Whether we realize it or not, travel is an education. It broadens our horizons and humbles us, increases our cultural awareness and teaches us about the human connection. Most of all, we travel because we want to see the world and its beauty, but waiting in line under the hot sun to take a photo in front of these iconic monuments, elbow-to-elbow with your fellow tourists, can take any magic away from it. Instead of pushing your way through the crowds of these celebrity status travel destinations, make your way to their lesser-known alternatives instead.
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Don’t Visit These Overcrowded Places (Check Out Their Equally Spectacular Alternatives)
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Barcelona's tantalizing tapas and colorful Catalan architecture have propelled this Spanish city to unprecedented popularity. Tourism numbers have tripled since the year 2000 to around nine million visitors per year. Physically much smaller than other European metropolises like Paris and London, Barcelona is simply bursting at the seams, while the municipal government scrambles to control tourism by limiting inbound vehicle traffic, denying entry to cruise ships at its port and altering airport expansion plans.
Escape the crowds and head to Lanzarote, the not-so-secret celebrity hideaway in the Canary Islands, and the small but picturesque island town of La Graciosa just three miles across the sea to its north.
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Angkor Wat, Cambodia
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The inspiring Angkor Wat temple complex was built nearly one thousand years ago in devotion to Vishnu, a Hindu protection deity. Overtourism is currently a concern; for example, bas ornamental reliefs and devatas have been worn down by the sheer volume of human contact over the years. Even more troubling are the marks left by vandals, statues destroyed by art thieves and the strain put on the nearby town's water supply to meet the growing demands of tourists.
There is so much more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat; just south of the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary, you'll find a hidden network of temples around Srayang partially reclaimed by the jungle, including the Mayanesque pyramid of Koh Ker.
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Big Sur, California, USA
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Another area unprepared for the sudden influx of inbound tourists is Big Sur, a scenic coastal region of California and part of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The region is struggling to handle the mountains of trash left by careless visitors, not to mention untreated human waste left by illegal campers. Locals also blame the increase in wildfires around the area on these prohibited camps and are demanding authorities take action.
For stunning ocean vistas and scenic cliffs, why not head north to Canada's Gros Morne National Park and Arches Provincial Park located side by side in the maritime province of Newfoundland - we guarantee a total lack of queues, garbage piles and disgruntled locals.
Gros Morne National Park:
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Outside of the luxury resorts, Bali is far from the idyllic paradise advertised on promotional posters. The Indonesian island has a trash problem, and is unequipped to deal with the massive quantities of garbage produced by overtourism. Since the problem peaked in 2017, the government has since banned certain plastics in an effort to curb the environmental effects of the overwhelming number of visitors arriving each year.
Indonesia is home to thousands of beautiful islands, often more impressive than Bali. Instead of adding to the problem, take a ferry from Lombok and set sail for the deep blue waters and pristine beaches of Sumbawa, one of the country's most underrated island getaways.
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Venice has long waged war on its tourism problem, lamenting the loss of authenticity, harm to residential life and mounting troubles with water pollution and trash. Despite these well-publicized issues, the number of tourists continues to grow as everyone and their uncle dreams of witnessing the floating city. Venice recently considered closing its main canal to water traffic, but instead decided to levy a tourist tax to help pay for the historic city's maintenance and repairs.
For picturesque canals and an atmosphere rich in history and culture, China is full of charming towns nicknamed 'Venice of the East', particularly around Jiangsu Province and Shanghai, such as Zhouzhuang, Nanxun and Luzhi.
Zhouzhuang Ancient Town, Suzhou:
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Millions of tourist flock to the beautiful seaside town of Santorini each year, a picturesque island in the Aegean Sea. So much so that the island's mayor has been forced to put a cap on the number of cruise ships arrivals - the resources of the small township simply cannot cope with these numbers.
While Santorini catches its breath, there are so many other charming and colorful Greek islands to explore; we recommend Milos for its colorful, picturesque fishing villages, or Folegandros for those Santorini-eque photo ops.
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Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
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Unique animals unlike anything else on Earth, such as the giant tortoise and marine iguana, are endemic to the Galapagos Islands and rely on this special habitat to survive. Despite the hefty entrance fee to visit the protected area, the park is still threatened by overtourism and its indirect effects, such as illegal immigration from the mainland.
Get up close with wildlife in South America and help it, not harm it, by volunteering with non-profit organizations like La Tortuga Feliz, which aims to protect the habitats of endangered leatherback turtles, and Proyecto Asis, a wildlife rehabilitation center and home to a wide variety of rescued animals.
Travel is no longer the luxury of time and money it once was. With the growth of the middle class, access to cheap flights and accommodation as well as the lure of social media advertising those Instagram-worthy, far off places, international tourism reached a record 1.4 billion travelers in 2018, nearly 20% of the global population. This has put a strain on the resources of these places, and got many disappointed travelers rethinking the way they travel, making their way to the hidden gems and secret destinations instead.