There's no doubt about it — overtourism is a huge problem and it's getting worse. Crowds flocking to major destinations are leaving some serious consequences behind. Even destinations that were once reserved for a brave few, like Mt. Everest, are seeing devastating (and sometimes even deadly) consequences to overcrowding. In an effort to curb the negative effects of overtourism, many popular destinations have imposed new rules for tourist attractions, or shut them down altogether.
Travel numbers only continue to rise, but the consequences of overtourism, like ecological impacts and blows to local economies, are problems that we can all help to mitigate. Here are a few small steps we can all take to make a big dent in overtourism, which will make travel much healthier and happier for everyone.
Take the Road Less Traveled
Robert Frost had a point. By avoiding the all-too-common, popular, and crowded tourist destinations, you'll not only fight overtourism, but you'll also encounter some amazing and authentic destinations that the masses won't. Getting off the beaten path can mean many things. Maybe it's skipping a crowded city altogether and heading to a beautiful yet largely forgotten alternative. Or maybe you keep your plan to visit Paris and Rome, but spend more time exploring deserted alleys than crowding around the major tourist attractions.
Think of it this way. How many native New Yorkers do you know willingly hang out in Times Square? They're much more likely to duck into a semi-hidden eatery in the West Village. Even if you're going to a city that's a popular tourist destination in general, search for quieter, more underground areas to hang out. You'll leave with some amazing stories.
Travel During the Off-Season
While most travelers flock to destinations like Mykonos and Santorini, Greece in the summer, have you considered going in March? And while Paris in the spring is beautiful, why not head there a little earlier, and stroll snow-covered streets in winter? Research the peak seasons for where you'd like to go and visit outside of those periods instead. It will not only be less crowded and more pleasant, but you'll likely save money too.
Skip the group tours and head out on your own. Group tours can be awesome, but by nature they may limit you to pre-selected sites and schedules, leaving you little time to explore off the beaten path. Solo travel means you can do everything you want to at your own pace, frequenting those local businesses that many group tours skip.
There are group tour operators that build their itineraries around supporting local communities and allow for flexible exploration. But if you still aren't sure, why not go it alone and create the low-impact vacation of your dreams.
One of the major complaints of overtourism is the extensive environmental and property damage associated with overzealous travelers. We shouldn't have to tell you this, but make sure you pick up after yourself. Dispose of your trash and recycle properly. Don't drive or get a cab if you can walk, bike, or use public transportation. Travel more sustainably, and help protect the incredible landscapes and landmarks that made you want to visit in the first place.
Book Tours Through Local Operators
Let's talk about the economic impact of overtourism. When a destination is really popular, it attracts big businesses that move in to capitalize on the influx of tourists. These corporate restaurants, hotels, and tour groups set up shop, often to the detriment of local businesses. One way to combat this effect is to do a little extra research and book tours with local guides who actually live in the region. Frequent locally-owned restaurants and hotels. This will not only support local economies, but it will likely give you a more authentic experience and help you discover otherwise unseen treasures in the city of your choice.
Stay Just a Little Bit Longer
If you're only hanging around for an afternoon, chances are you won't get to taste the incredible pastries at the family-owned café or experience the warm hospitality of a local hotel because you're busy trying to see all the sights quickly. If you plan on hitting up a tourist-heavy city, stay a long enough to give something back. You'll be rewarded with memories and won't feel so rushed getting to the next place before you've thoroughly enjoyed everything.
Skip the Selfies
If you're going to check off those big tourist attractions, make sure you're a respectful visitor. Crowds are sometimes unavoidable, but it doesn't mean you can't do your part to make the experience go smoothly. Whether you're queuing up outside the Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, or Statue of Liberty, make sure you keep the lines moving! That means no whipping out the selfie stick in the middle of a crowd, or stopping the line to catch that perfect shot. If you truly want the photo, make the effort to move outside of the crowd and find a secluded spot where you won't disrupt others' experience.
Most residents of popular tourist destinations are friendly and happy to see you. Don't change their minds. Be mindful of your surroundings and try not to stop in inconvenient places (for example, texting on subway steps in New York City or blocking foot traffic on the Champs-Élysées). Say please and thank you in the local language. Be respectful of local traditions and act appropriately in memorials and religious sites.