Episode 17: Over-tourism + Instagram
Instagram is a wild thing. Truly, it has the power to bring thousands upon thousands of people from every corner of the world to one specific location. That is a powerful thing. And as we all know from Spider Man, with great power comes great responsibility. There are places such as Vincunca Mountain, just outside Cusco, in Peru which have gone centuries without a single tourist coming to visit. Today, and yesterday and the day before and tomorrow and every day in the foreseeable future, up to one thousand people will go…every single day, because of Instagram.
There are cities which are struggling to keep up with the sheer amount of visitors and are actively trying to discourage tourists from visiting! In a time where cruise ships drop off thousands of people AT A TIME at ports and thousands flock to the same destinations, places like Venice, Barcelona, Reykjavik, and Machu Picchu in Peru are fighting to preserve themselves.
Maya Bay in Thailand had to be closed off indefinitely in 2018 and 2019 as tourists had destroyed the place; leaving piles of trash everywhere, snorkeling until the reef and coral was practically killed off, and all the natural wildlife had retreated.
As travelers, we have come to these beautiful destinations to SEE and appreciate their beauty and we leave them worse off then we find them.
This is not an episode to discourage people to not travel to these destinations, it is simply a guide on how to be more mindful of how, when and where you travel!
How do we travel consciously and make sure we’re not part of the problem?
Let’s look at Iceland as a prime example
Iceland has blown up in the past few years, with WOW Airlines offering stop- overs and cheap direct flights to the capital city of Reykjavik. Combine that with Instagram photos inundating us with beautiful, otherworldly photos, and certain parts of Iceland have become over-run with tourists.
My sister went in the late 90’s, and it was nearly void of tourists! My grandmother was born and raised there on her family farm at the tippy top of Iceland in Kopasker, and my sister went to work the farm for the summer. The family drove her around the island and showed her the sights, because at the time, there were not many tours offered, or ways to get around if you were just visiting. And that was not really THAT long ago!
Less than 15- 20 years ago there were hardly any tourists; compare that with the sheer volume of visitors they experience now and you’ll surely start to get a grasp on the issue.
The past Statistics
In February 2009, the total amount of visitors from ALL countries was: 395,573 people
From the United States, those total visitors were: 37,061 people
AND, from 2008 to 2009, tourism from the US actually decreased by 22%
The most recent stats
In June 2016, the total amount of visitors from ALL countries was: 1,792,200 people.
That’s quadrupled since 2010!
Just from the United States alone, that amount of visitors was: 415,287 people. And in just 17 years, the amount of tourists from the US alone has increased by 378,226 people.
To give you an idea of the extremeness of this, consider that the entire population of Iceland currently is, 334,252 residents (Iceland Tourism Board).
Soooo, in just tourists from the United States alone, we outnumber the ENTIRE native population of Iceland. So that’s pretty insane.
What does this mean for these countries?
Well, it means a couple of things.
It means neighborhoods are increasing the amount of souvenir shops, bars, and trendy shops for tourists to visit and spend money at. Couple that with the masses of tour buses, environmental damage, and trendy AirBnB’s in certain cities that have caused the cost of locals housing to rise and it’s easy to see why locals in these places are pissed.
Some cities, like Barcelona, are actively trying to get the word out that they do not want any more tourists; they have spent advertising money on de-marketing the city!
And while cities certainly use tourism as a source of income and something which creates jobs, tourism on this extreme scale has been detrimental to so many places. When thousands upon thousands of visitors are flocking to a single city at a time, you have to consider that these places were not made to hold that amount of people!
A great way to describe it is if you owned a house with 3 bedrooms. Normally, there are 4 people living there, but during the holidays your entire family decided they wanted to all stay in your 3 bedroom house. And suddenly you have 20 people in a space that normally holds 4!
