Changing the world for the better, it’s a goal that many travelers all over the world share and it’s one of the reasons many of us love to travel. Traveling has a funny way of making us
all, well, many of us, better people and there are endless destinations in the world that by just visiting them, you are doing something good.
By participating in a local economy when you visit a place, it actually goes a long way toward good things like alleviating poverty and creating jobs for people that would not otherwise exist. So go! Go far and way and go often. BUT, before you do, take some time to find out a few things about that place and consider some of the factors that could enhance or take away from your own experience.
Instatourism Is Changing The World
I think it is safe to say that many of us have see a place on Instagram or other sites and have added it to our bucket lists. I know I have, but over the years, I have seen things that I have to say, are just not right—and not right for so many reasons.
For example, Bali. I love Bali. We see loads of images from this beautiful island and they always make me want to be there. Thankfully, I have been to Bali many times and it is always wonderful, but everytime I go back, a little more of why I love it has been diminshed due to the fact that too many people seem to have the same idea. Sadly, the island is now over touristed and in many places there, it just doesn’t feel the same as it did 20 years ago.
One thing that just truly bewilders me is why people are traveling specifically for instagram photos. I think if I see anymore Instagrams pictures like this one I just might get sick.
For starters, the shot is passé. After thousands of people traveling here to take a similiar picture, there is really nothing interesting about it anymore. Influencers, the people who are influnced by influencers, I beg of you, please come up with something new. It’s beyond boring now.
In 2002, I drove past this now famous gate at the Handara Golf & Resort in Bali and thought it was so pretty so we turned around and went back. I initially thought it was a park. It was lightly raining and the clouds were creating a wonderful mist and light show that just seemed magical. Back then, it looked nothing like this Google street view from 2013. There was no gate, or cars, we just parked and walked around and enjoyed the serenity of the place. You can’t do that anymore. The serenity is gone.
On a subsequent drive past it in 2017, there was a long line of people, many, dressed much like this gal, just waiting for their photo opportunity to prove to the world that they have this incredible life of whimsy, bopping around the world in gowns and big floppy hats. FYI, there are hundreds of incredibe gates like this in Bali, all over the island.
I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do on vacation is stand in line for an instagram photo. Maybe it’s just me, but —the whole instagram, imaginary life thing, I just think it’s lame and just feeds a sort of narcissism that is completely contagious and totally annoying to people who think as I do.
Another example in Bali is the “Gate of Heaven” at Lempuyang temple. Nearly all of the bazillion photos you see of this place are faked as illustrated in this article from Vice. People see this, and some will make a whole trip around it. They finally get there and then they too take will the fake photo, perpetuating the deception. Fake world is not worth making a trip for, especially when the real one is so much better. You don’t want that do you?
So my advice, think carefully about those instafamous hotspots and research whether or not half the free world will also be there—likely ruining your picture anyway. They will certainly rob you of time you could be using for an authentic experience.
How many tourists is too many?
Sadly, there are more and more places that are progressively being ruined by over-tourism. Take Maya Bay in Thailand is another example. Quite possibly one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen. The water here is crystal clear and the setting is just sublime… until it isn’t anymore.
Ironically, the movie “The Beach” starring actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio caused quite a frenzy of tourists to visit this magical place in Krabi Province, Thailand. Unlike most tourists these days, I was able to see it as it appeared in the movie. There was only one boat in the bay and about five other people on the beach. This only happened because it was just after the horrible tsunami of 2004.
I had decided not to cancel my trip because I felt that not going would impact the local economy in a negative way. I was right about that part. They were really suffering down there and the loss of life, compounded by the loss of income and livlihoods was devastating. This was my first solo trip and a life changing one at that.
I recall walking on the empty beach there with a girl that worked on the boat that brought me to Maya Bay. She said to me “you are so lucky to see it this way.” When I asked her what she meant, she explained how the bay never looked that good, “clean water and fish.” She also said that the local Thai believed the tsunami happened because God had cleaned the waters to save the bay. That really stuck with me and she was so right. Remembering it now is all I can do because Maya Bay is now closed to tourists and not scheduled to reopen for a few years. Thanks Leonardo.
