Image by Jonathan Chng.
Overtourism has risen to prominence in the travel conversation in recent years. But what exactly is overtourism? What are the causes of overtourism and what are overtourism’s effects on the local community, environment, and economy? And importantly for the traveler, what can we do to be more mindful of contributing to overtourism? We take a look at overtourism from all angles in this episode.
Or simply listen to the episode below – no need to download anything, just hit the green play button! =)
In This Episode:
- What is overtourism and how to recognize it happening
- Some examples of places struggling with overtourism
- Negative impacts of overtourism on local communities and the environment
- Our personal experiences in places suffering from overtourism
- Why visiting overtouristed destinations is harmful not just to the destination but to the traveler’s experience
- The many factors that go into contributing to overtourism
- What the responsible traveler can do about it
- Why it’s also important to note that the onus is not entirely on the individual traveler
- Things that destinations are doing to combat overtourism
- and more!
Links + Resources Mentioned:
- Sustainable Travel 101 Episode
- 20 Sustainable Travel Tips for Responsible Travelers
- The Airbnb Effect
- An Icelandic canyon shut down after a Justin Bieber-inspired tourist surge
- Overtourism in Venice
- Overtourism: Too Much of a Good Thing (National Geographic)
- What’s happening in Boracay, the island paradise ruined by tourism?
- Cities suffering from overtourism: How to visit as a responsible tourist
- Hostel EuroAdria (Sam’s awesome hostel in Dubrovnik)
Overtourism: The Transcript!
Sam: Hi everyone and welcome back to the podcast, welcome back, Veren.
Veren: Thanks for welcoming me back as usual.
Sam: What’s going on with you today in general this week?
Veren: How are you doing? Sam, oh I just totally turned the tables.
Sam: Doing good it’s the first day of fall today, which is cool. I like it. I’m ready for fall weather and all the things that come with that. I love fall, what are all those things?
Veren: Being cozy, how’s that any different than winter?
Sam: Well, it’s not but fall is like perfect because. It’s not freezing, you can still go outside and enjoy the weather and like a nice little cute jacket or sweater, but it’s not deathly cold like winter.
Veren: Fair enough.
Sam: I know you love winter. I think we’ve already mentioned that in our weather focused updates. I think we’re ready for fall. I think you’re done with hot and humid summer, would you say?
Yes, I’m absolutely ready for fall. I’m ready to wear something that ‘s not a tank top not a pair of shorts and not a pair of sandals.
Sam: yeah also even for recording the podcast, we have to make it as soundproof as possible and closing all the doors and windows when it’s 85 degrees out and you can’t have a fan blowing on high is kind of difficult.
So with that, let’s get into the episode because actually now that I think about it fall is the perfect segue into our episode of today. We’re gonna be talking about overtourism and one of the things we’re gonna be talking about is how to not contribute to that and one of those is by traveling in the offseasons like fall. Not to give you a little spoiler right there.
Veren: Yeah, we’re gonna go more into that later. But it’s true, keep that in mind. fall and spring are the shoulder seasons, I believe. Those are the times you want to be thinking about traveling if you’re trying to avoid over tourism just a little quick snippet, but we’re gonna get into that more later.
Sam: So let’s dive right into things. today is gonna be another deep dive topical episode. a lot of people mentioned in our listener survey that they really liked those really deep dives on a top. Our Airbnb episode has been very popular, so we want to continue along that vein. Airbnb is very related to overtourism.
Veren: In some ways, it’s maybe a factor as well.
Sam: yeah it could go that way or it could be as a result of over tourism. It’s a much more complex relationship than travel yeah, which I think we kind of talked about in that episode. But to kind of dial it back. What is overtourism?
Veren: When there’s too many damn people in one place, that’s over tourism.
Sam: So to give us a visual maybe give us some examples.
Veren: well I’d like to say that for everyone this is going to look different, how it feels to them. but ultimately to be more precise, it’s about a place’s capacity for how many people can be there living there and when it’s beyond capacity.
So imagine a town that’s normally 1,500 people and then suddenly daily they get 20,000 tourists that would be a very concrete example of or overtourism. They’re going to start to experience certain problems. Infrastructure is going to start to suffer. The services and businesses that they need to live are going to either be swamped with tourists who buy out everything or they’re just not going to be able to fulfill the needs of the residents, for example.
But how might this relate to you? I want to appeal to how this might relate to you as a tourist and I want to appeal to your own self-preservation and what you want out of your travels.
