How and Where to Travel to Avoid the Crowds

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travel avoid crowds

The streets were not busy in Ljubljana in June. It’s a city unaffected by overtourism.

When I was in Ljubljana last June it was clear that I was in an emerging destination.

There were no crowds of tourists anywhere.

To me, it felt like what it might have been like to be in Italy 50 years ago. It was easy to experience the local scene.

This is not the case for many destinations. Overtourism is a problem.

The issue of overtourism has been popping up regularly in travel trade journals and conferences over the last few years. To address the problem I’ve seen tourism boards direct their energy to lesser-known destinations in an attempt to redistribute the crowds of tourists in a country. I’ve also read about local authorities taking direct action. Cinque Terre, in Italy, is capping the number of visitors  at 1.5 million per year. Santorini is limiting the number of cruise visitors to 8,000 per day.

But what about us?

As tourists/travelers, what can we do?

Interestingly, when we asked you, our readers, what you enjoy most when traveling, going “Off the Beaten Path” ranked number 1 in a tie with food and wine. It seems that many of you already have a desire to avoid the crowds as you travel. This already helps tackle the overtourism problem.

When you go to a destination and people ask why you came, you know that you’re off the beaten path. This is a view of Prince Rupert Harbour. Read about my visit here: Top Tips for Prince Rupert: The Best of Small Town Travel

Overtourism and Sustainable Tourism

It’s not that traveling is in any way a bad thing, it’s just that it’s getting out of hand in certain locations. In fact, in some places, there have been protests by locals against tourists.

Tourism makes up 10% of the global GDP. One in ten jobs can be attributed to tourism.* Tourism makes a fantastic economic contribution to most economies. Some places would welcome a greater contribution. Others would rather you take your money elsewhere.

From the local’s perspective, overtourism can turn life upside down. Dodging people in the markets in the simple attempt to do daily shopping and struggling to find an apartment as more units are turned into holiday accommodation are just two ways that local life is negatively affected.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization declared 2017 to be the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. To simplify the goals of this program, they aim to retain the economic and social advantages of tourism while minimizing the negative effects.

As travelers, we can be part of the solution by contributing positively and minimizing our negative impact.

photo, image, quebec city, lower town

Quebec City in February is charming and not crazy with tourists.

How to Avoid the Crowds as You Travel

Here are the top two things that travelers can do to make sure they don’t contribute to the problem of overtourism.

  • Choose your destination carefully. I’ve never met a destination I didn’t like. Everywhere I go is interesting. From big cities to small towns, it’s all great. The difference is that in most small destinations, you don’t trip over tourists at every turn. It’s easy to do a search on the less-touristed destinations of a region but since Europe is the dream destination for most readers and a real challenge in terms of overtourism, here are some tips.
    • Travel the western perimeter of Europe but not Amsterdam.
      • Portugal – Porto
      • Southern Italy – Puglia
      • Greece – Beyond Athens.
      • Western France
    • Go to eastern Europe but not Prague.
    • Go to secondary cities in popular destinations
      • Italy – Bologna (an hour from Venice and a half hour from Florence)
      • Spain – Girona (an hour from Barcelona)
      • France – Lyon (Two hours from Paris and considered the gastronomic capital of France)
    • North America
      • Think in terms of regions and landscape, and then focus in on a destination.
    • The World
      • Check out the Destinations section of Solo Traveler for exciting destinations ideas, each solo traveler tested.
  • Time your travel to the shoulder or off-season. Travel in the off-season and you’ll enjoy lower prices, fewer tourists, and happier locals. It’s possible that not every attraction you want to see is open in the off-season so do your research before going. However, if you want to go to a top destination that shouldn’t be a problem.

There are many street markets and shopping streets in Hong Kong. I went to the Night Market last time I was there. This time I went to the Lady’s Market on Tung Choi Street. On both occasions, I didn’t buy. The first time I was overwhelmed. The second time, it just didn’t feel right. Almost all the products I saw were knock-offs, likely made in factories that do not adhere to fair labor practices.

UN World Tourism Organization’s Tips for Sustainable Travel

Of course, the UNWTO’s objectives for the International Year of Sustainable Tourism and Development go beyond addressing the issue of overtourism. Its goals include employment and poverty reduction, resource efficiency, environmental protection, sharing of cultural values, diversity and heritage and promoting mutual understanding, peace and security. With these in mind, here is a condensed version of their Tips for Sustainable Travel.

  • Honor your hosts and our common heritage. Research and understand local customs before you go. Learn a few phrases of the local language. Ask permission before you take someone’s photo. If you share photos on social media, do not share photos of children.
  • Protect our planet. Reduce your environmental impact when possible. Reduce, reuse, recycle applies on the road as well. Especially reduce.
  • Support the local economy. Hire local guides. Buy locally-made products. Don’t buy counterfeit products.
  • Be an informed traveler. Choose tourism operators with environmental and sustainable practices. Research volunteer travel before signing on as many opportunities help the organizers more than the locals.
  • Be a respectful traveler. Observe local laws and customers. Give to local organizations and avoid giving to begging children as doing so only addresses their short-term needs and, more importantly, discourages them and their community from finding systemic solutions to problems.

* WTTC Travel & Tourism Global Economic Impact and Issues – 2017

Last updated: 4th December, 2017

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