Overtourism may not be something you have considered while planning a gap year. You may have just pinpointed a couple of destinations you would love to visit.
On the other hand, you may feel put off by some places due to the sheer volume of visitors that are reported, and the impact that tourism is having on some of the most popular destinations.
If you fit into the latter, you have stumbled upon overtourism.
What is overtourism?
Despite this buzzwords’ appearance in recent media headlines, a definition has not yet been seen in the dictionary.
What overtourism describes is…
‘Destinations where hosts or guests, locals or visitors, feel that there are too many visitors…the quality of life in the area, or the experience has deteriorated… the opposite of Responsible Tourism… both visitors and guests experience the deterioration’. (responsibletourismpartnership.org)
What is causing overtourism?
- A lack of government understanding about the unspoken and negative impacts of tourism
- Poor planning in countries that have not found appropriate solutions, to dispose of large quantities of single-use plastics that pollute beaches and threaten wildlife.
- Neoliberalism, where cities have ‘turned from locations to destinations’.
- An increase in the middle classes on a global scale giving more people the opportunity to purchase flights on a regular basis.
What should also be noted is the growth of artificially cheap flights and cruises, which have given more people the opportunity to travel. However, these opportunities have also made overtourism a growing global problem.
Currently, these cities around the world are battling overtourism but have found solutions to overcome it:
- Paris, France; has banned city centre bus tours, to encourage environmentally-friendly travel.
- Machu Picchu, Peru; gives visitors a set entry time and a ticket to control numbers, due to the area experiencing 5,000 daily visitors in the peak of summer.
- Maya Bay, Thailand; has shut its doors to reverse the environmental damage to its coral reefs. Tourists have commonly broken pieces of coral and taken home for a keepsake.
- Bruges, Belgium; has capped cruise ship numbers to reduce crowds in the town.
- New York, San Fransisco and Berlin are engaging in legal challenges against Airbnb to limit the number of tourists.
How can we reduce overtourism?
If you are anxious about adding more strain to overcrowded destinations, cross them out! There are a huge amount of hidden gems to discover. This may help you identify a completely different destination that had never crossed your mind, while at the same time contributing to responsible tourism.
Call yourself an eco-tourist. Then while away, celebrate landscapes, indigenous cultures and histories. All you need is to do your research, preserve important sites, respect local laws and support local businesses. Conscience clear. Peace out. No worries.
If you choose a less populated travel location, you can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you won’t be contributing to the deterioration of the local environment or wildlife population. Plus, you will have more interesting travel stories to tell down the pub!
To get the ball rolling, we have found four lesser-known gap year destinations around the globe. Starting fairly close to home at European Union HQ, we’ve gradually gone further afield. Have a read and see what you think!
Visit Brussels, Belgium to reduce overtourism
Compared to a lot of European capitals, Brussels is somewhat overlooked – and much less busy. What’s more, it is right on our doorstep if you want to stay fairly close to home.
After catching the Eurostar from London to Brussels Central Railway Station, you will be greeted with the sweet smells of chocolate and cinnamon. This may encourage you to tuck into much of what Belgium is known for – its distinctive desserts. What it might not be known for is the Sonian Forest and its strong fashion culture.
What can I experience in Brussels?
- Shop till you drop in Avenue Louise.
- Seek out the Grand Place, one of the world’s most beautiful squares but oddly hidden.
- Listen to jazz in one of two 17th-century buildings in the Grand Place.
- Taste Belgium’s own shortcrust cinnamon Speculoos, alongside local organic cuisine.
- Root out some bargains while shopping in Brussels’s flea market “Place du Jeu-de-Balle.”
- View colourful murals on contemporary buildings and conceptual art.
What work can you do in Brussels during a gap year?
If you plan ahead, you’ll notice a range of job vacancies in Belgium for foreigners. While you live and work in the heart of Europe, as a bartender or Au Pair, work is easy to come by. However, if you’re more career-focused you could aim to find a summer internship…
- You can apply for political science internships and IT placements, abundant due to Brussels being one of the world’s most powerful political capitals.
- Intern at the European Foundation Centre (EFC), to up your organisation, administration and overall employability skills.
- Internships in more creative industries can include hospitality management, marketing, photography and videography.
Another place that is wonderful to stay, going slightly further afield is Moscow…
If you picture the globe, you might imagine the biggest country on earth is some distance from the UK. However, it only takes a four-hour flight to reach its eastern capital. If you’d like to break up your flight and extend your holiday, book a flight with a stopover in sustainable Helsinki, Finland. Stay for up to seven days to explore this untouched, natural part of the world and you will automatically be covered.