Some people might be like, “oh I like when there’s some people there. I like that liveliness.” But let’s face it, all of us have a point where there’s too many damn people around us. I’m a bit lower on that threshold. If I can stick out my arms and I hit people, there’s too many damn people.
Sam: Yeah. I think you’re like if we had a scale of zero to ten you’re like zero maybe.
Veren: Maybe point 1. But my point is that some people might argue well that comes with the package. You say that now, until you’re in some place that’s just too damn crowded for even your preferences. So that’s the one thing I want to point out.
You’ll know it when it’s just there’s too many damn people. The lines are too long. You barely have room to breathe. That might be what you need to experience in order to experience over tourism. How crowded it is for you is not the ultimate barometer, but I think we all could agree that it would be nice to maybe have less people around us while we’re traveling.
Sam: Yeah, so with that, maybe we should share some times we’ve experienced overtourism. And the negatives of just being in a place that has passed its carrying capacity for tourists. Can you think of an example, Veren? I’m sure you can.
Veren: I can definitely think of things to say about examples if you prompt me.
Sam: I’m thinking of an example, but actually you weren’t there. We hadn’t met yet, but when I went to the Fringe festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. This was the summer of 2014 actually. So almost six yeah six years ago.
So I went to the Fringe Festival which is like an arts festival in Edinburgh in August. It’s a massive festival. It has comedy shows, plays, musicals, it has so many different things. I went with some friends. It was like everything about overtourism was that experience like.
The hostel we stayed in was ridiculously expensive. It was a beautiful hostel in a converted church cathedral. But you paid 40 pounds for a bed with eight people in a tiny room. That was a highly inflated price because of the festival. The streets were super crowded even the restaurants hiked up their prices during that time.
Then the kicker was like me and my friends were taking a train back from Edinburgh to London.
Normally that would be like a four train ride around there it literally took 12 hours. We didn’t even have a seat, we were sitting on the floor next to a broken bathroom for 12 hours. I can just envision you there Veren. You’d be like the most miserable person.
It was a funny experience now and I had written about it on my old travel blog before we started alternative travelers. But it was just the pinnacle of like there’s just too many fucking people. The train itself was oversold.
So that’s an extreme example because it was a specific festival. But people do travel for festivals a lot. The Las Fallas festival in Valencia is a really popular festival in Spain that a lot of people travel to. Locals leave during that time because they don’t want to be around. That kind of brings us back to this the problem of overtourism.
There are many problems, but one of the problems is that it impacts the locals’ way of life. But that’s an example that I could think of my personal experience experiencing overtourism.
Veren: Well just hearing that story reminds me of another thing. If you want to appeal to your own needs as a tourist and let’s say you just don’t care about anybody else, then that means more expensive places to visit. So if there’s a place you really really want to go to, but so does everyone else, then it’s simple economics. Once you have a demand that outstrips supply, they start charging through the roof.
So you’re going to this place around you’re paying to be around tons of people. And services not being able to really accommodate you in the way that they normally would.
I guess it’s just not worth it for me to sign up to travel somewhere and have to experience that. I don’t know why anyone would willingly put themselves through experiences like that, just to go to a festival or some famous places on a movie.
Sam: Yeah well to play Devil’s advocate, I guess maybe people would say that those places are worth visiting because there is something special there. But I would respond and I think you would respond as well that these places a lot of times have become this pinnacle of a place to visit because of maybe a movie or the tourist industry ramping up marketing for a certain place.
Take Iceland as an example. I just feel like I constantly see people just flying to Iceland. It looks so dramatic and epic and it seemed to just pop out of nowhere on this tourist circuit. It’s a victim of its own success. But I just found that out this year and I didn’t realize that it all started with Justin Bieber filming a music video there.
Veren: Yeah, I had no idea. But that’s also because I could care less about what Justin Bieber is up to.
Sam: I could care less too, but I came across it somehow. I know we’ve talked about Barcelona before in the podcast that was hyped Olympic marketing. We talked about Utah with The Mighty Five parks. They did a huge marketing campaign there. So yes, there are things to visit there that are worth visiting but why?
There’s tons of epic landscapes in this world. Why are those ones in particular?
Veren: Yeah, usually you could almost always point to a successful marketing campaign. We all like to believe when we’re traveling to somewhere and we want to see something that we have some really unique personal reasons for doing that. But so do the next several thousand people who are heading there too. Often it’s not an idea that we formulated on our own but because of the imposition and influence of something else.
Sam: Yeah, which I think kind of just comes back to rampant capitalism, which is just like growth for growth’s sake without any thought whatsoever of detrimental or negative effects at all.
