Fifteen years ago I was on a Mediterranean pleasure cruise that stopped at the major tourist destinations of Italy and Greece. It was a transformational experience. Not because of the landmark tourist attractions – seeing them in person offered nothing of substance that I hadn’t already learned or seen in documentaries. The thing that changed me forever was experiencing the other tourists. Vast crowds. Throngs. Hoards of international travelers queuing to the same locations to tread, ogle, and photograph the same things.
A recreational traveler who claims to be an environmentalist or conservationist is selfishly delusional. The environmental costs of intercontinental travel and infrastructure – of seasonally transporting and hosting masses of spectators – are enormous. And to what end? What is the benefit?
Do you feel an itch to travel to popular destinations? First ask yourself: What do you bring to the experience besides money?
Tourism is a ridiculous enterprise. I sampled global tourism for a few years because my wife worked in the industry and our travel was subsidized. I can say, from firsthand experience, that it is not worth the time and money, especially given the alternatives.
Do you want to immerse yourself in history or culture? Stay home and read or watch documentaries – written by world-class scholars and narrators; shot by professional photographers with the best equipment and unlimited access. Do you value the landmarks? Stay home and patronize conservationists. Do you need to escape or get out for recreation? Explore the attractions of the region in which you live.
Tourists are indulging in a vicious cycle of peer rivalry or bland FOMO. Somebody boasts of visits to the Pantheon or the Colosseum, and now a dozen acquaintances feel the need for their own first-person collection of passport stamps and photos of … the same thing? Are they all exceptional writers or documentarians?