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Celebrating Earth Day

Every year on April 22, the world celebrates Earth Day. The international holiday began in the United States back in 1970, organized by then-US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, in response to environmental disasters, the public’s growing awareness of air and water pollution, and the human impact on the environment. In the first year, more than 20 million Americans participated in rallies across the country. The success of that first year led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. But it didn’t end there. The effort continued to grow and, in 1990, Earth Day went global. Today, 192 countries observe Earth Day.

(Read more about the history of Earth Day.)

The most important function of Earth Day, besides celebrating the planet, is to educate and bring awareness of environmental concerns. Each year, the Earth Day Network designates a specific environmental cause as the centerpiece of that year’s global campaign. This year’s Earth Day theme is Protect Our Species. This cause is as timely as any environmental concern, with species being endangered, largely due to human activity such as deforestation, wildlife trafficking, poaching, and pesticide use, to name a few.

It’s important to not only be aware of how your travel can negatively affect the environment of some beloved locations—such as Venice, Italy—but to also learn about how some countries are making great strides to promote environmental sustainability—like France and Japan. Traveling the world is an incredible experience, allowing travelers and locals to learn about others and promote an appreciation for other cultures and their history. But if you’re a respectful traveler, it’s important to look within at what you, as a traveler, can do to help minimize your environmental impact.

 

Elephants silhouetted against orange sunset

Participate in Earth Day activities around the world

While Earth Day began in the United States, it’s been adopted and embraced in more than 190 countries. No matter where you are, you’ll find an Earth Day celebration near you.

These are only some of the hundreds of events taking place in honor of Earth Day. It’s hard to find large-scale lists of events, so if you don’t see your host or home city on these lists, a little research on your specific destination should yield results. For example, if you’re in Tokyo, you’ll find there’s a two-day event in Yoyogi Park you won’t want to miss.

You don’t have to be part of an organized activity, but if you want to do something, getting outdoors and taking in the beautiful nature around you can help develop a sense of appreciation and remind you of why it’s important to be environmentally-friendly all year long. Check out the closest national or state park, go for a hike, or do some camping. Take time to enjoy the outdoors and discover some of the natural wonders that exist all around you.

 

Watch Our Planet

Not only does this series take you all over the world to areas in which few, if any, travelers will ever be able to see in person–with stunning visuals and beautiful wildlife–it also highlights the ways in which various, seemingly unconnected, ecosystems interact and sustain our earth and how climate change is affecting these worlds. From the North and South Poles to the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon to the depths of the seas and everywhere in between, Our Planet showcases natural wonders—many endangered—as well as up close introductions to species and their habitats, many so remote that you may have never even them seen before.  

This documentary series, a partnership between Netflix and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), doesn’t gloss over the realities of climate change or even the natural order of life, and many, like me, may find some of the footage disturbing. I found that I was not the only one who had a difficult time getting through this scene of walruses falling to their deaths in episode two. Still, it is important to understand how species around the world are affected by climate change (and, by extension, human activities). Given the theme of this year’s Earth Day, Our Planet is the perfect education for those with wanderlust.

Luckily, if you want to give this show a try, but also want to avoid those moments that may be too much, Netflix understands and has provided timestamps for scenes you may want to skip over, allowing you to still watch these fascinating marvels and take in the bigger picture.

Our Planet is currently streaming globally on Netflix.

 

Earth Day Rainforest with waterfall

Look at the sustainability of your everyday travel products

Before you travel, take a look at the products you bring with you. From your luggage to your toiletries and even your tech, you’ll be able to find products that are sourced and produced sustainably, and that can help minimize your overall impact. We’re not saying throw away the products you currently use, but when it’s time to change them out, be mindful of how you’re replacing them and of the more environmentally-friendly products that may be out there.

Postcard Press has done some of the research for you. Get started with these lists of sustainable travel products:

 

Earth Day Local Artisans in Peru

Live and shop sustainably on your travels

When traveling sustainably even little actions and changes to your routines can have a positive impact.

No matter where you’re staying while traveling, be mindful of your habits. Sometimes people have the tendency to “let go” when away from home—they may crank up the air conditioning or heat, take long luxurious showers, or take advantage of daily housekeeping. But think about how much of an environmental impact all of those activities have when every occupant in your hotel does the same. Many hotels around the world have implemented environmental initiatives to reduce this impact; help them out by participating. Hang up your towels for multiple uses, forego having your sheets changed every day (some hotels even provide a small incentive, such as free breakfast), take shorter showers to conserve water, and resist the urge to go overboard with that thermostat. All of these activities have a small impact on your enjoyment but can really make a difference for the environment when everyone does it.

While shopping abroad, consider where you are buying items, whether everyday needs or souvenirs. Research local and ethical shops engaged in fair trade and environmentally-sustainable practices. Many communities have co-ops that sell goods from local artisans with profits going back to the local workers themselves. Shopping locally not only helps the community economically and culturally, but it also helps the environment as local goods are usually produced more sustainably.

Additionally, never purchase goods that are made at the cost of animal life or even of prohibited items, such as ivory, nor visit wildlife parks and other venues that exploit wildlife.

(There are many more things you can do while traveling to reduce your footprint. Check out these 40 Green Travel Tips from Green Global Travel to get you started.)

Some cities and countries around the world are banning plastic, and for good reason. Plastic isn’t biodegradable and many times ends up in landfills or polluting oceans where animals end up eating the plastic and dying. To avoid using plastic while traveling (or even in your everyday life), take sustainable, reusable tote bags with you and use them throughout the day. Many times these bags can hold more than your average plastic bag and because you can sling them over your shoulder, you don’t have to worry about your hands being full as you’re out and about.

(The theme for the 2018 Earth Day celebration was to “End Plastic Pollution.” The official Earth Day website has a list of things you can do to reduce your reliance on plastic here.)

 

Volunteers clean trash from beach

Volunteer for a Local Earth Day Cleanup

Whether you’re home or abroad, the Earth Day Network is working with communities around the globe to host local cleanups that will rid green spaces, waterways, and cities of waste. Getting involved with one of these cleanups can have an impact on the local community and provide opportunities to meet other volunteers who live in that city, which can then give you a greater appreciation of your destination and help you better understand those who call it home. Launching in 2019, the first Great Global Cleanup will be held in cities across the United States and its territories (and a few in Canada!). Then, for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, the Cleanup will expand to cities across the globe.

To find a Cleanup event near you or to learn more about the initiative, check out these lists from the official Cleanup site:

If you want to give back to your host city while traveling, you can do so throughout the year. Research local organizations that rely on volunteers to provide support to the community or the environment. If you want to volunteer on a larger scale, some travelers have begun traveling abroad for the main purpose of volunteering with organizations in local communities. If you want to make this larger impact, make sure you choose ethical groups and activities that don’t exploit locations and are sensitive to the needs of the people who live there.  

 

There are so many ways to celebrate Earth Day, and these are just a few of the ways you can get started. No matter what you do, if you are conscientious of your environmental impact in the ways you travel and your lifestyle, then you are helping to save our species and make sure Earth remains vibrant for generations to come.

 

How do you celebrate Earth Day? Are there ways you try to be environmentally-friendly when you travel? Share them with us below.


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