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How to ace low impact travel as a family

The coin gets sweaty in my hand and my adrenaline starts pumping. Someone elbows me in the face. I step on someone else’s foot. People brandish selfie sticks like they’re in riot squads. I’ve never played rugby, but I imagine this is what it’s like in a scrum.

All to toss a coin over my shoulder into the Trevi Fountain and make sure I’ll return to Rome one day. Several hundred other tourists obviously had the same idea.

To get to the front, be prepared to push through a mosh pit worthy of a rock concert. Picture: Shutterstock

Overtourism increasingly plagues top destinations in Europe and beyond.

Its consequences go beyond waiting for hours in queues or jostling with hordes to take the perfect photo.

The environmental strain is massive. Tourists generate large amounts of rubbish, waste and pollution. Natural landscapes are marred by foot traffic and litter, and sacred and historical sites are desecrated. The costs of living rises for residents as shops and attractions to inflate their prices. Big businesses and chains overtake local producers. Cruise ships dump short-term visitors who re-board overnight and contribute little to the local economy. Local flavours, traditions and authenticity are gradually degraded.

Crowds of tourists bring with them huge amounts of rubbish and waste Picture: Shutterstock

And yet, I would recommend a visit to the Trevi Fountain and Rome’s other hot spots without hesitation.

It is stunning to behold the limestone islands of Vietnam’s Halong Bay, especially from the deck of a boat in the purple haze of dawn. You might feel like Dante himself battling through the circles of hell, but a three-hour wait for Florence’s Uffizi Gallery is worth every second. There is nothing quite like the pink aura of the Taj Mahal at sunset. These places are famous for a reason.

So how do we balance the effects of overtourism with the benefits of travel? The answer: low impact travel.

Even climbing the stairs of Peterhof Palace, St Petersburg, proves tricky! Picture: Shutterstock

Low impact tourism around the world

Check out what these hot spots are doing to protect their special sites.

Venice, Italy

In recent years, droves of tourists have been choking Venice upon disembarking enormous cruise liners. The canal city decided that cruise ships can no longer enter straight into Piazza San Marco because it was doing too much damage.

Barcelona, Spain

In 2017, Destination Barcelona estimated numbers of 30 million overnight visitors to just 1.6 residents. With stats like that, it is little wonder locals marched in protest. Costs of living and rent have increased to the point that many have had to move away. New systems have been put in place to regulate short-term renting.

Graffiti in Barcelona: “Renting to tourists has sold the soul of the neighbourhood”


Sisters Melati and Isabel Wilsen kick-started the Bye Bye Plastic Bags campaign distributing reusable bags to reduce ocean rubbish on the holiday island. There is even a plastic-free pilot village.

Maya Bay, Thailand

Made famous as the location for Leonardo di Caprio’s film The Beach, Phi Phi Island has restricted tourist numbers to Maya Beach to 2000 per day. Boats must dock on the other side of the island, which closes for several months a year to give the environment a well-earned break.

You can expect to come across other boats in Halong Bay, even with new restrictions Picture: Sophie Cullen

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Limits have been placed on the number of boats afloat in this picturesque limestone seascape. Only 150 boats can stay overnight. 

Boracay Island, Philippines

Due to poor waste management and excess rubbish, the island was forced to close for 6 months of restoration in 2018. Single-use plastics are now banned and tourist numbers are limited.

How can your family try out low impact travel?

Low impact travel ends up offering its own benefits to travelling families. Here are a few tips to help you limit your impact. 

Visit in the shoulder season or off-season. This way you don’t contribute to the peak season crowds. You’ll also enjoy budget prices and fewer queues.

Be conscious that you are staying in someone else’s backyard – when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Basic respect is important when you travel. It is also a good lesson in cultural difference and manners! “We love visitors in Venice,” my local guide told me as she proudly introduced me to the best wine bars in her neighbourhood. “But they always sit in the middle of our bridges and stairs!”

Locals and tourists meet in the throng of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Picture: Sophie Cullen

Be spatially aware and stick to local etiquette. Don’t sit on the stairs in Venice. Queue for the trains in Tokyo. Cover your shoulders in places of worship.

Don’t eat in tourist centres – be willing to venture a few blocks further afield. Not only will you find cheaper food and the ‘real deal’ regional specialities, you’ll also be supporting local businesses.

Choose your AirBnB accommodation wisely. Be sure you rent from a local who is out of town.
Tuscan town Lucca will charm your socks off Picture: Shutterstock

Balance bucket-list sightseeing with travel off the beaten path. Stay in small, lesser-known towns. After your stay in Florence, why not check out Lucca? If you like Sydney’s beaches, why not head down the New South Wales south coast?

Consider alternative destinations that offer similar experiences. Read more here about some awesome options. The Inca Trail is well worn – why not try the Salkantay Trek which also leads you to Machu Picchu? There are also the Lares Route and plenty of other trails of varying difficulty. You can go on a safari outside Kruger National Park. The Golden Gate bridge is not the only one of its kind in San Fran. In Arles, you’ll find a full amphitheatre to rival the Colosseum. In fact, there are remarkable Roman ruins all over Europe and North Africa.


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