Veren: I would say regardless if you’re for capitalism are not for capitalism, the definition of it is growth for growth’s sake. There are consequences to that. So when we set up a system where the game is trying to grow as much as possible and putting that before people’s needs, that’s where we see that tension and those problems that occur. That disparity of addressing people’s needs versus addressing someone’s desire to accumulate wealth. Or groups of people, of course, it’s not just one person running this.
Sam: Yeah, I can think of another example of a place that we went to that was an over touristed destination. We actually went in off season, so we didn’t experience that at its height, but we did experience what goes on in the off season, which is that the city just seems a little shut down. There’s just construction everywhere. Do you remember what place I’m talking about, Veren? Veren: would this be per chance, Florence. Italy?
Sam: yeah, that’s what I’m thinking of. So what do you think about Florence?
Veren: I mostly couldn’t stand it.
Sam: Wow, you don’t mince words at all.
Veren: Well there was a fun part that I did experience but that was mostly because of the duomo, that big cathedral church whatever it is. I experienced that virtually in a video game. I was playing it not too long before that visit. So it was pretty cool to see it in real life versus virtual life. But other than that reason I could have done without a lot of those experiences.
Sam: Yeah that was pretty funny to see you like, “oh my god I climbed on that cathedral in the video game.” what video game was it? Assassin’s Creed?
Veren: yeah one of them.
Sam: So we were house sitting there and honestly, I feel like our first tip off was that the people we were house sitting for didn’t necessarily didn’t really have anything positive to say about the city even though they’d lived there 25 years.
I believe they were a British Italian couple, one of them was British one was Italian. But in other places, we’ve had people be so excited to show us their city and show us around and different stuff and that’s one of the reasons we love house sitting. But that was not the case here.
Veren: No not at all. Like Sam said that’s usually an indicator of how someone feels about living there if they’re excited to show us the place or not. And in a nutshell, what I didn’t like – because I know I said there’s a lot of things I didn’t like – but I didn’t really specify.
It’s very clearly a city whose priority is the tourists and that the quality of life for people living there as residents always feel secondary. You can just see that in the offseason how there’s a ton of construction that definitely would not be going on unless they really had to during the tourist season.
I remember seeing signs for lines that wrap around the duomo and on certain signs it says how long of a wait you have approximately. The signs went up to about three or four hours and that just blows my mind that you would spend four hours of your time waiting online to be smashed cattle driven into some famous beautiful place.
I rather try to see it in the off -season, which is what we did. It was great and it was cool to see this building. But if I had a choice between not seeing it at all and seeing it sandwiched in between people waiting on the line for hours, then I don’t know if I’d be interested.
I feel like I’m experiencing the history and the culture of a place on the most superficial, diluted level. People will argue maybe that I’m just being a curmudgeon or whatever. But at some point when you just look around and see that all the people outside are selling the same things and there’s just tchotchkes to buy everywhere. And all the city does is spend time and money refinishing remodeling and renovating these new buildings to keep the tourism coming and tourists coming in.
It just had a real kind of empty feeling because once you veer off the main roads or even just sometimes just make a left or right off the street, then suddenly it looks derelict in what’s supposed to be a really super beautiful city. I wonder how much people see this. But when you see throngs of people just pushing through, you’re not gonna really see this stuff.
Sam: yeah it’s true. I was just thinking that we always like to go off the beaten path, explore different alternative things, street art, whatever, that kind of stuff. We just didn’t find stuff like that in Florence. I mean some of my arguably didn’t stay along enough which it could be true. We were there for 10 to 14 days. So it wasn’t like we were just there a day. We were house sitting there.
But we just didn’t vibe with it. And that’s okay. Everyone doesn’t have to like every place.
Veren: I have a good friend whose father did a very long euro trip. They spent like a year traveling around Europe. He would send these email updates to people about his experience. He’s very much into history and culture in the arts. He’s an artist and painter and I remember the one place he really really didn’t like was Florence.
Sam: oh wow. I didn’t realize that.
Veren: I had shared that with you telling you about how he was upset about the bread. like we were.
Sam: oh I remember that now.
Veren: It’s really surprising that Tuscan bread is rock hard and flavorless. We thought it was just us, but when people think of the bread from Italy, they’re not thinking of this bread. Sorry any Tuscans that are listening.
Sam: I just also wanted to say that I would love to go back to Tuscany. Not necessarily Florence, but have a more local experience maybe. I obviously know that one city isn’t representative of a whole region and that’s kind of what we want to say in this episode too.
