By Rishika Sharma, on December 14, 2022

Disappearing destinations: An expert’s tips to traveling responsibly

It’s true what they say – you can have too much of a good thing. While tourism plays an important part in many local economies, over-tourism can negatively affect communities and even pose a threat to the very destinations we love. As travelers, it’s natural – and important! – to want to reduce our impact and use our travel dollars for good.

A report published by Expedia earlier this year showed that while most people say they actively look for sustainable and responsible options when planning their trips, 70% find it challenging to wade through all the information to make good decisions. Part of the difficulty is that, when it comes to travel, “sustainable” and “responsible” are extremely broad and inclusive terms. They cover everything from green travel – which can range from eco-friendly lodging to tips on decreasing your individual carbon footprint – to discussions around animal welfare, and even the issue of over-tourism itself. And it’s the latter that we’re focusing on in this week’s episode of Out Travel the System.

Our guest is former New York Times economics correspondent and award-winning journalist Elizabeth Becker. Elizabeth is the author of Overbooked, a critical investigation into the costs and hazards of the global tourism industry on the planet. Our conversation with her gets into the nitty-gritty of how we can sensibly and ethically move through and experience the world.

According to Elizabeth, historically unchecked over-tourism has chipped away at destinations and exacerbated the collateral damage of climate change. A positive change in this space has been the introduction of quotas and changes in legislation to curb the overflow of tourists in places such as Barcelona and Machu Picchu. Venice, too, is a great example of a destination where locals have lobbied to introduce restrictions, as the damage caused by over-tourism became so severe it threatened the city’s world-heritage status. As a result, giant cruise ships are now banned from entering the medieval city – just one measure to reduce the number of visitors to sustainable levels.

Where individuals are concerned, one of the most significant steps we can take, according to Elizabeth, is to reassess our bucket lists and think beyond the hot spots. By expanding our horizons and traveling to places that don’t see as many tourists, we can better share the burden (and our traveler dollars). Here are some lesser-known destinations she thinks you’ll adore:

Fall in love with Verona
If romance and heritage are what attract you to Venice, look to Verona. An ancient UNESCO city, it’s best known as the home of Shakespeare’s most famous couple, Romeo and Juliet.

Snorkel the Belize Barrier Reef Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is an iconic natural wonder, but it’s not the only place you’ll find spectacular snorkeling and diving. Consider the Belize Barrier Reef – it’s one of the most successful examples of coral-reef restoration in the world.

Relax in a Huahine-Iti bungalow
The Maldives’ crystal-clear waters and luxurious bungalows are definitely tempting. But you’ll find the same beauty and escapism on the French Polynesian island of Huahine-Iti – with fewer tourists.

Trek through the ancient city of Kuélap
Machu Picchu on your bucket-list? If you really want to go off the beaten track, check out the lesser-known Peruvian gem of Kuélap.

Admire the beauty of Jaipur
India’s Taj Mahal is jaw-dropping to see, but so are the crowds. Jaipur’s equally mesmerizing desert palaces are a fantastic alternative. 

Hike (and more) in the Atlas Mountains
Looking for mountains and culture? Think about Morroco’s Atlas Mountains, not just Mount Everest in Nepal.

Check out gorgeous Rovinj
Game of Thrones has put Dubrovnik on many travelers’ radars – but it’s not the only gem in Croatia’s crown. Consider visiting Rovinj instead. It’s another stunning, dramatic spot on the Adriatic coast, with a similar history.

Go on safari in Gorongosa Park
There’s no doubt that an epic African safari is a once-in-a-life travel experience. But if you’re dreaming of Kenya’s Masai Mara, make sure you look into Gorongosa Park in Mozambique too. It’s heralded as one of the last remaining wild places on the planet.