At this very moment there are 7.6 billion people on the planet. The world population has grown by 4 million this past year and it will continue to grow exponentially every year after that.
Until our little planet simply cannot sustain this many humans.
Over-population is a drain on our resources natural and man-made. Children go hungry and people live in crowded cities that just keep growing. Unfortunately, this over-population is most noticeable in some of the more beautiful places on this planet. Some of the most “Instagrammable” places on our planet.
This is the phenomenon known as over-tourism.
Maybe it’s because travel is more accessible than ever with budget airlines, growing economies, and the internet providing all the how-to guides you could ever need.
Or is it due to the influence of social media? Could all those travel “influencers” actually be inspiring people to travel to far away places?
The Instagram Influencer
“Iconic” travel photos are shared daily on Instagram. A beautiful girl over-looking the cliffside of Nusa Penida, a woman swinging in that giant swing over the rice terraces in Bali, a couple triumphantly sitting in front of the rainbow mountains of Peru. These beautiful photos fuel other peoples desire to travel to these places. That’s kinda the whole point.
But they also don’t tell the whole story.
They don’t show the line of people 45 minutes long waiting to get that same shot. They don’t show that you had to pay 10USD as a “photo fee” once you got to the front of the line. They don’t show the crowds of people milling about taking selfies and live streaming their “perfect” travel moment.
Those influencers don’t talk about the fact that the only reason the rainbow mountains are visible is due to climate change. They don’t talk about the loads of trash tourists leave behind. They also don’t talk about the way the massive influx of tourists effects the culture of a city.
Tourism becomes the economy. The same tourist markets pop-up to sell overpriced poor-quality goods. Restaurants start serving “Vegan” menus, Acai bowls, and Avocado Toast instead of the local cuisines. All-inclusive resorts line the once pristine beaches. Prices soar as wealthy tourists flood the market.
Those “influencers” are selling something that doesn’t exist.
Am I starting to sound a little resentful yet?
People are traveling to be seen, not to see. Everyone is flocking to the same spots at the same time of the year because they saw it on Instagram.
Instead of traveling to learn about the culture, immerse yourself in a foreign traditions, or experience the unknown…we are looking for familiarity. We seek out the exact shot we have already seen on Instagram because if your friends don’t see you in front of the Eiffel Tower, did you even go to Paris?
Are we losing our adventurous spirit? Our curiosity for the world? Or is travel now just another way we’re seeking status?
It’s causing environmental damage.
Thailand and the Philippines have so many people crowding onto thier beaches you have to fight for your own patch of sand. And forget about getting a shot of the beach without a bunch of strangers in the frame.
In 2018, Thailand indefinitely closed Maya Bay because the drastic increase in visitors had caused irreparable damage to the coral and marine life in the bay.
Bali’s plastic problem rose to astronomical proportions before they finally banned single-use plastics this year.
There Simply Isn’t Room
Many of these towns are not capable of accommodating this many extra people.
Already heavily populated areas of Venice and Barcelona have slowly become fed up with tourists. Locals have been pushed out of their own neighborhoods as renters turn to lease as AirBnB’s instead. And imagine fighting through tourists straining to get a selfie by the canals every single time you left for work.
It’s no wonder they have fought for change. Recently, both cities passed legislation requiring a tourist tax to visit the city.
The Country Loses It’s Soul.
As foreigners enter and locals adapt, you get less and less authenticty from the country. It becomes a melting pot of tourism. Customs and tradition are traded for economic growth.
And piece by piece you slowly lose what made the country so appealing to travelers in the first place. Standing in the middle of Khao San road in Thailand, you’ll find yourself surrounded by other westerners. With English widely spoken and bro tanks with cliched slogans on every corner you’ll almost forget you’re in a foreign country.
The blogger side of me wants everyone to travel. The cynic in me only wants those who travel WELL to travel.
People with curiosity. People who enter a country with an open mind, ready to explore the depths of the culture and learn something new. People who travel to enjoy themselves but ALSO to be pushed out of thier comfort zone. Because travel isn’t always comfortable. As my favorite travel icon once said…
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
It’s not all doom and gloom. And Instagram has brought my positive affects to the travel industry as well. Here’s the things we can do to help make sure those positive aspects outweigh the negatives.
Travel Somewhere Unique
Consider getting off-the-beaten-path. Explore a less commonly visited town in a highly visited country. Or really get out there and visit a country NOT on the Travel and Leisure Top 50 in 2019 list.
Don’t travel like your checking off a bucket-list. Travel like you’re genuinely interested in the journey.
Eat at local cafes with local cuisines. Stay at homestays instead of hotel chains. Buy the handmade goods far away from the tourist markets and grocery shop the native produce. This supports the economy in a sustainable way. It gives back to the businesses that are keeping the spirit and unique pieces of the town alive.
Don’t Do It For the ‘gram
This all comes a lot easier when you stop traveling for the Instagram capture. When we get out of our phone screens and live the experience in the moment.
Take your photos, sure. I love photography, but traveling to destinations specifically for a certain shot has HORDES of people descending to the same places at the same time of year.
Not only does this show a lack of creativity but it also ruins the very place we seek out to photograph.
Who Is Doing It Right?
A small country nestled between China and India. Still isolated. Still steeped in Buddhist tradition. And charging a 250 USD a day tourist tax for entrance into the country.
This severely limits the number of visitors and because of this, their culture is preserved. Their wilderness is conserved. Bhutan has some of the largest areas of jungle left in the world and no plans to change that. Additionally, they rank at the top of the world happiness index every. single. year. So they aren’t hurting for tourism.
They aren’t entirely unique though.
More and more towns are turning to the taxation of tourists. And they should. Those taxes decrease (slightly) the number of visitors and go to the upkeep of the sites they are visiting. Aside from the aforementioned Barcelona and Venice taxes; New Zealand, Greece, Paris, Rome, and many others already have a tax in place.
And tourism hub Bali is considering a hefty tourist tax as well.
None are as high as the Bhutan daily tax and for many you may not even notice you pay it. Often it is added into the cost of your Airbnb or hotel room.
What to Take Away from My Rambling
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand there are a million different reasons to travel. Not everyone travels to learn about another culture or step into another persons shoes, some people simply want a beachy vacation or a chance to finally see the eiffel tower.
You should still do those things.
Just consider your impact and be real about your motives. And try not to ruin places for the rest of us 😉
And if you are traveling just for the “Instagram” moment, is it truly worth it? Because when you see what’s on the other side of the camera you are likely to be disappointed.