There’s not enough bathrooms, the electricity and water bills soar through the roof, there’s TONS more garbage, there are 20 different personalities and sets of beliefs co-existing, there’s not enough room in the refrigerator for all the food and groceries, cooking dinner for all those people is a pain in the ass, and there’s not enough cars to get all those people from place to place.
It’s the stress of additional people that the home is simply not equipped for. Extrapolate this example, and you have the stress that thousands of people place on a city that is simply not meant for that amount of visitors.
And imagine that some of those 20 house guests you have are just kinda assholes and don’t pick up after themselves, leave garbage all over the place and have no regard for how they leave your home.
Here’s another example from Thailand
There are certain places plastered ALL over Instagram and made famous from television shows and movies — think Dubrovnik, Croatia and Game of Thrones fans. Maya Bay in Thailand was made popular in the movie, ‘The Beach,’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In the movie, Leo was on the search for the most perfect, pristine and secret beach and finally came across Maya Bay.
Since the movie, Maya Bay has been consistently over-run by tourists. In fact, the situation there has gotten so bad, that the Thai Government actually had to close off Maya Bay to EVERYONE indefinitely late in 2018 and it is still closed as I write this. Why? Because tourists were fucking trashing the place…literally. There were mountains of garbage there, and so many people snorkeling off of this tiny beach that the coral reef was essentially dead and all the native animals retreated from the hell-hole the humans had caused.
10 changes to make a difference
Well, shit. I bet that’s what you’re thinking, right? Well, shit….what do we actually DO about it? What changes can we, as travelers, make to ensure those beautiful places stay…beautiful? Well, it’s your goddamned lucky day; I already thought about it and here are 10 ways you can make a difference!
1. Travel in the off season
Not only will this save you lots of money as airlines and hotels like to charge up the wazoo for everything during peak season, you’ll also help to alleviate some of the over-tourism issue. If you can take vacation time whenev’s, don’t head to Italy in July when everyone and their fucking mother and children are there.
Italy in September is lovely, it’s also great in the Spring time. There are way fewer tourists, it’s not hot as balls, everything will be less expensive, and the locals will probably be nicer to you because they haven’t been inundated with tourists all day!
2. go to alternate destinations
Be thoughtful about where you want to travel. With an entire world to explore, there are SO, SO many amazing cities and regions that don’t experience this kind of mass tourism that could also use the money and the economic benefit of your tourist money. While we have certainly done the bigger and more touristy places, we are trying to make an effort to visit some towns and cities that are not quite so popular. It makes it difficult when tickets and flights to bigger cities are less expensive and you may have to pay a little more to get to these places.
Here’s an example: Instead of visiting the ever-popular and currently over-run destination of Dubrovnik, Croatia(I’m lookin’ at you, Game of Thrones fans!), look into visiting Ljubljana, Slovenia, just next door. There are amazing parks, the landscape and nature is pretty wonderful and the city of Ljubljana is fuckin’ beautiful and full of picturesque canals.
3. don’t geotag the absolute piss out of special places
There are certain, special locations. There are places in my hometown that locals love to keep to themselves and certainly would cut my head off if I went telling people the exact longitudinal coordinates to. I think it’s totally fine to post pictures of these places and enjoy them, but there’s no need to geotag all of them and let masses of people know exactly where to find (and ruin, might I add) these special places. That’s how we got into this mess in the first place, for crying out loud.
I have seen plenty of people on Instagram who have hundreds of thousands of followers posting photos of secluded areas. In their caption, they’ll say something like, “if you’re interested in visiting this place, send me a DM and I’ll be happy to take you there.” This helps control things from getting out of control and makes the amount of people who seriously want to visit, put in a little more effort and, maybe even, have some more appreciation of these places.
4. wait it out
Both Audriana and I have wanted to visit Iceland for a few years, but kind of agreed we would rather wait until it’s not such a super hot destination. If there’s a trendy place you want to visit, you can always hold off and visit later down the line. And go to a less-trendy, but equally awesome place for your next trip.
