As record numbers of us travel to the world's top destinations, overcrowding threatens to destroy some of the most precious corners of the globe. The echo chamber of social media has put certain spots at the forefront of our minds - iconic sites attract likes and striking a pose at a chic locale offers cultural cache. With the travel industry growing exponentially and flights cheaper than ever, we are at risk of ruining the very places we revel in the beauty of.
The answer? Looking beyond the obvious. Santorini isn't the only beautiful Greek island, and Venice not the only Italian town where its architecture and canals will take your breath away. There are more Scottish highlands than Skye, and more paradise idylls beyond Bali. The world is not a bucket list to tick off - use your imagination to discover unsung places (start with our guide of 2020 travel inspiration), and consider why you really want to visit a certain destination. Do you just want to brag that you've visited a certain city or country, or is it that going there will actually make you happy based on your personal interests and preferences?
Fodor's Travel Guide has rounded up a list of places to avoid going in 2020 (or at least think about visiting off peak season) due to overtourism, while we've offered our picks on the lesser known destinations to swap them for. It's time to reconsider how and when we travel.
1. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona has a lot going for it, Gaudi architecture, a bustling food scene, great nightlife and a beautiful beach to boot, but its natural assets have proved a disadvantage. Not only has Airbnb flooded the rental market causing sky high rent issues for locals, there is physically no room for more tourists. According to Forbes, “No number of pavement expansions and bus rerouting can solve the fundamental issue that tourism is the number one problem for the city.” In many major tourist sites – Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell, for example, which are in residential locations - there is physically no space to expand. Barcelona is full.
Swap for: The photogenic ancient Spanish town of Cadiz for beautiful beaches, fantastic alfresco theatre and lively taverns serving delicious fish tapas.
2. Bali, Indonesia
Indonesia's most popular island Bali is becoming so overrun with tourists that the government is considering a tourist tax to help deal with some of the damaging environmental effects. A "garbage emergency" was declared in 2017, thanks to the tonnes of waste being produced every day by tourists. A ban on single-use plastics was enforced in 2018, but there are other issues at large - the number of villas and resorts has prompted a water scarcity, hindering profits for local farmers. To top it off, the authorities are working on a series of behavioral guidelines for tourists after too many would either visit religious sites in swim attire, or climb over sacred spots.
Swap for: Sumbawa is one of Indonesia's least-visited islands and is accessible via boat from Lombok. Famed for its active volcano Mount Tambora, as well as waterfalls, pristine beaches and beautiful blue waters, it's all a great spot for surfing.
3. Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye is doubtlessly one of the most beautiful sites in the world, but locals recently launched a campaign encouraging visitors to look beyond the island's 'Big Five' - Old Man of Storr, Fairy Glen, The Fairy Pools, Quiraing and Neist Point - due to congestion on single track roads and parking spaces and disruption for residents. Tourists were also criticised for reportedly removing stones from old walls in Fairy Glen, used to build social-media friendly rock stacks and formations.
Swap for: Locals suggest avoiding the crowds in favour of campfires on the beach, coastal walks, live music gigs or a cruise to the little island of Rona famed for its seafood. For a more remote gem, head to the small isle of Iona - accessible via a boat from Mull - peppered with cosy tearooms and sweeping, wild beaches.
4. Big Sur, California
The idyllic Big Sur has been besieged by tourists, thanks to free publicity from shows such as Big Little Lies which is set in Monterey. Highway 1 attracts 5.8 million annual visitors to Big Sur, which has a population of 1,728. Locals are overwhelmed and fed-up - the scarcity of bathrooms and bins along the side of the road have led to littering and human waste. Then there's the illegal camping, which have been accused of causing costly and damaging wildfires. Local authorities are currently working on what to do to mitigate the impact, with potential ideas including shuttle buses and park reservations.
Swap for: Sequoia National Forest. If you're after dramatic scenery and a place to truly be at one with nature, then bucolic spot is a great alternative. Situated in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains of California, it's famous for its towering Sequoia trees, which share the same cinnamon-coloured bark and tallness as redwoods.
5. Venice, Italy
The overtourism of Venice is well-publicised. The city is currently considering a tourist tax entry free and the implementation of turnstiles to control the crowds and to help pay for the clean-up of litter left by tourists. As in other popular European cities, such as Barcelona, Airbnb is also proving a problem, and city authorities are attempting to crack down on those illicitly renting out their homes. The number of tourists who visit this photogenic city has reached 30 million, compared to just 53,000 residents - people simply cannot afford to live here anymore. Furthermore, crowds clamouring for selfies on the Rialto Bridge are causing congestion and disruption to residents.
Swap for: Trieste, which is also home top canals and noteworthy architecture, or Verona, just an hour from Venice and one of the most unsung cities in Italy. If great good and art are among your favourite travel pursuits, Verona is an excellent option.
6. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Cambodia's most popular tourist attraction Angkor Wat, the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site, is bearing the weight of tourism. Its foundations ands structure are under threat - the 900-year-old temple steps are slippery because of overuse, and bas-reliefs have worn down by the number of tourists who have touched them. A cap of the number of visitors has been limited to 300, but this hasn't solved the other key problem - water scarcity caused by the neighbouring hotels and villas. In 2019, Angkor Wat’s moat lost more than 10 million litres of water, the equivalent of four Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Swap for: Koh Ker, a remote archaeological site in the north Cambodian jungle. The series of temples, with only a few open to the public, Prasat Krahom and Prasat Thom are the most popular, but even then you'll find few tourists there. If you're not bothered by heights, climb Prasat Thom's seven-tiered structure for incredible views.
7. Hanoi Train Street, Vietnam
Back in 1902, French colonialists built a railway through Hanoi and Hai Phong, and part of the route snakes through a narrow street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. It became known as 'Train Street', with the track lined by houses and shops. The site makes for a good picture but because the train is still in operation, tourist risk a lot when they pose for that selfie. Recently, a train had to make an emergency stop in order to avoid hitting the tourists snapping selfies and loitering on the tracks, and eventually was rerouted. Barricades have since been erected preventing tourists from taking pictures as the Instagram-friendly site, and illegal cafes established top cater for visitors closed.
Swap for: It goes without saying that it's particularly unwise to pose for a photo on a train track. Instead, meander through Hanoi's Old Quarter for colonial architecture, narrow streets and delicious Viet food instead.
From Harper's Bazaar UK
All Images: Getty