In this effort to rejuvenate the natural environment, including the coral reefs, the Thai government rightfully closed off Maya Bay to tourists in June of 2018. There is now talk of re-opening sooner to boost tourism due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but I can’t help but wonder if enough time has passed.
Whenever Maya Bay finally does re-open, there will be rules only allowing for a limited number of visitors and the idyllic scenery will then include boardwalks and additional bathrooms. I am happy that I was able to experience this iconic beach in all it’s natural splendor and saddened to know that some will never see it as I did, without bathrooms, boardwalks and gaggles of tourists.
There are other places that are off limits or strictly regulated due to mass tourism. Boracay, in The Philippines comes to mind as another place which was closed in 2018 for six months. That is a whole other story as it caused evictions, unemployment, and a slew of other problems as it seems to be the closure wasn’t well thought out.
Yet another place that was being completely overrun before Covid 19 happened, is the hotspots in Cambodia, namely Siem Reap. On my first visit here in 2005, I did not realize then just how lucky I was to be seeing Angkor Wat and the other temples before the onslaught of mass-tourism. Of course, there were many other tourists on my first visit—yet, it was a tolerable amount, and never once did I feel overcrowded back then.
In 2009 and 2012, a few more, but nothing too crazy. Holy moly, last time I was there in 2017, I was almost killed inside a tunnel at one of the so-called “remote” and “off the beaten path temples”, Prasat Beng Mealea. I was walking through when all of a sudden an army of Chinese tourists started coming through the tunnel from both directions.
Did they care they were going to trample me? No, not one bit and they really tried. Thank God, I had my camera tripod and have to admit, I kind of used it as a means to fend them off. Okay, I might be being a bit dramatic, but seriously, way too many people in one place at one time.
My suggestion for this sort of scenerio would be to ban big tourist busses in places like this. Of course busses transport alot of people, but it seems prudent to limit that from getting from one destination to another rather than have them just for taking people to a specific attraction. When 15 bus loads of tourists show up at the same time, it does nothing good for a place and it detracts from everyone’s experience.
When is really the best time to visit a popular destination?
Do I think that travelers should make a conscious effort to visit places when there are less crowds? YES! I know everyone doesn’t agree, but I really do think that you will find places more enjoyable when you don’t have to share it with the rest of the free world.
Another consideration for me is the local people working in tourism. If the love is spread out throughout the year, their incomes are not limited to specific times of the year. I get that this doesn’t work for every place on the planet, but you might be surprised that off season, doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t another great time to go somewhere.
Travel Companies Are Changing The World Too
Many tour companies and travel agents do exactly what every other one travel facilitator does and that is another reason why there are too many people are at the same place, at the same time. Sure, there are also many who recognize their impacts and we work with many of them.
With concerted efforts between governments, conservationists and tourism professionals, creating more sustainable opportunites for tourists will help people travel better and enjoy places more.
As part of our services here at Soul Free Travels, we fill you in on all of the details we can about these sort of things. We help clients who wish to have authentic experiences to not be misguided and fall into the usual traps that can turn out to be huge letdowns.
So, with all that bad news, now the good news. If there was one good thing that is resulting of Covid-19, it is the environmental aspect and the recovery for wildlife and nature. For them, I am so happy. However, the downside is that economies and people are suffering immensely in not only the places I’ve mentioned, but throughout the world. Changing the world by just showing up—it has never had so much meaning.
Now is the time that tourists can really save the world by just showing up. Planning for future trips is a great way to stay sane and remember there are so many wonderful places to experience. Researching your next trip is half the fun!
Think about how many people you find tolerable to be around when trying to view the Mona Lisa or when on safari. Will you be competing for breathing space? Just how many new best friends do you really want? If the more the merrier is you travel dream, great go in when everyone else does. If not, let’s find a good balance!
We have been using our down time to double down on the altruistic reasons behind what we do as travel advisors. As soon as the coast looks a lttle clearer, we will be releasing trips for people who want to show up somewhere amazing with us.
So, what we want to know is, where will you be changing the world next?