It’s no secret that some of the world’s most amazing destinations are feeling the tourism squeeze. But that’s no reason to stay put: as communities cope with travellers’ all-too-loving embrace, being a good tourist just means getting strategic about where to go and when.
Every traveller is on a journey, though it’s becoming clearer that some paths are so well trodden that they’re at risk of wearing out. Even when we try to venture off the tourist track it can be hard not to bump into others doing the same thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to put away your packing cubes and ignore your itchy feet; it’s just a new opportunity to consider your impact on the places you cherish.
Venice isn't off the cards but you should consider when's the best time to go © Matt Munro / Lonely Planet
There are many ways to spread the travel love, and beating the crowds doesn’t mean skipping the iconic spots. Sustainable travel can come in many forms. Stay in an under-explored neighbourhood in a must-see city and you’ll get to live like a local and support the community. Skip the day trip – which will only leave you without a feel for the place – and spend more time in local shops and cafes, picking up some incredible, and meaningful, souvenirs.
Alternatively, be a true explorer and take a chance on an unfamiliar destination. Who knows? You may have found travel’s next hidden gem. With a bit of thought and consideration, your next trip won’t leave you feeling like just one tourist among the masses, overwhelming the local community. Travel can be a force for good – help keep it that way.
Not a bad place to have to yourself, huh? © R.Classen / Shutterstock
Alternative must-see sights
People journey to popular places such as Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat because they have to be seen to be believed. But many other attractions will astonish you – and give you a bit more breathing space.
Humayun’s tomb, India: In Delhi, about 200km from the Taj Mahal, is another awe-inspiring example of Mughal architecture: Humayun’s tomb. While it has a less-romantic backstory, it’s thought to have inspired the design of the other more famous – and crowded – site.
Canada’s National parks: The US national parks are undoubtedly awesome, but head north to Canada, where, with a fraction of the visitors, you can often explore the wilderness on your own.
Humayun’s tomb gives the Taj Mahal a run for its money © Abinhav Singh / Alamy
Revel in the questioning looks you get when you tell your friends you’re heading to these less-travelled destinations. They’ll be asking you for tips in no time.
The Faroe Islands, Denmark: Looking for the natural wonders and undeniable coolness that makes Nordic countries irresistible? Well, there’s one spot you might have overlooked. Home to soaring cliffs, epic coastlines and even a Michelin-starred restaurant, the Faroe Islands are ready and waiting to be explored.
Toronto, Canada: Toronto is often outshone by hip Montréal and stunning Vancouver, which is a shame, because it’s one of the most multicultural cities on the planet. Take a tour of the world in a day – with some help from the friendly locals who call it home.
Ljubljana, Slovenia: Unlike some European capitals, Slovenia’s top city is still begging to be explored. Ljubljana serves up the canals and castles you desire, with a huge expanse of green space in which to stretch your legs. Plus there are plenty of cafe terraces, alternative clubs and arty hangouts.
Staying in a local suburb
Thanks to the growth of homestays, hip hostels and boutique hotels, there’s no need to stay in the city centre. Get away from the casual tourists and explore neighbourhoods that make a city unique.
Amsterdam: Amsterdam is more than the Red Light District. See its many facets first-hand by sauntering out of the centre and into vibrant districts such as artsy Westerpark or diverse Indische Buurt.
London: London’s size means that hopping from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, like hip Hackney or creative Camden, is like finding yourself in a new city. Since riding the Tube is already a quintessential London experience, there’s no excuse not to get out and explore.
The only crowds you want to see – South Africa's wildlife! © Jurgar / Getty Images
Top off-season destinations
There’s no need to miss the big hitters, just visit when the crowds have gone.
Venice, Italy: To truly admire the beauty of Venice, you need to step back and take a good look. That means skipping the summer. Packing a jacket in your luggage will be worth the extra space you’ll get on the streets.
Turkey: Whether soaking up the sun at a coastal resort or hitting up the hippest ’hoods in sprawling Istanbul, avoid the stress of big crowds by visiting in the off-season.
South Africa: Travelling in low-season means you won’t enjoy the full heat but you’ll benefit from discounted safaris and less-crowded wineries. Trust us, your chenin blanc will taste better with fewer people around.