If you think of it from your point of view as the traveler, how indicative of a culture are these overtouristed destinations anymore? How indicative of Italian culture is Venice or Spanish culture of Barcelona? Okay, they’re Catalan. But regardless. A lot of these places have become theme park versions of themselves, catering to what the people making money there think that tourists want.
In tourist restaurants in Spain, you can get paella regardless of if it’s actually authentic paella. But that’s because tourists want that. They think, “I’m in Spain. I must be eating paella.” Forget the fact that it comes from a specific region, Valencia.
There are these ideals of what you need to do and the boxes you need to check off when you’re visiting a particular place.
So we talked about some of the reasons why overtourism is a problem. We talked about the impact on local communities, we got the crowding and prices are gonna go up in everything from a restaurant to apartments. We get way more into this in the Airbnb effect episode, but Airbnb is just one cog in this giant overtourism wheel.
Over tourism does affect the locals’ way of life. Businesses go in that are only catered to tourists. How many souvenir shops, like Veren said, sell the same souvenirs. How many of those do you need? It really dilutes the local life. Then why are you going there?
Why are we going to these places when they are shells of their former selves?
So on that topic of how overtourism impacts the local way of life, we’ll just share some personal examples from our experiences as well as our friends. We lived for several years in Madrid Spain. And Madrid isn’t even seen as a poster child of overtourism. But it’s still happening in certain areas there. Barcelona though is really often touted as one of the top examples of overtourism. Barcelona, Venice, Bali, Iceland, Amsterdam, those are classics.
Although I also did want to add that we are mentioning European cities in particular. I think it’s particularly likely to happen there because these small historic centers can’t expand anymore, so they have a limited tourism capacity, so to speak.
But this does also happen in outdoor areas and wilderness areas, it happens in the isle of skye, Scotland. These gorgeous landscapes, they definitely have an overtourism problem there at certain times of the year. Yellowstone National Park, that has a lot of problems which has impacted the wildlife there. You were there weren’t you, Veren? What was your experience?
Veren: I knew what I needed to do right away, even in my early responsible traveler days, was to backpack as far as possible into the backcountry of Yellowstone. So initially getting there yes it does not feel like remote wilderness whatsoever. There’s so many people. It’s ridiculous how many people there are.
My rule of thumb that I probably started from that day and other experiences around then was if you have to exert physical effort to get yourself somewhere without the aid of a car. For example, backpacking. To get to the campsite you have to backpack a few miles. Then people aren’t gonna want to do it if they can’t drive right up to it. 90% of people get weeded out. So I knew that if I wanted to experience the “pristine wilderness” – because of Yellowstone’s history, it’s hardly anything but pristine. But it is beautiful. And there are projects to restore and revitalize that have been very very good and successful and new animals that were there before are coming back like the wolves etc, etc.
I just knew that I needed to be away from people. I wanted to experience that intensity of that wilderness and mountains far far away. So we did some backcountry packing, my father and I at the time. I had to watch a video on bears and bear safety which was very important. You don’t want to leave your toothpaste in your tent, or else you’ll have a bear come into your tent and we’re talking about grizzlies, the ones that stand ten feet tall. So yeah that was my attempt to get away from that. But I absolutely remember too many people at first.
Sam: Did you have to reserve in advance for like that campsite?
Veren: That’s a good question based on how things went on that trip with my father, I do not think so. We didn’t have any kind of plan in advance. If I had to guess, we looked and saw what was open. Generally speaking, if you’ve got to walk to it, if there’s no way to take a tram or have something cart your ass there, it’s gonna be open. Most people aren’t as interested.
And hardcore backpackers are probably not gonna go to a national park anyways. So yeah there must have been something available because that’s how we got a campsite.
Sam: Mm-hmm. I know you talked in a prior episode about your similar experience in Grand Canyon.
Veren: Yeah. I would go back to the Grand Canyon if there were a lot less people. I would be much more intentional about going there during off seasons. I went there because it was a road trip plan with my friend and he just so badly wanted to go. But it’s okay, it’s beautiful, it’s grand it’s a canyon, so yes, it’s incredible looking. But the amount of time I spent feeling in awe and incredulous was very small compared to the time I spent behind lots and lots and lots of tourists waiting in lines for buses.
Sam: well I’m glad you said that. I have it on record now that you said you’d go to the Grand Canyon again in the off season. So if that opportunity ever rises, I’ll just go back to this episode and play it again for you, because we have it on record now.
Veren: yeah but the off-season has a wide definition, so we’re gonna have to zero in on those numbers and make sure that we’re in the off season of the off season of the off season.
