The idea of combining education and conservation with a family vacation is super appealing to parents, which is why ecotourism is such a fascinating concept for me — and maybe for you. If you’re not familiar with ecotourism, it’s aimed at providing travelers with environmental awareness by offering experiences that also support conservation.

But in my own research, so many ecotourism vacation options involve heavy travel, often internationally, which can definitely be costly for families — especially for my family of five.

That’s why I was so thrilled to learn about Jekyll Island, a small spot off the coast of Georgia, that offers families a little taste of an ecotourism vacation that can still be pretty affordable.

The island, which is located about an hour and a half south of Savannah, Georgia, and about an hour north of Jacksonville, Florida, hosts a number of ecotourism-related activities and experiences, which my family and I had opportunity to try firsthand when they invited us as their guests.

Sea turtle camp for kids? Yes, please!

Ecotourism vacation for families: Jekyll Island, GA | photo by Ben Fileccia

Now, while most ecotourism vacation are deeply rooted in green living, lessening your carbon footprint, and often some hefty volunteerism, that definitely appeals to a narrower group of families; so I do appreciate to have found destinations that are bringing some ecotourist elements into a more traditional vacation setting for families.

If you’ve been curious about whether an ecotourism vacation is right for your family, here are 4 reasons you might want to consider one.

1. Bring learning alive 

There’s just nothing like having all of your kids’ school lessons, from art and science, to history and world cultures, brought to life through first-hand experiences.

Whether it’s an family eco-tour (expert or self-guided) where you learn, see, even touch local wildlife or a camp, like the sea turtle camp on Jekyll Island, which allows kids to actually participate in ocean conservation activities —  the opportunity to bring concepts to life that your kids have only seen in books or in videos is extraordinary, and definitely something they’ll remember for many years to come.

Ecotourism vacation for families: Jekyll Island, GA offers a Sea Turtle Camp for kids

As the home to the only turtle rescue center in Georgia, you can imagine the opportunities the sea turtle camp presents, like turtle center patrol rides, extraordinary sunrise beach walks, nature walks and even just spontaneous bike rides and hikes or some down time when the kids were getting tired.

While you can certainly find ecotourism vacations that are more intense, I appreciated that during the week, we had a lot of controls over our schedule — as well as the ability to enjoy a little adults-only time while the kids were at camp.

2. Reinforce kids’ environmental education

If you’ve ever reminded your kids to recycle that plastic bottle, pick up the trash they see on the ground, or turn off the water while they’re brushing their teeth, an ecotourism vacation is a smart way to reinforce all those things.

After just one day at sea turtle camp, my kids were telling me all about why the six-pack plastic rings around soda cans are so bad, and why it’s important to recycle and pick up trash. They were truly kind and respectful to all the creatures, whether it was a cool crab (like the one we found on a hike, above) or just the annoying bugs you can expect pretty much anywhere. And they were insistent that we pick up and hang our towels in the hotel — not just because the Westin Jekyll Island offers incentives for guests who skip their daily housekeeping to preserve water and energy.

These are concepts I’ve taught my kids for years, that are reinforced in school; so I’m truly pleased that through my kids’ own week-long ecotourism vacation experiences, they’ve come home and kept up their dedication to environmental awareness.

3. Support the local community

Taking an ecotourism family vacation offers a great number of benefits to the community you’re visiting, and they go way beyond just bringing in essential revenue. You’ll be creating jobs for local residents which is of huge importance for ecotourism vacation destinations in developing countries.

But also, many of the activities and experiences offered engage visitors in active conservation and preservation. And by bringing in visitors who can return to their own lives and spread the word — either through word-of-mouth or your social media networks — the destinations help bring attention to important environmental issues that can use more caring hearts and minds addressing them.

4. Get inspiration and make an impact

I love the idea of giving my kids more than just some time away from home on vacation, though hey, there’s definitely value in getting away, wherever that is. However, providing kids the chance to discover a new passion, or explore an existing one further, is one of the things I try to do consistently as a parent.

I can’t tell you how excited my ten-year-old son was to interact with real life marine biologists at the Georgia Turtle Center, especially since it’s a career interest he’s expressed himself. And I know that while we all appreciated the escape to the beautiful, quiet beaches on Jekyll Island, it was awesome knowing my kids were going home with way more than just a few souvenirs and a ton of sandy laundry.

Ecotourism vacation for families: It's such a wonderful opportunity for kids to explore their passions

We returned home, each with the feeling that we’d learned something new, and that we’d helped, if only in a small way, to do some good for the earth and many of its tiniest inhabitants. Pretty great.

Thanks so much to Jekyll Island for inviting us to visit, and providing us with hotel accommodations and complimentary activities during our stay. If you’d like more information about Jekyll Island and their ecotourism-based vacation options and experiences, visit their website. Feel free to leave your questions in the comments or email us about ecotourism vacations and I’d be happy to help!