There’s a very particular type of learning that comes through travel; in particular venturing to a faraway place where the culture and language are entirely different to your own. I like the way that it puts you in your place a bit: shows you how much you really don’t know about the world. It also challenges you on the most basic levels of communication and navigation – things we take entirely for granted and spare little thought in our day-to-day lives.
I’m very fortunate to have grown up as a third culture kid, because despite the longing for home and loneliness I battle with at times, I traverse through life fairly open-minded and interested in others whose lives are wildly different to my own. And honestly, without tooting my own horn, I think it’d be pretty stellar if more people were as curious.
With the internet bringing us ever closer together, the world seemingly shrinking before our very eyes and platforms like Instagram unlikely to disappear any time soon, we have at our disposal access to travel unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. All the flight deals, phenomenal ease of staying connected even in the most remote of locations and enough FOMO-inducing travel inspo pics to scroll through for the next 100 years.
I feel bittersweet about it all, to be honest. On the one hand I think about the ways in which travel has enriched my life and shaped me into the person I am today (and God, I wouldn’t trade that for anything.) But on the other, I gingerly peep at the harsh reality that perhaps the world’s beautiful natural spaces aren’t abundant enough to go around. We’re at 7.7 billion people on this planet and while each deserves an enriching experience during his or her time on Earth, is it really doable? Is there a way to keep doing all the travel while avoiding the plight of overtourism?
Overtourism has trashed our beaches, national parks and cities and while the average person truly means no harm, there’s an unfortunate “mob mentality” that kicks in when we see one person disrespecting a space; it suddenly seems to send a wave of permission through the masses that a free-for-all is totally acceptable. Look at what happened with the US government shutdown earlier this year? National parks now face years of damage that is, tragically, thought to be irreversible in some places.
So who stays and who goes? That’s the uncomfortable question. Or is there a way that we can still travel freely without leaving our footprint in the sand, as it were?
The obvious first step in responsible travel is to do so with the environment at the forefront of your mind. Before the photo-ops are explored and the bar has been located, I wonder how things might be different if we weren’t so entitled. It’s a complete privelege to visit another person’s land (or sea) and we must do so with immense respect. We need to adopt humility and pause to face the reality that those places don’t need any sign of us after we leave. None of us are that special. And while other nations kindly welcome us in and let us stay for a while, exploring what they have to offer, we will eventually leave and they do not wish to be stuck with the house left trashed by the party, if you catch my drift? Neither would you, I’m sure.
But let’s say everyone transformed overnight into respectful tourists, sticking to the footpaths and leaving no trace of their plasti wrappers, we still face the harsh truth that the numbers are staggering. The number of flights and pressure to expand our airports. The number of Air Bnb’s forcing out locals from their hometowns. And the population density that doesn’t go unnoticed by local flora and fauna, reshaping wildlife communities in search of tranquility. These things will still exist.
And so I pose the question – even if you have no answer: how do we stop the death and destruction that overtourism has caused and is popular culture ruining the world more today than it ever has?