Have you noticed anything about the world recently? It’s packed. The tourism world, anyway. There are more of us travelling than ever before. In Barcelona and Venice, in New York and Vegas. Millions of us. Tens of millions. Hundreds of millions.
Over-tourism is rife, and it’s a problem that’s not going away. There are so many of us travelling, and as costs continue to come down and middle classes boom, it’s only going to get worse.
So what do you do? Do you take a stand and stop travelling? Do you remove at least one tourist from the masses? That doesn’t sound ideal.
A much better idea, to me, is to ensure you travel right. It only takes a few steps, a few little things to bear in mind as you move through the world, to reduce so many of the ill effects of over-tourism.
Want to be a better traveller? Start here.
Learn a few phrases in the local language
It’s really, really easy to learn the absolute basics of a local language, and to show respect to the people whose country or region you’re visiting. Learn to say the bare minimum – “hello”, “thank you”, and “do you speak English” – and you’ve already made people more comfortable.
Dress to the local standard
This should be a no-brainer. Take a look at how the locals in the place you’re visiting are dressed. Do they wear trousers and long-sleeved shirts? Do they avoid tight clothing? Or do they get around in shorts and singlets? Do they strip off to sunbathe at the beach? Whatever they’re doing, you should too.
Mix up your accommodation
I love apartment-rental accommodation, but you can’t do it all the time. It’s ruining neighbourhoods, raising rents and driving out locals. Share a house, rather than occupy an entire property. Stay, too, in locally owned hotels, hostels and B&Bs, supporting a range of people and business owners in the places you’re visiting.
Drink as much as your hosts
There’s a school of thought that to be respectful overseas you shouldn’t get drunk, but I don’t buy that. Try being respectful in Japan or Korea when all your new friends are buying you drinks and it’s rude to refuse them. My rule of thumb is to drink as much as your hosts. If they’re abstaining, do the same. If they’re sipping one or two glasses of wine, do the same. And if they’re smashing beer-and-soju cocktails and doing karaoke till 3am – do the same.
There are several benefits to slowing down your travel. One, you stop catching so many flights, blasting so much carbon into the air. Two, you spend more money in the places you choose to visit, contributing something meaningful to the economy rather than just calling in for a few hours to take photos and go. And three, you’ll have a much more relaxing holiday.
Research your destination
Take the time to find out about the place you’re visiting – its history, its passions, its bugbears, its quirks. Know the place you’re going. Know what makes people there tick. Know what you can do there and why you should do it. It’s a form of respect, and you’ll also get a lot more out of your trip.
Don’t just take photos – buy something. If you’re going to wander through a market, engage with the vendors, and buy some of their products. The only person who benefits from your arty photos of stacked fruits and vegetables is you. Share the love.
Ditch the selfie stick
This is one of the most obvious of the tourist accoutrements, the wand of narcissism, the Insta-tool that not only leads to a lot of strangers being unintentionally jabbed in the face with your phone, but occasionally leads to serious injury. Plus, you look silly. Ditch it.
Ask before you shoot
Simple rule for budding snappers. Before you take photos of “authentic” locals, ask for permission.
Don’t engage with animals in captivity
If you really want to go and stare at animals in cages, I guess that’s fine. But any time you interact with them – riding elephants, walking with lions, cuddling koalas etc – you’re supporting an industry that forces animals to behave in a way that they shouldn’t. Not cool.
Take your own straws
There’s far too much single-use plastic being used by travellers. One of the simplest steps you can take is to travel with your own metal or bamboo straw to cut down on wastage. Reusable chopsticks are also a great idea.
It’s tempting when you’re in a country where everyone else just tosses their rubbish on the ground to do the same. But, don’t. If there’s no rubbish bin around, carry your trash until you find one. If you’re really hardcore, pick up a few of other scraps while you’re at it.
Eat the food – say it’s nice
Always eat the local food. It’s culture; it’s respect. Always try everything that’s cooked for you by local people. Always smile and declare it delicious. Always thank people profusely for the effort they’ve put in, for sharing a part of themselves with you. (Later, tell your friends the truth.)
Roll with the punches
Don’t get upset when you travel, don’t be bothered that things in the place you’re visiting don’t work in the same way as they do at home. Yes, public transport takes forever in Africa. The toilets aren’t always clean in the sub-continent. Tipping is a nightmare in North America. But that’s the way things are – and that’s travel.
Try to avoid any big, multinational chains when you’re travelling. Shop at independent grocery stores, clothing outlets and souvenir shops. Stay in boutique hotels. Use public transport. Support the people whose home you’re currently enjoying.
Travel tends to be a selfish pursuit, an activity that’s all about you. You visit, you photograph, you leave. But maybe that’s not good enough. If you visit a place you love, a place you’re concerned about – particularly a natural attraction – then donate money towards its preservation. Choose a cause or a place that’s dear to your heart, and give. If you can afford to travel, you can afford to do this.
Share the love
Obviously you’re going to want to visit the popular places, the Barcelonas and Venices and New Yorks of the world. And that’s fine. But, share the love. Try to get to some of the lesser visited places as well. Get off the beaten track and ease the strain on the popular places, while discovering and supporting somewhere new.
What are your tips for being a better traveller? Is this something you think about while you’re on the road?