Hanami or “flower viewing” is a traditional Japanese practice in which people enjoy the transient beauty of flowers. Typically, the flowers are sukura or cherry blossoms less popular are the ume or plum blossoms.
As this activity and the related festivals or parties are reliant on nature the few weeks when the flowers are in bloom varies from year to year. The Japanese weather bureau has traditional published a blossom forecast which is watched carefully by those who plan hanami.
In Japan today, hanami are typically outdoor parties that take place under sakura during the day and at night. At night they are called yozakura, this term is typically used by the larger festivals. At these yozakura paper lanterns or lights are strung near and weaved into the blossoms so revelers can view them in the darkness.
Often the sakura parties are crowded and noisy, typically filled with younger people. Older crowds sometimes enjoy the more ancient hanami, ume, or plum blossom viewing.
Although these gatherings have been canceled this year in Japan, traveling there to view the sakura and witness the festivals is worth the trip. If Japan is a little too far many places in the United States also celebrate cherry blossom festivals such as Washington D.C.’s National Cherry Blossom Festival and Brooklyn New York’s Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
Wildlife organizations including the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganada and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Sarambwe Nature Reserve report that the mountain gorilla population in their forests has grown to 459. The confirmed global number of mountain gorillas can now be reported as 1063. This good news demonstrates that the conservation efforts to protect these great apes have been working. Their prospects are improving. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has changed their status from critical to just endangered.
It was not all good news unfortunately.
Illegal activity in the Bwindi-Sarambwe forest have not declined as the gorilla population increased. Even though there has been a serious effort put towards official enforcement and community efforts to stop illegal activity. Anti-poaching teams destroyed only 88 traps during the 2018 survey which was the same number as the last survey in 2011. Experts agree this ecosystem is still in danger of being destroyed by human activity.
Overall these organizations see the news as good, they do however caution that mountain gorillas remain threatened by extinction by human activity whether that is poaching, climate change or a lack of conservation effort.
Combine the power of social media with popular culture phenomena and you’ve got a recipe for over-tourism. Whether it is Instagram users seeking the perfect selfie at a tulip farm in California or the actual beach that inspired The Beach, the attention created by this combo is more bust than boom for many destinations.
An Alpine village named Hallstatt is the latest victim. Seated in Austria’s Salzkammergut mountains in Gmunden district. It is a quaint collection of classic Swiss style surrounded by snowy mountains and kissed by crystal water. It is literally something straight out of a fairytale. But dumped right onto your social media feed.
The population of the town is a mere 780 persons, but tourist numbers reportedly reach ten thousand visitors a day sometimes. Beyond Hallstatt generally being a place a selfie-obsessed traveler would want to indulge their vanity it is also rumored to have inspired Arendelle, the name of the setting to Disney’s incredibly popular Frozen movies.
Tourism has so interrupted life in the village that some churches have even hired bouncers to stop visitors from interrupting the village’s religious services.
The Department of Transportation released figure stating that passengers paid 1.2 billion dollars in baggage fees just between July and December. Which is up about 10% from last year during the same period. Between April and June baggage fees reached their highest ever at $1.18 billion.
Some experts believe this is at least partially due to the popular rise of very basic economy fares. These fliers can’t use overhead bins, so if they show up and can’t stash their carry-on under the seat they get stuck with a fee.
American Airlines and United Airlines both have very basic fairs which allow only one small personal item on board. In addition to this, there have just been more fliers generally speaking, hopefully due to a healthy economy and lower fares overall.
Believe it or not the average passenger averages 3.15 pounds of waste before leaving an aircraft. The International Air Transport Association estimated 6.7 million tons of waste was created on aircraft last year.
Another study reported that 23% of trash is food and beverage that could safely be consumed. Everything from food packaging and cultry waste, mini travel sized item packaging, aireline pillows, disposable headphones, everything imaginable.
Furthermore, many countries safety and health regulations insist much of the waste that is recyclable be incinerated.
Qantas, Australian airline, finished its first no-waste flight in May. All the waste on the flight was recyclable, compostable, or reusable. About one thousand plastic items were traded out for greener ones such meal packaging made from sugar cane and cereal starch forks, knives and spoons. All of this was later collected by the crew including recyclable items passengers brought on board themselves.
The result? A decrease of 75 pounds in waste according to a normal flight. KLM, Dutch airline, has announced it wants to follow suit with the use of more biodegradable materials. And Air France by the end 2019 has promised to reduce their usage of plastic by 210 million pieces.
There are still many places where you cannot drink the tap water. Buying bottled water during a whole trip is obviously not very green, consider in investing in a water filter and you can create your own safe water right from the tap.
In many places choosing to eat locally over eating at familiar chains can save you money and save the planet as local, small businesses tend to be greener by nature. Also, you’ll get to experience much more of the culture and more of your money many stay in the local economy. Ask other tourists and hotel staff for recommendations.
Slow down your rate of travel, if you are on multi-destination adventure, many studies have shown that choosing passenger vehicle travel or trains for medium and long distances is far greener than jet setting.
Lastly, hang up that sign asking your room not to be serviced every day. Think of all the resources involved in cleaning the room and the linens, it is much more than the average person would use at home on a regular basis.
Happy, safe and greener travels!