It’s almost 2019, and the travel industry is booming. Thanks to an increased standard of living and the surge of low-cost airlines, more people than ever have the means to travel. Taking a gap year to backpack is an almost mandatory step in every millennial’s coming-of-age story.
But as more people crowd to famous vacation spots, these destinations are struggling to handle all the visitors. Often travellers return home, disappointed and disgruntled about the amount of other people, almost unaware that they have also contributed to the problem.
Here are three reasons why you should consider choosing a less visited destination for your next holiday.
Unique experiences with less people around
We travel to get away from the everyday, that is to say: we travel to experience something we can’t find at home, something unique and extraordinary, something that is so different to what we’re used to that it feels like magic. Imagine coming face to face with the wonders of the world and being able to say that yes, you were there.
Well, you and 2,000 other people.
Imagine trying to reach above the heads of a crowd just to get a good picture of a monument. Imagine having to walk slowly in line with a group of tourists herded through turnstiles. Imagine posting your picture on Facebook and having someone comment, ‘Hey, I have that exact same photo!’
Doesn’t that sound stressful?
You can’t travel to Dubrovnik or Mykonos or New York and expect to be the only one there. (Unless you’re willing to travel off season, but don’t be fooled – some places never get quiet.) And while your experience might be unique to yourself, it is not unique to the rest of the world.
By visiting less popular destinations, we can find that holiday magic that we so badly want. You will never be the first person to “discover” a place, but you can be 1 in a 1,000 instead of 10,000.
If you’re a blogger, a vlogger, an Instagrammer or other type of travel influencer, promoting less popular destinations can help boost your visibility in social media. The less people are posting about a destination, the bigger the chance that someone looking for information on that place is going to land on your page. Personally, I have noticed a huge gap in engagement on my Instagram between the pictures I posted from the Balkans versus pictures I am now posting from Spain.
Better chances at meeting locals
There’s one sentiment that grinds my gears more than most things: the eternal search for “authenticity”. Many backpackers claim to prefer underdeveloped destinations because apparently their lack of mass tourism indicates “authenticity”. This phrase is often uttered by Western travellers in conversations about cheaper – read: poorer – countries they’ve travelled to. Travellers’ search for the “authentic local life” at times nears micro colonialism.
Still, I understand the sentiment that lies underneath. Mass tourism tends to overtake cities and sites, driving locals to the edges of the touristic centres and to their own communities. Walking around downtown in cities like London or Krakow or Amsterdam, you’ll mostly ever see tourists – locals rarely feel like barging into the middle of the crowds. Instead they’re hanging out at their suburban coffee shops and corner pubs, mumbling irritably about those “damn tourists”.
When you travel to a popular destination, you’re just one of many. However, taking your vacation in a less-visited spot instantly makes you more interesting to locals because many might not be used to meeting foreigners. In Myanmar*, local vendors struck up conversations with me, curious to know what I thought of their country, with minimal effort to sell me anything – unlike the aggressively persistent street vendors in Thailand and Vietnam. In Albania, I was again greeted with curiosity and helpfulness by people wanting to practice their English and find out why a foreigner was interested in their country; a big difference to Croatia where I was mostly met with indifference.
*I went in 2016, and since their tourism sector is growing very rapidly, I’m not sure how true this would still be these days.
Participate in sustainable tourism
Adventurous Kate recently shared a Buzzfeed article on overtourism on her Facebook page, with the caption: ‘There is no reason for any travel blogger to go to Iceland anymore. Or Bali. Or Barcelona. As a traveler, sure, go knock yourself out. But as a blogger, or Instagrammer, or some kind of publisher with a following? No. These places are quaking from overtourism and have been covered to death from every angle.’
She is right. A travel blogger has no reason to cover a popular destination anymore since there is already so much existing content. Social media influencers are a big reason for the current overcrowding of many destinations and continuing to post about them only exacerbates the situation.
Mass tourism is no new phenomenon: the biggest cities in Europe have been welcoming tour groups and luxury cruisers for decades. But as the standard of living has increased and (young) people have started to value immaterial experiences more than property, the popularity of travel has skyrocketed. More people travel now than ever.
And with great tourism comes great responsibility.
Many of the most popular destinations can’t support the amount of visitors they get, and in many places tourism is so poorly managed that the financial support gained from tourist dollars far outweighs the negative impacts of mass tourism.
For local residents, mass tourism might mean ten-fold rental prices in central areas as hotels and Airbnbs take up property space, or replacing small local businesses with generic souvenir stalls and chain shops.
In places of natural or historical importance, the situation might get even more dire, as thousands of daily visitors contribute to the slow deterioration of these places. Most tourists do not have malicious intents but ignorance goes a long way. If everyone scribbled their name on the Colosseum, how long do you think it’d take for the whole majestic construction to be reduced to nothing?
Many sites have already taken action. Cinque Terre (Italy) and Machu Picchu (Peru) only allow a certain amount of tourists to enter per day, whereas some destinations – like Maya Bay (Thailand) and Boracay Island (the Philippines) – have been temporarily closed for tourism to allow their reefs and beaches to recover. Venice and Iceland are also considering restrictions on tourism.
And now we finally get to our point: travelling to less visited destinations not only saves you from the disappointment of missing a sight you wanted to see but also contributes to a more sustainable spread of tourism.
Spending your money in destinations that face less tourism helps put money into the local economy and in that way contributes to an increased standard of living in those countries. What is more, promoting off-the-beaten path destinations takes off some of the pressure on highly touristic spots, helping preserve these places at the same time as introducing world travellers to new destinations they might not have even considered before.
I’m convinced! So where can I go now?
To be honest – I can’t claim to be the ultimate authority on off-the-beaten path travel; I haven’t travelled that extensively. However, there are a few destinations that I would recommend, based on my own experiences.
Eastern Europe is now on the rise. Most of the Balkans (Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania) don’t receive a lot of tourism, and while their capitals fill with travelers in summer, the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) are still massively underrated.
I am currently dreaming of travelling Central America, Middle East and Central Asia. All these areas get a bad rep but – or so I’ve heard – for almost no reason at all.
But finding off-the-beaten path destinations doesn’t have to be a stretch. You don’t have to hitchhike through Azerbaijan on a chicken truck in order to have an exciting, fulfilling holiday. Often the solution is simple: just seek out less visited places in your intended destination.
In Croatia, I enjoyed relative peace in the coastal town of Sibenik in the middle of the peak season.
In Greece, I travelled in shoulder season.
In Australia, I roadtripped from Melbourne to Perth, the South Coast being way less populated than the popular East Coast route, and even more beautiful.
Travelling in itself is not the devil, it’s the irresponsible behavior of tourists. By exploring less loved destinations, we can alleviate the pressure that tourism creates on the local community, experience a unique holiday and broaden our world view.
Where do you dream of travelling to at the moment?