There’s a buzzword that’s circulating more and more these days when it comes to travel, and that word is “overtourism”. And it’s not a good one – not for travellers, not for residents, and not for the environment.
There was a time back when I started to travel 30 years or so ago when a lineup to get into a popular museum was little more than an inconvenience for visitors. But with the sheer number of people moving around the planet these days (1.4 billion last year alone!), congestion is not limited to museums or attractions, it’s everywhere. Sadly, in some “bucket list” destinations in particular, it’s reached a critical point.
Take Rome, for example, where just recently the city announced that people are no longer permitted to sit on the Spanish Steps or at the Trevi Fountain, or they will be fined. Which sounds extreme, but if you have been to either location in the past several years, you know you can barely move for the crowds.
In Barcelona residents are not just complaining, they’re protesting, because so many long-term apartments have been converted to short-term visitor rentals that housing options are in short supply for people who actually live and work in the city.
And in Venice, pollution and damage done by cruise ships in an already fragile city has prompted a ban on these mega-ships from entering the Grand Canal.
So, what’s to be done to combat overtourism, and make travel a sustainable enterprise for all concerned? The answer isn’t simple, but part of the solution may lie in another buzzword in the industry: travelling ‘off the beaten path’.
Travelling off the beaten path doesn’t necessarily mean hiking to remote hill tribes in the Himalayas. What it can mean is looking beyond the ‘top 10 lists’ and visiting destinations that may not boast Eiffel Towers or Colosseums, but offer an authentic experience all the same.
Bringing yourself and your tourism dollars to places that are lesser-known can be a huge benefit to those destinations by helping to support the local economy, infrastructure and attractions. As a traveller, you might just discover something that you weren’t expecting, and by doing so create a memory that is truly unique, versus just checking something off a list that may not even be all that relevant to you.
If you can’t give up on the idea of certain ‘must-see’ places you’ve always dreamed of visiting, there are ways you can minimize the stress on the destination if you do go.
How to Travel Off the Beaten Path:
1. Consider visiting off season (and I mean really off season).
Unless you are specifically going to a destination for its sunshine, all those museums and beautiful architectural landmarks will still be there when the worst of the crowds have returned home.
2. Respect local culture, respect local residents, and respect the environment.
You are the visitor here, not the other way around, and sometimes ‘overtourism’ is as much about bad tourist behaviour as it is about the numbers.
3. Spend more time in the destination, versus just a day trip for a few hours.
I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but overnight visitors contribute significantly more to local businesses, plus you’ll have a chance to see the city when many of the other day-trippers have left – and maybe even wander down a street that is two blocks OVER from that must-see fountain.
One of the best parts about being retired or semi-retired is the flexibility to travel when many others can’t, or to travel HOW many others can’t. You’re no longer treading “the beaten path” to work every day, so why not apply the same thinking to travel? Some of my best memories are ‘accidental’ ones like finding a charming café not listed in any guide, or going to a local festival I learned about by talking to a shopkeeper.
After all, isn’t that why we travel in the first place: to explore what makes a destination unique, be exposed to other cultures, and maybe even meet the people who actually live there?
You don’t get much of that if all you meet are other tourists doing the exact same thing as you.
About Jane Canapini
Jane is Boomerang’s resident travel blogger & expert, not to mention the author of Grownup Travels. Stay tuned to read more of Jane’s adventures here on the Boomerang blog in the coming months. Learn more about Jane’s journey from advertising to the travel blogger:
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