Traveling the World in the Age of Overtourism

We travel because we have an insatiable interest in other people and places, in what is around the next corner, and in what it is like to sit on the porch and read a book in Adelaide, Australia compared to Wheaton, Illinois or Invergordon, Scotland. We marvel at the beauty all around us. We have learned a few things along the way.

As we’ve gone from place to place, we’ve stopped in some of the world’s best known hubs of “overtourism.” We spent two months in Barcelona, including days when so many people got off cruise ships for the day that the Rambla, the wide pedestrian avenue, was completely full. Would we have preferred a few less people? Yes, but think about the people who live in beautiful Barcelona who have given up the old downtown area to tourists most of the time. Local people often lose out to visitors.

We’ve seen Venice in June, when people start to line the canals searching for somewhere to sit down with their spritz, and local people lose patience trying to get where they’re going through the multitude of people who aren’t going anywhere at all.

Are we making things worse? Perhaps. We rent through Airbnb, which is one factor making permanent rental housing more costly and less available in tourist-oriented cities around the world. Airbnb is not the sole cause of housing troubles, but one factor along with slow salary growth, competition with real estate investors, and the huge disparity in wealth between the few “haves” and the many “have-less”. We are going to continue to use Airbnb as responsibly as we can.

Nightcap National Forest, NSW

One way to combat overtourism is to consider visiting places that are not necessarily on the “Top Ten” list. In Australia, we visited many well-known places, including the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, and the Sydney Opera House. Particularly when it comes to seeing natural phenomena like forests and beaches, we’ve found it isn’t worth a long drive if comparable places are nearby, even if they are not in the guide book. Visiting parks and nature preserves all over the world has made me more aware of what can be found around us. With local bird watching groups we visited places that we might never have chosen, and had very worthwhile visits. Now I am more likely to visit a local park in Illinois than when I lived there full time. I look at clouds in the sky at the end of the day and see perfection, no matter where in the world I am. Every sunset is different, every day in every place. It’s important that I appreciate each one, whether on an empty beach or in the center of a bustling city.

I’ve learned to use a bit less. The more I learn about recycling, the more I see that recycling, whether in the US, Europe, or Australia, yields little result, and that far more recycling ends up in trash dumps than anyone admits. We’ve learned to carry shopping bags, and now we’re being taught to bring our own coffee cups and water bottles. That’s the way it has to be to keep the ocean from becoming plastic soup.

Perhaps the next step will be going back to using handkerchiefs and cloth napkins to decrease our use of disposables. That won’t be enough to deter global warming, but it’s something. Who knows? I’m curious about what global changes are next.




Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

9 thoughts on “Traveling the World in the Age of Overtourism

  1. You are totally right. Apparently, some cities like Barcelona and Venice are taking action to make life less miserable for local residents. For example, I read this morning that some streets in Venice are now reserved to local people. Tourists can’t go there. I am of two minds about that restriction as it will increase the number of people in the allowed streets and will prevent people like me who like to explore outside of the heart of the touristy areas; off-the-beaten track. But I am assuming they have no choice if they want to keep their local population and not become a museum city. It is indeed a very big challenge. (Suzanne)


    1. I haven’t heard the news about Venice, and I agree that there are pros and cons to each choice about how to manage visitors. I would be unhappy at not being able to walk freely, yet the crowds can be frustrating. I heard they were considering gating St. Marks Square to limit tourists. What would happen to window shopping?!


      1. You avoided the crowds, at the very least! Venice itself is crowded beyond comfort with people who are there because it is on a Top Ten List they read or something like that. Despite the crowds, I love the vaporettos and the islands. Had we stayed longer, I might have based us on the Lido across the Grand Canal from the main city, and spent even more time exploring the islands.


  2. I really do feel for the residents in tourist hot-spots such as Venice and Barcelona. Here on the NSW south coast we have an annual post-Christmas influx of holiday makers which can be a nightmare for locals. Though the tourist dollars they bring to our towns are a real boost to the local economies.


    1. In every place that has a holiday surge people have the feeling you do, and that we see in the famous sites of overtourism. The tradeoff is just as you point out, and there’s no easy solution. Thanks for your comment, Lesley.


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