Sam: Okay, yeah sure. But since we are talking about how non-city places for overtourism happens, it’s also important to bring up a negative impact, which is the degradation of the environment and the wildlife disappearance that can happen because of overtourism. So you mentioned, Veren, the wolves coming back to Yellowstone after them not being there for a lot of time. I imagine they dissipated from the area or it didn’t produce as many wolves because of overtourism and people always being around? is that right?
Veren: Overtourism definitely plays a part in probably their range, but in terms of their survival as a species, it had to do with overhunting. But you could argue very similar things going on there. Hunting plays a part and hunting in itself is another form of tourism, let’s face it.
Sam: Yeah exactly. I was just gonna say, I mean we don’t know, but I would imagine people would be like, oh I wanna go hunt wolves in Yellowstone as an activity.
Veren: I mean, there probably was a time where maybe that was legal. I don’t know. These are a lot of facts we gotta get straight. So don’t hold us to that. I do know that there was a time where Yellowstone had a lot of farmland and ranches around. So they wanted the freedom to shoot wolves to protect their livestock.
Sam: I see okay. Gotcha. But yeah, regardless, the impact on wildlife is huge. You see this in in parks like Yellowstone, people just driving past, trying to get too close to the bison. And then being surprised if a buffalo rushes at them. The buffalo is like, get the fuck away from me. tupid human. Don’t you realize that I’m like several times your size. And this is just irresponsible tourism regardless.
Veren: A good example I can use is when I was in a smoky mountains and a particular part of the Appalachian mountain range, depending on where you go to visit. It spans many states.
There was this loop where everyone drove through the loop and it was jammed packed with cars. You’d be waiting at the certain parts for 20-30 minutes because people stopped to take pictures of wildlife. And that kind of interaction with wildlife where they are not getting scared of people anymore is not good for their survival. And then, there’s also going to be an increase of people trying to feed wildlife. No matter what the rangers say.
And that’s because they want to get funding, they don’t want to discourage people from coming because they want to continue to be able to pay to maintain these parks. It’s this kind of unfortunate balance they have to strike between getting people to come in and enjoy themselves, but then also be like, you need to respect this environment.
As these places get more popular, they have to pave more and destroy more of the environment so people can interact with it at the distance that they want and that infrastructure has a limit to how many people can handle.
Sam: Yeah while I was looking up some more things about this episode, I came across some examples of exactly what you’re talking about. People like to go on Safaris in Africa, tracking gorillas. That has a big impact on the environment and you can’t have too many people around. you’re not gonna even see a gorilla if that’s your goal. So one of the things that some local and responsible tourism groups are doing is they just charge waymore. There are only a certain number of permits. So to do this tour or whatever is like five hundred two thousand dollars or something like that.That’s kind of like how it should be.
You need to be aware of the impact that you’re having and be responsible for it. Unfortunately then it becomes kind of like, who gets to experience this, only people with money, I guess.
Veren: I think it’s kind of pretty intuitive to understand how in nature or things that appear like nature, humans have a negative impact on the environment. I think a lot of people know that the physical presence, the consumption, littering, the garbage, people can see that and grasp that.
But at the same time, we think that somehow this is something that cities or very man-made. Places are immune to and I just think about the environment and habitats right in the vicinity of places like Venice that we’re talking about and Iceland.
Sam: Yeah, definitely it makes me think of a friend of mine in Barcelona. She was posting photos and mentioning how clear the water is along the Barcelona beaches and less trash with less tourists. But just literally clearer water and obviously that speaks to a level of pollution decrease which is going to be better for marine wildlife.
In Venice a similar thing has been happening. I know there’s been photos and videos and articles going around about how the return of marine life like dolphins to the area around Venice and stuff like that. A lot of it in these examples that I’m bringing up has to do with the cruise industry, which we’re definitely gonna have a separate episode on.
The cruise industry really does contribute significantly to overtourism in these small coastal cities like Barcelona, Venice, Dubrovnik where there’s literally tens of thousands of people arriving on the shores every day. Again, that’s a whole whole rabbit hole that will definitely go in its own episode. But it’s definitely worth a mention that the cruise industry has a dramatic impact on all these overtourism things that we’re already talking about.
Veren: So to recap all the things we’ve been talking about, why someone should not want to contribute to overtourism? Well, for their own personal reasons in terms of their own personal enjoyment. It’s not that enjoyable to be in a place that’s super crowded. It’s not enjoyable to have to pay too much. There’s a sweet spot for paying for experiences and we all know that when you pay too much sometimes for some experiences, you’re not gonna take away as much.
