The influx of low cost carriers in recent years has made travel easier and more affordable than ever before. That’s great news for budget travelers, but not always ideal for the cities receiving them.
While tourism remains a major source of income for cities like Reykjavik, Barcelona, Venice, and Berlin, locals complain that Airbnb eats up much of the rental market, pushing residents to look for cheaper housing on the outskirts of town. Budget tourists arrive by the planeload and wander the city, sometimes drunk and unruly. Narrow streets are suddenly congested with tour buses, straining not only local infrastructure but also sensitive ecosystems.
In cities where locals are protesting what they perceive to be overtourism, don’t contribute to the problem. Go somewhere else. It’s a big world, and there are plenty of cities and beaches hungry for your tourism dollars.
Skip Berlin for Warsaw
For years now, Berliners have been sounding the alarm over rising rents and mass tourism. The city was one of the first to crack down on short-term vacation rentals but has since eased up. That’s more an act of resignation than a change of heart. Berliners are still tired of tourists. How about going somewhere else? Grab a train at Hauptbanhoff and head 5 hours east to Warsaw.
As far as Polish cities, Warsaw is often overlooked for cutesy Krakow to the south, with just as much grit (probably more) than Germany’s capital city these days. Like Berlin, Warsaw has its own history of experimental art and music, something you’re sure to get a lesson in at Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art. Party folks will find fun in Praga, a formerly downtrodden district now home to new galleries, restaurants, and nightlife.
It helps that Warsaw is one of Europe’s most inexpensive cities. Hotels in the center of the city can be had for as little as $50 per night, much less than a private Airbnb in Berlin’s Mitte.
Swap Venice for Utrecht
These days, “See Venice and die” seems like more of a threat issued by frustrated locals against tourists, who just can’t seem to take the hint. Guys, Venice is sinking. Residents already have to contend with regular floods, and that’s on top of being priced out of town. So how about giving Venetians a break already?
After all, Venice isn’t the only place in the world with canals. There’s the Venetian, in Las Vegas, though that’s not quite the same. Los Angeles has Venice Beach, also a miss. Closer to the mark is Bruges, though none of these are as good-looking as Utrecht.
Just under 30 minutes by rail from Amsterdam, tourists typically overlook this ancient Dutch city. The 4th largest city in the Netherlands, Utrecht is easy to navigate by boat or on foot, making a point to stop along the many cafes and shops that line the city’s unique system of wharfs.
Instead of Iceland, Try the Japanese Alps
Iceland has long been a transit point for budget-minded Americans traveling to Europe, and many credit Loftleidir Icelandic aka “the Hippie Express” as the mother of all budget airlines. Today, Keflavik Airport is a busier than ever, served by several low cost airlines, including WOW Air. Crazy but true, it’s often cheaper to fly nonstop to Reykjavik than it is to fly across the U.S.
At any given time, at least one person you know is Instagramming a trip to Iceland. It’s highly likely that you yourself are reading this while on a trip to Iceland. Excluding the alien landscape, nothing feels all that foreign. It’s hard to escape that nagging feeling of being just another cog in Iceland’s overtourism and, worse, contributing to the ecological damage of the very landscape you came all that way to admire.
Instead, ditch the crowds for the quiet, sometimes empty, small villages of the Japanese Alps, located about 4 ½ hours northwest of Tokyo by rail. There are no blue lagoons, but there are plenty of onsens (Japan's natural hot springs) to soak in, along with something you won’t find in Iceland: Japanese snow monkeys, who appreciate a hot bath as much as the next guy.
The village of Takayama, often referred to as Little Kyoto, is known for its well-preserved historic core and nearby folk village. Fall is the time to visit, when Japanese families pour in to gawk at the foliage. Even then, crowds are minimal compared to Reykjavik.
Snows in this region are heavy in winter, making it an ideal destination for skiers, or those who’d rather skip ahead to après ski activities, which here includes a bowl of the region’s famous beef ramen followed by quality onsen time.
True, flights to Japan are nowhere near as cheap as to Iceland, or convenient, but day-to-day prices are comparable if not less, at least in this region of Japan.
Trade Spain's Mediterranean Coast for Lampedusa, Sicily
From Barcelona to Malaga, and especially Palma de Mallorca, Spain is overrun with tourists from around the globe, and locals have had enough. Heck, even other tourists have had enough of other tourists.
Besides, there are much less hectic places along the Mediterranean to spread out a towel and soak in the very same sun. South of Sicily, the Italian island of Lampedusa isn’t exactly a secret, but it has emptied out in recent years as Italy struggles to handle the flow of refugees.
Even August, usually the busiest month for Italian holidaymakers, isn’t as busy as in seasons past, and local businesses are eager for guests to return. So make the most of the uncrowded beaches while you can.
Both Palermo and Catania can be reached cheaply by low cost airlines, and from there the trip must be completed by some combination of rail, car, and ferry service to Lampedusa.
Instead of Hawaii, Go to Puerto Rico
It's true that fares to Hawaii have decreased in recent months, and could go lower still once Southwest Airlines officially begins service, but a trip to Hawaii is far from cheap. Overtourism in the Hawaiian islands may not be as extreme as in the cities mentioned above (at least not yet) but residents are already feeling displaced by hyper development in some areas.
For Budget travelers, Puerto Rico is not only a better value, but also a more effective use of your tourism dollars as the territory continues to rebuild after last year’s devastating storms. While many residents are still without power, cruises have resumed service to San Juan’s port, and most hotels and businesses are open, but a full recovery won't be possible until tourism is back in full swing.
Flights to San Juan are inexpensive from most U.S. cities. Here's a look at current deals.
Above image by Zsolt Biczo via Shutterstock