Here’s another example: Audriana and I have talked about what we want to do for our next big trip in 2019. And we’ve kicked around a few ideas, such as; Morocco (super popular right now), exploring more of Spain (the Andalucia region), and talked about some maybe less trendy places like Bulgaria or Romania and decided to visit there this autumn.
We would rather wait to see Iceland and Morocco in a few years when the trendiness of it maybe dies down a little bit, hopefully!
5. always, be respectful
This one should go without saying, but I’m going to write it anyway because we see lots of people disrespecting the people and places they are visiting. For example, thousands, if not millions, of people are visiting National Parks every year. Most visitors are flocking to these Parks because of their natural beauty…for their mountains, lakes, river, and picturesque forests. And even though people are going because of their pristine beauty, and to get out in nature, they do stupid shit like leave garbage all over the place. They do backcountry camping and don’t pack their stuff out, or they have camp-fires when they’re not supposed to, during wildfire season and then they start fires.
Something which always helps me, is to remember I am a guest. And just like I wouldn’t go to a friends home and trash it and be disrespectful of their space and home, I apply those same principles to being a guest in others’ home country.
Pick up after yourself, take pride in representing where YOU come from, be polite, and take note of local customs and mores. If you come across a place that has historical, or cultural meaning and there are signs requesting you to stay off the grass, not touch certain things, or to keep your voice down, please do so! You’ll help to preserve these special places and you won’t be the one giving everyone from America a bad reputation as the loud, obnoxious, non-trash-picker-uppers!
6. try to stay in local accommodations, when possible
We love staying in AirBnB’s sometimes. It’s SO nice to have a whole place to yourself, and when you don’t feel like staying in a hostel or hotel, it can be a great budget option, or give you the chance to splurge on an amazing place!
However, businesses like AirBnB have been causing trouble in major cities. With people from all over the world coming and going out of one apartment in a given neighborhood, there can be several issues. As a neighbor, you never know who will be coming and going, nor do you have a say in it.
Another issue is that since having these properties has become so profitable, it’s now a side biz for people. This means there are now large property management companies in charge of loads of AirBnB’s, which means instead of your money going to someone renting out their home while they’re away to make some extra money to cover expenses, many places now are ONLY AirBnB’s, where no one lives there full-time and your money has now gone to someone who manages lots of properties. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I guess it’s not really what these home rental business started out intending to do.
What you can do:
If we decide to book an AirBnB, we do our best to ensure the person we’re renting from only rents out the one property. We do this by clicking on the profile of the Renter, and here you can see how many other properties they have! This way our money is actually helping out that one person and not someone who owns 100 properties in Barcelona and is making bank off all of them and has never lived in any of them.
Other cities, like San Diego, are experiencing the prices of homes shooting up, because of the huge business of ‘home-sharing.’ And unfortunately, these new ways of booking accommodations are kinda ruining locals home towns and making it so they can’t afford to live there anymore.
Another option would be to book accommodations elsewhere. If you’re in Spain, take advantage of the Pensions, which are budget-friendly hotels with basic amenities. If you’re not looking for a super luxury experience and 5-Star resort, there are great local hotels, hostels, Bed and Breakfasts which are owned by a family, and plenty of other local accommodations you can book, in every country.
I’m certainly not saying any of this to sound like a dick, or seem pretentious, but these are all good options to try to help out on the ‘home-sharing’ issue that many cities are experiencing.
7. be aware
Do things like read this blog post ha! Be aware of the places you’re going and take note if they are experiencing any of these issues with over-tourism. You can do research on the cities you’ll be visiting and a simple Google search will get you some more information!
For example, if you’re going to Thailand and know that Maya Bay is getting destroyed because of over-tourism and you have no other reason to go there except because you saw some amazing photos on Instagram…do some research and find another beach to go to! We just did this and found some insanely beautiful beaches that we pretty much had to ourselves — don’t just go to a place that’s struggling with over-tourism because you see it all over Instagram! That’s part of the problem, ya know?!