There’s also the effect that you’re gonna have on other people . So if you’re not just thinking about yourself, if you’re thinking about the natural non-man-made environment, too many people in one space just degrades it. And not in just a way of making it less pretty. But it’s gonna make the world and surrounding area less habitable and less livable for humans, if we want to just be completely selfish about the environment in terms of humans keeping the world’s ecosystems and balance, it has to do with keeping the world at least livable for us because the planet will keep going on we might not go with it.
So there’s that part and then there’s also the locals and the livelihood of other people. Overtourism definitely dramatically changes the cityscapes, townscapes, landscapes of where people are just trying to live.
Sam: Yeah now I want to add a couple more points. We just talked about wildlife and stuff like that, but also there’s an historical aspect of degrading the actual place. More people, more impact, more footsteps on the ground, more people touching things, more pollution, all that kind of stuff degrades the historical city or whatever that you’re even trying to see.
I know that UNESCO World Heritage sites like Venice and Dubrovnik, UNESCO actually have been like, you guys need to get the shit under control otherwise we’re gonna take you off the list. So, I don’t know exactly what that means for the places like if they lose some sort of funding but regardless, it’s a call to action because of this environmental degradation of the places that people are even coming to visit.
And to add also to the points of your personal reasons, why not to contribute to overtourism. You’re not gonna have that “authentic” of an experience. In off-seasons maybe. But in a crowd with tens of thousands of people, I don’t think so.
Veren: Yeah at some point this expression of “live like a local” is gonna be “yeah, you get the experience how overtouristed my city is and that’s what you’re gonna have in common with these people.” You’re just experiencing the former shell of a place.
Sam: Yeah, we keep coming back to Venice, but it’s pretty much the poster child and just to throw some numbers out there. Venice used to have a population of 120,000 it has 55,000. So they’ll sometimes get 44,000 tourists a day, which is huge. That’s almost the entire population of the city flooding Venice. I was reading an article and an expert on this subject had said that. It’s possible that Venice won’t even be a real city anymore by 2035 or something around there. He was positing that if the population goes below 40,000, it’s pretty much just people living there to prop up the tourist industry. There’s no real fabric of the city left at all.
So that’s crazy to me that just the fact that a city could cease to become a city and quite literally be just a shell of its former self.
Veren: Yeah, it’s the difference between a living, vibrant city with its own culture and open-air museum that just has workers that are necessary to maintain and run the experience.
Sam: Yeah, and I actually have to correct myself about what I just said. I was just looking back at what I had written down, that Venice gets upwards of 120,000 tourists a day. I said 44,000 the 44,000 is just the cruise tourists per day.
Veren: So that’s just literally insane to me. My head is just spinning.
Sam: I know. I wanted to just correct myself real quick because I think that’s really important. I mean 120,000 tourists a day in a city of 55,000. I don’t know what else to say besides just don’t be one of those people.
So we’re going to go into ways that you can travel without contributing to overtourism and even go to these destinations and enjoy them, but at some level we need to recognize that our presence is simply harmful.
Sure, you can be a more responsible traveler in Venice than someone who is just popping on and a cruise ship not spending any money, just taking up space has their selfie stick. The pinnacle of a bad tourist. You can be a more responsible traveler than that. But at some point, Venice doesn’t need your tourism dollars. They need you to not be there. So I think that that’s kind of number one.
And real quick. I did want to say before we get into things that you can do. It is important to note that it doesn’t rest entirely on the individual’s shoulders. We already talked about how a lot of these places became so popular in the first place and that’s tourism campaigns marketing agencies, media like movies, music videos with Bieber. So it’s not all the fault of the travelers. People go somewhere because they’ve seen it marketed, so there does need to be some kind of shift in how this is approached. I think it’s always important to note that. There are some destinations that are doing things about it.
There have been some examples, like an island in the Philippines was super overtouristed and the environment, the water was just terrible. anyway, they closed the whole island to tourists. Local life was coming back, plant life was regenerating. So that was great.
And Dubrovnik is playing around with this too. Just limiting the amount of people that can come. You need a permit to hike like the Inca Trail, for example. I know that we talked about camping in the Grand Canyon, but in some National Parks there’s definitely permits for certain parts that you need to reserve far in advance. so all these kinds of things. Having a tourist tax to offset their stay. All those kinds of things are or even straight up just stopping these marketing campaigns all together.
