vacation. After all, fewer miles means fewer carbon emissions, and it's also easier to maximize your environmental impact when you're in a single place. Bouncing from location to location every night leads to too much cleaning, too many loads of laundry, and other environmentally taxing activities.

Minimize single-use plastics

Ditching single-use plastics is solid advice year-round, as these items make up 85 percent of landfill waste, but it becomes even more crucial during the summer months, when plastic waste increases by 40 percent. If you think about it, the increase in plastic usage during summer months makes sense. Consider the water bottle you grab from the store to quench your thirst, the plastic bag of fruits from the market, and the fact that people tend to be more active outdoors and carry more stuff with them. By packing reusable containers, water bottles, bags, and other items, you can eliminate or dramatically reduce single-use plastic on trips. Throw a few reusable grocery bags in your luggage and bring them when you hit the grocery store—just like you would when shopping at home. 

If you’re looking for some options for sustainable products for Pennsylvania families, try the following: 

  1. United By Blue is a go-to Pennsylvania source for water bottles and other reusables 
  2. GreenLine Paper Company can help with any and all paper product needs
  3. Grant Blvd has sustainable and ethical clothing
  4. Greene Street makes for exceptional thrifting
  5. Circle Compost is a composter’s dream
  6. Fegley’s Brew Works brews exceptional beer with 100 percent sustainable energy

Think twice before turning on your A/C

Air-conditioning keeps you and your family cool, but it consumes a massive amount of power, especially in tourist destinations. Case in point: 48 percent of the energy used by hotels in Barbados goes toward keeping tourists cool. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice a little comfort to be a more responsible traveler. Open windows, use fans, or simply get acclimated to the heat. 

Another key to sustainable travel is choosing accommodations powered by clean energy. Before you book your hotel, Vrbo, Airbnb, or other lodging, inquire where they get their energy from and opt for an establishment that gets it from sustainable sources, such as wind, solar, or hydro.

Go vegetarian or vegan

Family summer vacations are a great time to try new things, and eating habits are something that can easily be altered on vacation. Meat and dairy are responsible for nearly 15 percent of the world's yearly emissions, so why not try to go plant-based on your trip? It will make it memorable, and you might even develop a taste for it when you return home. 

Some simple tips for adding more vegetarian and vegan options to your diet include:

  1. Replacing animal milk with nut or soy milk
  2. Exchanging nutritional yeast for parmesan cheese
  3. Using avocado spread as a substitute for butter
  4. Having a piece of fruit for a snack 

Family Summer Vacations in Pennsylvania: Sustainable Staycations

Don’t sleep on staycations

Of course, the most sustainable summer trip is the one where you stay home and enjoy your local community. Maybe there’s a museum you’ve been meaning to visit or a local swimming hole. Hop on a bike, put on your running shoes, and head out. (Or, yes, take the car.)

If you’re going the staycation route, consider a quick day trip. Some family-friendly summer vacation ideas in Pennsylvania that include day-long activities include:

  1. A tasting of the deliciousness in Hershey
  2. A visit to the Amish in Lancaster
  3. A journey into the caves of Kutztown
  4. A viewing of battle sites at Gettysburg 
  5. A smattering of outdoor experiences at Camelback Mountain
  6. A whitewater rafting trip on the Lehigh River or the Youghiogheny River

Home improvements can be a fun family activity, too. Get your hands dirty by planting a lush vegetable garden that keeps on giving or build a composting machine for an eco-friendly yard. Composting can divert 23 to 83 pounds of waste per household per month, which can save a remarkable $72,000 to $250,000 in yearly curbside collection costs per 10,000 residents.

To maximize your staycation benefits,  transition your home to a clean energy plan. By enrolling in Inspire’s Power Local plan, you’ll be supporting three local wind farms that bring clean energy directly to your home’s grid. Plus, you’ll help create local jobs, bolster Pennsylvania’s economy, and clean up the air for you and your loved ones.

The average Inspire member has the same impact as eliminating 33 car trips from Philly to Pittsburgh, giving you some peace of mind about the car trips you do take. 

Summer trips can be sustainable

Family-focused summer vacations don’t need to be carbon-intensive, planet-warming experiences. With a little forethought, a little effort, and a little consideration, your family can have a memorable experience with minimal carbon impact. And best of all, you can take what you learned planning the trip and implement those sustainable habits into your year-round routine for even greater benefits.

Don't worry about climate change— do something about it.

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