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.
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.