Utah’s national parks, the mighty five, had this big campaign of getting the word out and it’s been a victim of its own success, so they just stopped the marketing campaign altogether. Different things are being done and I think it’s definitely very interesting to see how destinations are taking it upon themselves to try to make tourism more sustainable and beneficial for the people that live there and the people that are visiting.
Veren: I know we do a lot of mind games in which we insist on why we have to do something, how it’s been the dream of your entire life, or how you always dreamt to go there. That’s probably what a lot of these other people going there are thinking. I would challenge that with: where does that idea come from? Why is it so necessary if you want to go see a famous castle? is it because you want to see that castle or you would love to see a castle. There’s a good chance there might be other castles out there that you could see that might be more impressive and more your style, who knows. There’s a good chance there are other castles than that one castle people might be thinking of.
Sam: So give some examples of what we do then, Veren. Because you’re very clearly in the camp of, I don’t ever need to go do these places. I know you’ve mentioned this a lot of times on the podcast. When you go to France, you don’t have to go to Paris.
I understand that a lot of times we have layovers in these big cities. That’s why I even imagined that’s why Madrid gets so much tourism. I think a good chunk of it is just the fact that it connects it that Madrid connects to so many other big destinations. If you’re gonna fly through there and it’s a capital, you’re like, I might as well check it out for a couple of days. Overwhelmingly most people we knew coming through or gave us a heads up and maybe wanted to meet up we’d find out they were in Madrid for a couple of days. Meanwhile, they spent weeks in other places.
Sam: Yeah Madrid having a really massive airport with lots of cheap flights, which is another contributor to overtourism too. If it’s cheaper to fly from London to Madrid then take a train from London to another part of the UK, what are people going to choose?
Veren: So I mean for me, it’s always a question of why do we have to go there? First of all, you can’t really experience a country. Let me just put that out there. There’s regions and places that you can experience.
So we went to France because we had a friend who was living there, who’s from France and we went to see them in their town. I think that’s just going to be a way more meaningful experience than just going to whatever big city and seeing all the usual sites. I just have no interest in that.
Sam: Well, yes so elaborate a bit, where do we go and what was the experience if we’re saying, go to an alternative destination.
Veren: Yeah. If you want to experience a metropolitan city in a country, there’s usually more than one. It’s rare that it’s only just one. So if you want to look at the other big metropolitan areas, and if you don’t have a friend, you can definitely make friends in advance. There’s all kinds of ways to make friends. Let’s say if you go to a smaller place, you’re that much more likely to connect with people. More infrequent interactions might mean a higher quality of interactions, as opposed to if you were in a place like New York City where everyone’s in a hurry and has to be somewhere.
Sam: So, that’s just one example. Go to alternative destinations. And we have our alternative destinations series on the podcast where we highlight alternative places that we think are worth your attention to visit. We talk all about them and one of the reasons why we have that series is because we want to champion these lesser known places or maybe places you have heard of but hadn’t ever considered visiting. One of the reasons is to kind of give people inspiration and places to be excited about visiting that aren’t these overtouristed places.
So we’ve done this a lot. Veren used the example of going to Nantes, France as opposed to Paris. So we did fly into Paris from New York and then we took a train to Nantes and it was great. If you want a French experience, we had it there. There was a castle. We had lots of wine. Whatever French experience we had it and it was great. So we did that.
Through house sitting we do go to a lot of alternative destinations. We house sat in Glasgow as opposed to Edinburgh. Most people don’t choose necessarily to go to Glasgow, they go to Edinburgh, which is even in non-fringe times, it gets a lot more tourists.
So yeah, that’s a great thing to do. Look at why you want to visit a particular place city or not and try to figure out an alternative place to go to and I’m pretty sure you’ll be much happier for that decision.
But what if you really want to go to Xplace. I know we already talked about challenging that mindset, but how could someone visit these popular places but in a more responsible way?
Veren: Fortunately for you, there is a way and that’s called going in the shoulder seasons. Yeah, or just the off season entirely.
Sam: Yeah, so summer usually is the main tourist season. It’s when people take their vacations. People like traveling when it’s nice weather. So go in the fall or spring. you’ll still have great weather, might have to deal with little more cold rain, but still great weather in the shoulder seasons or the off season. We have no problems with traveling during winter.
Veren: Yeah. Buffalo has a reputation for just having these savage winters where you just spend the whole time in an igloo, this winter hellscape that everyone wants to get away from. Of course that’s the kind of stuff that makes stories and that’s how it reaches people. But what about some of these incredible landscapes that are amazing during the winter. There’s a reason to check those out.
Yes, it might mean being cold a little bit. But we went to Bucharest Romania towards the beginning of winter, it was over the holidays, and we had an incredible experience there.