8. travel with responsible + ethical companies
Pfffff I KNOW how much research goes into planning a trip. Usually if you’re looking for a tour company, you’re looking for the tour that is exactly what you want, the price you’re looking for, and you’ll be reading a ton of reviews to make sure it’s what ya want. On top of all of that, something to take note of, is that not all companies are really helping you travel responsibly or ethically.
Well…what in tarnation does that mean?
Okay, here’s an example. You’re going to Peru and you want to do some hiking, so you’re looking for an excellent tour company to take you through Peru. You want the company to take care of everything; transportation, accommodations, meals, and your 5 Day Trek to Machu Picchu. Cool. And just like with everything, there are good and bad tour companies.
In this example, you could choose the tour company G Adventures. They use local accommodations, transportation, and work with small, locally owned businesses for each portion of the trip. In addition, they were one of the first big travel companies to bring awareness to animal tourism — that is, any place which uses animals as tourism for profit. They no longer take guests on experiences like elephant riding, or petting and snuggling tigers and instead brings focus on places which are trying to preserve and genuinely care for animal that need it.
You can listen to another of our episode’s about Ethical + Responsible Travel, including animal tourism HERE.
9. eat outside the main area
We do this anyway, because it’ll always cost you a shit-load more to eat in the main squares of touristy places! Not only will it be more expensive, it probably will be far less delicious, because most of those places are just looking to make money off of the thousands of tourists visiting and in turn, they are not really that authentic food and drink of the country you’re visiting.
AND! You don’t really have to work that hard to get away from these places. Usually, it’s just a few blocks away from the city center that you’ll need to walk.
Consider this: many of the cafe and bakeries near The Louvre in Paris have thousands of reviews on Google and an average star rating of about 3.0 - 3.5. That’s because alllllllllllll these people go to the main areas and eat and drink around there and neglect some of THE BEST bakeries and cafes in the world, because they’re too lazy to walk a few blocks.
And actually, I wrote about my favorite bakeries in Paris. So if you happen to be going, be sure to check these places out rather than those shite ones by The Louvre. You can read it HERE.
Do yourself a favor, and do the city you’re visiting a favor, and eat and drink outside the main area. You’ll get a more authentic and tastier meal for less money if you just walk your butt a little ways down the road!
10. don’t be dumb
If you’re going to places experiencing over-tourism issues, use ya head! Many of these places have signs posted to help preserve the place and keep it awesome for the next people who want to visit. I’ll give you an example, so you don’t think I’m just being an asshole!
Uluru Rock in Australia is considered a sacred site by the Aboriginals (Anangu people) who live there. In fact the Indigenous Anangu people are considered the original owners of Uluru Rock and the surrounding land.
There are signs that encourage people to NOT climb the rock, as it is a sacred place. While the climb up Uluru has just recently been prohibited by law (in Oct. 2019), people were still climbing right up that thing! Hopefully that has changed since this law has been passed!
This is a prime example of people not respecting this historic and meaningful area and doing damage to something that has been around for what is believed to be millions of years. There are also ancient paintings on Uluru which can certainly be destroyed by the 300,000 visitors that flock to Uluru every year.
What if you just really want to go to these places?
To be crystal-clear, we’re not trying to discourage anyone from going to these big tourist destinations; if it’s somewhere you have always wanted to visit and have some sort of intrigue about, by all means GO! But keep in mind this issue of over-tourism, make a conscious effort to respect the city and, if you’ll be exploring in nature, or doing some hiking, for goodness sake, clean up after yourself, or others, and mind the rules which are likely there to keep the place beautiful. We are always shocked by people who visit a place because it’s an exceptionally beautiful piece of nature, and then they have no regard for keeping that place beautiful. It’s the entire reason they came there in the first place!! So, I’ll be the first to say it, if you’re going to go and fuck it up and make it less beautiful, please, just don’t go!
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