Some places on our planet
are being loved to death
How to keep overtourism off your travel itinerary
By Kurt Kutay, Wildland Adventures
Kurt Kutay is founder and president of Wildland Adventures, a travel company that for over 30 years has created opportunities for guests to experience destinations from the inside out. Utilizing the Wild Style of travel, Wildland trips build lasting intercultural, interpersonal and environmental bonds. By placing sincerity, compassion and understanding front and center with each step of the journey, the aim is to enhance rather than exploit the places and people encountered.
Not long ago, international travel was only a privilege of the rich and worldly. Today, however, a vastly larger number of middle-class travelers enthusiastically explore the globe with bucket lists that often concentrate attention on the most popular and fragile places on our planet. Unfortunately, the byproduct of this increase in travel means that the original character of too many places is at great risk or soon will be if numbers are not reduced to a more manageable level. In some cases, it may have to be banned altogether.
To this end, I am suggesting six ways to successfully satisfy traveler wanderlust and avoid personal disappointment in an age of overtourism.
1. Rethink Your Bucket List
Discover wonders of the world beyond UNESCO’s World Heritage designated sites or the cruise industry’s favorite ports of call. Instead of visiting the crowded hilltop towns of Tuscany, try the hills of Croatia and Slovenia’s Istrian peninsula. Or, in the same region of the world, rather than being part of the problem of overcrowding in Venice, take the ferry across the north Adriatic to the charming Istrian fishing town of Rovinj, where you are welcomed by locals who take you around in a traditional Batana fishing boat … their own version of the gondola experience!
2. Find a Local Connection
Whether you are visiting cultural sites or noted natural gems, hire a passionate, local guide to help deepen the travel experience while avoiding the ‘group think’ impact of large tour groups. A knowledgeable local guide can often skirt the crowds at popular sites and even introduce less-known sites for a unique perspective.
For example, a thoughtful guide may take you to the Taj Mahal twice, once to get in line before it opens and in the late afternoon before it closes to experience variable moods like the light of a golden sunset. Or I recall on my last visit there, instead of passing through the main gates twice, our local guide took us to the Mehatab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) across the Yamuna River, far from the tourist hordes, where we stood arm-in-arm, moved to tears by the beautiful silhouette.
3. Timing Is Everything
Plan your day at famous sites carefully and be sure to get the latest information, as local conditions and regulations change constantly. The best plan is one familiar the world over: arrive early. In Croatia, plan to tour Dubrovnik before thousands of cruise ship passengers disembark to flood the city elbow to elbow during the summer season; in Cambodia visit Siem Reap before tour buses disgorge; and in Peru arrive at Machu Picchu before the daily trains do. When you finally are where you’ve dreamt of being, follow slow travel principles and linger longer in fewer places.
4. Bargains do not always meet expectations
The reality is that a great many worthwhile experiences do cost more. Whether a part of a private and exclusive event or of a carefully managed ecotour that limits the number of visitors, the extra dollars spent help to protect fragile habitats and enhance visitor experiences.
In Africa, this may look like tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda for which there are thankfully limited numbers of permits. In certain locales, to protect a wildlife experience for years to come, some safaris are very exclusive and conducted in a private nature reserve like Timbavati in Greater Kruger National Park. Or in Tanzania, the remote camps of Katavi and Mahale require bush flights to access some of the wildest places on the planet.
In South America, the fragile cultural patrimony of the Inca Trail in Peru and delicate balance of nature in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are managed by limited permits and fees that control access and provide a source of revenue for critical conservation programs. Advance planning and an expectation of perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime higher cost trip are required to enjoy the privilege of limited permit allotments.
5. Consider Where You Stay
Choice of accommodations is one of the most important considerations in minimizing impact on the local environs while maximizing the benefits you bring to the local community. Do your own research and ask questions before making a booking.
Today, many hotels, camps, ecolodges, yachts and expedition ships are rated for their level of sustainability. They are rated on energy sources, recycling, waste management, water conservation, food sourcing, and other sustainability-focused initiatives. In addition, many are actively involved in nature and wildlife conservation and in educating guests about ecosystems and biodiversity. These accommodations are deeply connected and committed to local indigenous culture and the well-being of local communities. The highest rated ecolodges and camps are safeguarding the world’s cultural and natural heritage while delivering the most meaningful guest experiences.
6. Manage Your Expectations and Emotions
As with much of life, aligning expectations with reality is half way on the road to happiness. If we imagine the Taj Mahal in India or Peru’s Machu Picchu without crowds and this drives our desire to travel around the world to experience such iconic destinations first hand, we may indeed be disappointed. Before your trip, ask the right questions and don’t be afraid of the answers. Most importantly, stay open to the experience before you while letting go of preconceived expectations. Refuse to let them as well as annoyances like crowds distract you from what drew you there in the first place. That’s when the true joy of discovery flows — no matter what it looks like.
Traveling Responsibly Isn’t About Staying Home
The Center for Responsible Tourism asserts that traveling responsibly “…is about managing travel and destinations in an environmentally and culturally responsible way and designing tourism programs and individual trips carefully to provide travelers with the experience they seek, while leaving a positive footprint on their destination.”
Destinations are always changing, and we have many choices to make when we travel. The important thing is to be ever-mindful of our impact on the people and places that give us so much and help others to respectfully do the same. For more information on Wildland Adventures’ worldwide offerings, check its website.