I don’t know if it gets crowded ever. But it just was just such a better experience there and we even went to the more touristy parts of it. In the old town, yeah, you saw much higher uptick in tourists, but it was just a way better experience.
Sometimes you have to experience one thing and then experience that trade off and see oh wow, this is worth it. It’s a little colder. I can just wear more layers, but I get to spend more time standing in front of things and not worrying about someone blocking my view because they got a selfie stick.
Sam: Yeah very true. So we don’t need to belabor that point. Just going in the off seasons. These will be most definitely cheaper as well. From the flights to where you stay, just everything. You’ll have more money to spend on supporting the economy year-round. These places have these huge spikes in the summer but then in the off-season, sometimes they don’t have enough tourism. Tourism can be a big part of an economy and an important part. Go in the off season and contribute to the economy then. Support local, buy local, go to local restaurants, all that kind of stuff. All the responsible travel habits that we’ve discussed in other episodes as well.
Veren: I’m sure we can link all the relevant things.
Sam: So I think that about wraps it up. What closing words do you have, Veren?
Veren: We’ve mentioned this already earlier in the episode and another episode. But I really really really want to impress on people. Ask yourself why you’re traveling. Ask yourself why that particular destination? Because if overtourism has turned that destination into something that it isn’t anymore, why do you want to go there? Just to say that you did? Let’s be honest about where a lot of our ideas about travel come from. It’s the influence of other people.
Now, you might meet someone and connect with them and they tell you, oh man, I went to this incredible place you really got to check it out, we should go there sometime. Then there’s Grand Canyon, then there’s Paris and Eiffel Tower, like why do we know about these places? Why do we insist on going to them? They’re so high in the popular consciousness that it’s hard to exist and not know about these places.
These things become so known that you kind of want to experience them. I would argue how much of that is really your own self that wants to do that. Sometimes the imposition of other people’s minds and thoughts and what we should and shouldn’t be doing can get so strong that before we know it, we’re hijacked and just doing things because we think we should.
If your vacation is about relaxing and getting a break from where you live. There’s so many places you can go. Why go to another busy city if you live in a busy city? I just want to insist that you really try to break down and understand your motivations for travel, why you want to travel, why you want to go to a particular place and if you really need to. And if that itch can get scratched in other ways that are better for this whole world that we have to share and live in. So we reduce unnecessary negative impacts and suffering on others, including ourselves.
Sam: Yeah that’s a great ending. As you’re mentioning all the reasons why people travel, we totally didn’t even mention social media, which is huge. People just want to get those Instagram shots, go to the Instagrammable locations, and there are literally blog posts written on Instagrammable locations, which I think is absolutely ridiculous. This is just encouraging people to go to these places just to get the same pictures as everyone else. Just why?
I’ll stop myself before I go on a rant. But social media is a big contributor to the overtourism of a lot of places. People see an influencer that they follow in Bali for example, and they want to go there. So to Veren’s point, just question: why do you want to go to a certain place?
What are you consuming that is forming those ideas for you? Or do you really want to go somewhere because of some internal reason that you have, maybe you’ve read a book or have a certain connection to a place.
You’ll find more personal satisfaction and deep meaning out of going to places that have more of a connection with you, as opposed to just consuming places that other people have told you that you should be going to.
Also just highlighting the importance of off-season travel. I experienced it myself when I went to Dubrovnik. I didn’t really plan to go there. It was part of a longer trip through the Balkans. I was going to fly back from Dubrovnik to Madrid and I only stayed for a couple nights there because I was worried about there being so many people there.
I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy it and this was at the end of March. I was one of two people in my hostel. It was a great hostel. I specifically stayed outside of the old town because I didn’t want to be in the throngs that I anticipated but I stayed outside the old town there but it’s still a nice easy walk there’s one other person in the hostile.
And I didn’t experience any of the crowding that you typically see in photos of Dubrovnik. I got so many shots of no one in the streets. So it is definitely possible to visit these places in the offseason and have a great experience there.
I just was sitting in a cafe, having coffee, writing in my journal and a local Croatian man starting chatting and telling me about his life. It was the pinnacle of that local experience, and it was in Dubrovnik, which I was pretty shocked about. It was beautiful weather still at the end of March. So yeah, really consider that offseason travel. I know that you might not be able to choose exactly when to take your vacation, but if you have some flexibility, definitely consider that.
So yeah that about wraps it up, so we will say thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.
Veren: Thank you all to all our listeners around the world. See you next time or should I say you’ll hear us next time.