When you first think of Russia, you may have heard stories of Rasputin, revolution and the Soviet Union led by Joseph Stalin but if you go with an open mind, modern-day Moscow may surprise you: everything is big, beautiful and there is a lot to experience.
Which places can you visit in Moscow?
- Book a Moscow city pass, a Moscow city tour, or experience Moscow at night by bus! While Moscow’s nightlife buzzes, view Victory Square in dazzling red lights surrounded by stunning fountains and architecture.
- In the morning, walk around Red Square, which is a UNESCO-listed area.
- Take photos of St Basil’s Cathedral, with its candy-coloured domes.
- Wander along the Moskva River to the Kremlin Palace. You will find several breath-taking museums, including one of the largest in the world.
- Arts fan? View one of the many museums to be inspired by incredible art collections, such as the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.
What can you do in Moscow during a gap year?
- Embrace a new culture, while teaching English to a host family. Volunteer for free and in return learn Russian and how to cook traditional Russian dishes.
- Volunteer at a Russian orphanage and make a difference to a young person’s life.
- Become an Au Pair. Live with a Russian family and experience a genuine slice of Russian life up-close.
- If your passion is teaching, try a Teacher Intern Program in Moscow and give 25 teaching hours per week.
Coupled with Moscow’s majestic architecture, if you decide to spend a month or a year in Russia you are sure to find something that will amaze you.
For more culture, buy yourself a Bolshoi ballet train ticket and head to St Petersburg. Or for more heat and history try the Middle East…
A dusty desert, tombs, treasures and Tutankhamen might spring to mind when you think of Egypt but a Cairo holiday can offer you something extra if you delve a little deeper into the home of the Sphinx. For instance, did you know that lush vegetation shares the banks of the Nile with modern skyscrapers?
What activities can I do in Cairo?
- Dive into the Red Sea, to view wrecks, unique spinner dolphins and fish.
- Taste savoury and well-spiced street food like acarona béchamel (Egyptian lasagne) and see why Cairo is emerging as a foodie hotspot in the Middle East.
- Go back in time to see medieval monuments in a semi-walled city, or admire the ancient Pyramids of Giza, which were constructed 4,500 years ago.
- Walk through the Grand Bazaar and experience colourful silk treasures and smell all the spices found in the Middle East
- Listen to the sounds of this modern megalopolis. A historical city that never sleeps.
What types of gap year programs are there in Egypt?
- Enrol in an ‘Arabic Learning School’ and make your CV stand out.
- In contrast, teach vulnerable children and women English. As they rarely have access to learning, they will be thankful.
- Help organic farmers complete desert farming research and conduct new farming projects, to source new desert agricultural techniques. Here you’ll exchange cultural experiences and empower farmers to innovate and create food security.
- Take part in Archaeological Digs to discover the past with your fingertips, in the depths of the desert.
After some time in Cairo, you could trek to Kenya to see your favourite animals and try out some water sports on Diani Beach- over 100 sports and activities are covered in our policy for free.
Leap across the Atlantic to Lima and Cusco in Peru
Like Cairo, you will discover that Peru’s capital Lima is also quite dry. In fact, it is the second-driest capital in the world. To hide from the heat, make a splash in the South Pacific Ocean from off the Miraflores cliff tops on the coast. Inland, visit Cusco which sits within the Peruvian Andes, the capital of what was the Inca Empire.
Which activities can you do in Peru?
- Taste succulent snacks and samples during a Lima Tasty Tour
- Seek out the unique sight of a Sea Lion, after taking a short boat ride to a Galapagos island.
- Walk around the Cosmopolitan Cusco market
- Take a Cusco day tour and go to the Sacred Valley
- Visit Kuelap, which is in fact even older than Machu Picchu – and far quieter
What gap year programmes can you do in Lima and Cusco?
- Shadow and help local vets at a community clinic to provide animal care and consider if this is a career for you.
- Revive, renovate and repair homes within impoverished villages and community gardens.
- Become a Medical Volunteer in Lima to improve healthcare provisions. Your knowledge, whether new to medicine or experienced will be gratefully received, due to a chronic shortage of doctors in Peru. On the flip side, if you require medical assistance, our 24-hour medical emergency helpline is available for you to call 24/7, 365 days a year. For more information read our policy.
These gap year destinations are less travelled than others, which can help you contribute to responsible tourism. Make a difference by empowering farmers, teaching people far from access to learning aids or medical treatment in areas where you will not contribute to an adverse impact on the area.
If you’d like to go a step further and not just contribute to responsible tourism but actively look after the environment as well, while you’re away, read our environmental gap year programmes blog.