Overtourism: tips for travelers
Crowds in Barcelona. Photo by texx1978.In summer 2017, ‘overtourism’ became the big story in travel. Local people took to the streets to protest against being deluged by tourists – in Venice, Mallorca, Barcelona and San Sebastian in Spain – and even residents on Scotland’s Isle of Skye appealed for help to deal with overcrowding. Residents are concluding that the benefits of tourism simply aren’t worth the hassle. Tourists too, one hundred deep trying to see the Mona Lisa from 30m away or unable to get into St Mark’s Square, complained that they came to see the sights, not other tourists. Fortunately there are things responsible travelers can do to avoid overtourism, which don’t involve simply staying at home.
WHAT CAN I DO?
See familiar places in unfamiliar ways
Finding unfamiliar ways to see familiar places is a neat way to have your traveling cake and eat it. Generally, you’ll need some inside knowledge to pull this off. Local people who run accommodation, restaurants and offer tours and guiding expertise can tip you off about how best to experience a key attraction. They know when the cruise ship excursions start and finish, when the natural lulls in visitor numbers occur during the day, can direct you to the untouristy viewpoints, quiet coves and lesser visited corners of the home city or island that they know and love. From them, you will also get a local perspective and discover so much more than what everybody else is reading in their guidebook. You’ll also help local residents earn a living.
Empty beach in Croatia. Photo by Remus Pereni.Go to unfamiliar places
Tourists often flock to the places that are well known and in the public consciousness. It’s worth remembering, though, that they’re there because the tourism industry has heavily marketed them. It’s better business, and more convenient, for companies to focus their operations on a few ‘big name’ places. The industry doesn’t want to market 50 places; it wants to push three.
Of course, many of these places are remarkable, unique and well worth seeing, but as any traveler will know, sometimes there are more off the beaten track locations that are just as good or better, less crowded, and much more in need of visitors. In addition, you’ll often get a warmer welcome there than in places where overtourism is blighting locals’ lives.
Travel out of peak season
Overtourism is partly caused by all of us wanting to go to the same places at the same time. Of course, anyone with children is tied to school vacations, so it’s hard to avoid peak season, when prices soar in line with demand. If you are flexible, though, try to travel outside of these periods. You’ll not only enjoy fewer crowds and more reasonable prices, but often the light is wonderful and the temperature’s more pleasant. In Southern Europe, winter and autumn light can be magical and more bearable than the summer heat, as global warming pushes up average temperatures.
Sometimes, traveling outside of peak season involves changing your mindset. In the UK, we often make the mistake of thinking the only good weather is bright and sunny, but is that really the case? Scotland on a blustery October day can be sensational, or in April, when the days are lengthening and signs of new life emerging.
Scottish Highlands in October. Photo by GaryE1981.Be a responsible traveler
Think about how you travel, as well as where and when. Avoid large cruise ships which pollute the environment and swamp the cities they dock at. Think local in all you do, when you can. Shop local and stay local, avoiding international hotel chains and large resorts, so that more of your money reaches local hands. Support those people protesting against overtourism by feeding back your ideas, or overtourism complaints, to your vacation company. Do your research, too, and choose a vacation company that feels the way you do about overtourism.
Finally, remember that traveling with a little respect always earns you respect. It makes sense that people treated well, who see the benefits of tourism directly, might offer you new and different ways to experience their culture and heritage to that offered to the hordes.