With some costs of travel decreasing and the ranks of middle-class travelers around the world increasing, international departures are skyrocketing, and popular parts of the planet are getting loved to death. The issue of tourism growth and management is often a complex one and it's important to take stock of how we can be part of the solution. Here are some ways we can minimize our impact while having the best experience that drew on the road and into the wild in the first place.
1. Manage Your Expectations and Emotions
As with much of life, aligning expectations with reality is half of the road to happiness. Planning travel is no different in this regard as you are filled with anticipation for what you will experience and how you will experience it. Alas, preconceived notions derived from pictures of the Taj Mahal or Machu Picchu without the crowds, and visions of indigenous people in native attire living sustainably on the land can easily drive us towards disillusion and disappointment.
It's important to do the research that aligns expectations with reality, to ask the right questions, and not be afraid of the answers...to stay open to the experience before you. You don't know what the road is going to reveal, and for me, that's the magic of travel. I pay attention to letting go of attachment to preconceived expectations and refuse to let annoying distractions like crowds (when I know they can't be entirely avoided) interfere with what drew me there the first place. That's when the true joy of discovery flows—no matter what it looks like.
2. Find A Local Connection
There's no more important element in deepening your travel experience and avoiding the 'group think' impact of large tour groups than planning your own itinerary and hiring a local guide, one who is not stuck in a rut of show and tell. Connecting with a good local guide can help you skirt the crowds at popular sites and give you a richer and more complete experience combining the iconic with similar but less-known sites while also providing a unique perspective.
For example, a good guide will take you to the Taj Mahal twice, once to get in line before it opens and later in the afternoon before it closes to experience it at different times of the day under variable light. But on my last visit, instead of passing through the main gates twice our local guide took us to the Mehatab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) across the Yamuna River, far from the tourist hordes, where we stood arm-in-arm...standing alone and moved to tears by the beautiful silhouette.
3. Rethink Your Bucket List
Branch out and make up your own bucket list to discover other wonders of the world beyond UNESCO's at-risk sites or the favorite ports of call of the cruise industry. Instead of the crowded hilltop towns of Tuscany, try the hills of the Istrian peninsula of Slovenia and Croatia. Once part of Italy, this uncrowded part of the world on the other side of the Adriatic has its own cobblestoned hilltop towns, vineyards, markets, cycling and walking routes at a similar latitude with similar terroir. Or, rather than being part of the problem in Venice, take the ferry to the small fishing town of Rovinj, where you are welcomed by locals who take you around in a traditional Batana fishing boat. Search out your own favorite spots, you may be surprised to find they're not the same as everyone else's. Read Visit Slovenia for a Lesser Traveled Trip.
4. Timing Is Everything, Spend Time at the Right PlacePlan your day at famous sites carefully, and be sure to get the latest information because local conditions and regulations are constantly changing. For example, plan to see the sights before cruise ships disembark in Dubrovnik, or tour buses disgorge at Siem Reap, or before and after daily train arrivals at Machu Picchu. But simply arriving early may no longer be enough to avoid the crowds and have the best experience.
5. Pay To Play
Sometimes you pay more for a private experience, or to be part of a carefully managed ecotour that limits the number of visitors, thereby protecting fragile habitats and their guests' experience. Opportunities for a more exclusive experience in protected areas exist the world over and are often well worth the extra outlay.
In Africa, examples of this include limited permits for tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda, or the exclusivity of a safari in a private nature reserve like Timbavati in Greater Kruger N.P. where based from small camps, drivers can follow game off-road, and guests can go on bush walks and night drives. Also, remote parks in Tanzania like Katavi and Mahale, and island camps in the heart of the Okavango Delta of Botswana, all require bush flights to access some of the wildest places on the planet.
In South America, the fragile cultural patrimony of the Inca Trail in Peru and delicate balance of nature in the Galapagos Islands are also carefully managed by limited permits and fees that control access and provide a source of revenue for critical conservation programs. The privilege to be among the few where limited numbers of permits are allotted also requires advance planning.
6. Consider where you stayYour choice of accommodations is not only a matter of charm and comfort, but is one of the most important considerations in minimizing impact on the local environs while maximizing the benefits you bring to the local community. Today, many hotels, camps, ecolodges, yachts and expedition ships are rated for their level of sustainability including energy sources, recycling, waste management and water conservation, food sourcing, and other sustainability-focused initiatives. Also, many are actively involved in nature and wildlife conservation, educating guests about ecosystems and biodiversity, and are deeply connected and committed to indigenous culture and the well-being of local communities. The highest rated ecolodges and camps are safeguarding the world's cultural and natural heritage while delivering the most meaningful guest experiences, bringing you closer to the natural world and connecting you in meaningful ways with those with which we coinhabit our planet.
Traveling Responsibly Isn't About Staying Home
The Center for Responsible Tourism asserts that traveling responsibly "…is about managing travel and destinations in an environmentally and culturally responsible way and designing tourism programs and individual trips carefully, to prove travelers with the experience they seek, while leaving a positive footprint on their destination." Destinations are always changing. We have many choices to make when we travel that help us focus on being part of the solution instead of the problem, but the important one is to keep traveling and do it more responsibly.
Keeping it wild,