It’s nothing new to read articles complaining how overrun some places have become (like Ankor Wat and Machu Picchu, for instance). In this age of overtourism, where whole cities like Amsterdam and Venice are getting fed up, travelers often then make the false logical leap that there aren’t any undiscovered places left in the world. We’re all on the same circuit, all flying to places millions of people have experienced already.
For many package tourists and cruise ship bookers this may be true. They’re going to end up in “greatest hits of travel” places that are now mobbed with tens of thousands of people just like them.
For any independent traveler, however, it’s very easy to escape the travel crowds. You’ll be sharing the Inca Trail with 499 other people if you join that popular hike in Peru. Same with the Everest Base Camp trek. But if you go hiking in Kyrgyzstan, the trail is going to look like this nearly all the time:
Even in super-popular countries like France, Italy, and Thailand, it’s often just a matter of taking a bus or train a couple hours away. Head to a less famous place where the people will be happy to see you.
Go Beyond the Obvious to Escape the Travel Crowds
I see this over and over again in my second home of Mexico. When I went to awesome Zacatecas for the first time, I ran into two other foreigners. They lived there. When I took my family to the Pueblo Magico of Cuetzalan, it felt like a place that should be mobbed with backpackers. But we were the only travelers there who weren’t from Mexico. Even big cities with lots of things to see and do can be this way when you get away from the beach resort areas. A recent report said that more than 92% of Mexico’s tourist arrivals last year were to just seven airports—in a country with 31 states and a capital district.
I’ve talked to many travelers who have been to Salta, Argentina but did not make three hours away to laid-back Cafayate. There are no real “sites” in Cafayate except the canyon outside of town, so many tourists give it a pass. So it’s mellow, sleepy, and feels undiscovered, despite the proliferation of wineries all around town. There are a dozen little pueblos in the Salta Province that are in dramatic settings but they get even fewer visitors.
In Bolivia, the locals weren’t sure what to make of me when I went wandering around this town pictured below. Few travelers make it this far across the salt flat:
Sure, Machu Picchu, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley of Peru are jam-packed with visitors now. Take a trek to Choquequirao though and your group will have the grand ruins to itself. Or just do a trek in the Sacred Valley to places where the tour buses aren’t stopping. Or head to northern Peru and gaze at 5,000-year-old ruins in solitude.
Prague is completely jammed with tourists, especially in the summer, but it’s a whole different story in the Moravia region in the south. Same with Eger in Hungary or Poland away from Warsaw and Krakow. Even in Ireland and England, if you take your time instead of zipping around checking off boxes, you can stay in places nobody you know has heard of (except maybe Rick Steves).
Just hitting the #2 city instead of the #1 one can make a huge difference in the crowds. Head to Split instead of Dubrovnik, for instance.
It’s not any harder to escape the travel crowds now than it was 20 years ago. Two decades from now you may be reading about Morelia, Cafayate, and Eger all over the place and you may sigh, “Oh, it was so much better when…” But there will be awesome places not swarming with tourists that are still off the radar. You just have to venture away from the packs of tourists and find a new spot.
Just look at where the crowds are going and then pick another place. There are lots of destinations that have never seen a tour bus or a guide carrying a flag to follow. Go enjoy them.