Overtourism, revisited

It’s that time of year again, when friends start posting their “travel porn.” Yes, even fellow eco-activists can be quite the summer jetsetters. I am learning to just keep my mouth shut and not be a wet blanket on their social-media pages. It doesn’t help shift attitudes, and plus I just don’t want to be like that to my friends.

And yet I feel a deep heavy pain in my heart. It’s disconcerting and disheartening to see people in their 60s and 70s and beyond who express deep concern about climate and ecosystems, and who have traveled extensively in their younger days already, but are still taking annual vacation trips to Europe, cruises, and so on.

One way I handle it is to make posts on this blog and on my Facebook page, to try to educate and persuade people who are open to that. In that spirit, I googled “overtourism” and found a good article that mentions Santorini Island, one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever not seen in person.


(“Santorini To Machu Picchu To Mount Everest — The War Against Over-Tourism Is On”; article in Worldcrunch.com Feb 16, 2024; by Marine Béguin)

“Environmental damage, deteriorating cities, overcrowding, rising prices and an impediment to local people’s way of life are all consequences of international mass tourism.”

This theme of overtourism even shows up in fiction. For example, a series of novels set in Venice, the Commissario Brunetti detective-story series by Donna Leon. (I fell in love with this series in the process of doing armchair tourism, specifically, finding ways to experience Venice without the footprint of travel.)

As Commissario Brunetti of the Venice Police walks around his ancient beautiful city solving crime (and never forgetting to admire the cathedrals and other architecture), he often ruminates on not being able to find real shops because everything’s gone over to tourism. And observes the thousands of tourists getting disgorged from the cruise ships with their noisy wheeled luggage.

From the article linked above: “As one of Europe’s most popular destination for tourists, Venice has seen its population move away and abandon their houses due to rising prices, flash floods and rising water levels but above all the invasion of international tourists, which sometimes amount to twice the cities’ inhabitants.”

The article talks about efforts being made in various over-touristed places to mitigate the impacts:

“In response, many touristic localities are taking this issue head-on by implementing innovative strategies to combat the negative effects of excessive tourism. These initiatives aim to protect the environment, preserve local culture, and ensure the long-term sustainability of these cherished locations.”

We can also teach ourselves to find the remarkable beauty and richness that are everywhere around us, and celebrate the culture and nature of our own local places as deeply as we yearn after the more famous beauties in distant lands.

We can also take the invitation to reflect on our own lives, and consider what it is that we feel we need a vacation from.

As I talk about in my book and blog, Travel in my younger years was very formative and deeply meaningful for me. And I cannot point-blank tell people not to travel; can’t tell people to forgo the deep learning and inner enrichment that happens with travel. But I can plead, for those of us who are older and have gotten to travel in our younger years, to exercise some voluntary self-restraint and maybe take a no-fly pledge.

Of course it can happen that with travel, the same way as with any luscious food, no amount ever feels like enough. Some people might even be unconsciously playing out a planetary grief/trauma response that’s taking the form of extreme compulsive travel consumerism. You know, a sort of last-gasp, last-hurrah, “party like it’s the apocalypse” response.

I have found it very helpful to look within. Emotional healing is a very key component of this behavioral-economics puzzle of trying to convince ourselves to exercise voluntary self-restraint. Separating out the grief, drama, unresolved yearnings, unfixable regrets.

Yes, choosing to limit travel is a sacrifice, but for those of us who are concerned about biospheric collapse and the harm that billions of people worldwide are already experiencing from climate change, we know that a bit of sacrifice is going to be needed. No one said it was going to be easy. But we will rest better knowing that we did our best for current and future generations. And choosing to forgo such luxuries as leisure travel, and tune ever more deeply into our home places, can be fun and liberating. I offer lots of suggestions on my blog and in my book. And on this page too.

I can tell you personally that when I was “caught between a rock and a hard place” of longing to see Venice on one hand, but not wanting to incur that travel footprint on the other hand, I have had a blast being an armchair tourist of Venice and feel very deeply connected.

My choice even sparked a lot of creative thoughts about sea-level rise and flooding in my home region; I started getting visions of how our coastal cities could morph into floating communities. People have lived floating on water since ancient times.

My favorite examples are the Venetians; the marsh Arabs of Iraq; and the indigenous Uros people, who live on floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca. I have never been to any of those places, and feel no need to. It’s enough just to see some pictures and admire the beauty of their highly adapted human-built environment.

PS. Santorini is a gorgeous island; if travel had a zero footprint and caused no negative impact on the host place, I would want to go. Actually no, I still just wouldn’t want to deal with the rigors of such a long trip. Half-asleep, half-awake, gritty-eyed and slogging through airports and just everything. I’d rather just enjoy the pictures.