Being a “world traveler” means you’re intelligent, experienced, probably financially well-off – and better than the Average Joe, right?
Nothing has helped cement the link between reputation and travel more than social media.
We post and tweet with fervor because going places that other people may never get to see makes us look and feel cool.
There’s just one problem with that.
Following the herds 2.0
Let’s face it, human beings suck sometimes.
We’re arrogant and self-absorbed. We’re conspicuous consumers. We’re impatient. Above all, we want to be liked – and we want people to envy our lives.
And what better way to make our closest friends and family – and our hundreds of less-than-an-acquaintance followers — envious than taking trips to amazing places and throwing it in their faces with all our photos and stories?
Everyone’s watching, and everyone’s influenced by what they see. They want to be cool too. They want to go where we go.
Perhaps there’s no place on earth that’s been affected more by this social media “coolness” factor than the tiny North Atlantic island nation of Iceland.
But when a place like Iceland gets overrun with tourists, doesn’t it lose its authenticity and coolness?
Back before computers, cell phones, and social media (yes, I’m that old), the hot travel destinations were discussed on TV – documentaries where a lone host took us to spectacular sites and piqued our interest.
Maybe someone we knew decided to go there and shared their photos and stories – in person. Shocking.
In the 1980s and 90s, there were a few noticeable waves. England was popular again after the highly-televised wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
Americans, especially, flocked to walk where this commoner-turned-princess walked. It was cool, but maybe a little too much like home.
And then Australia was big. Now this was different and exciting. Cool accents, amazing wildlife and scenery, Christmas in the summertime – and the water in your hotel bathtub drained counter-clockwise!
Then there was Japan, as everyone wanted to visit the place where all the up-and-coming technology was being developed.
But Europe and the Far-East and Mediterranean were becoming more ordinary as more people experienced them. Been there, done that. We wanted to go somewhere where no one else we knew had been.
Now, the millennials who grew up with social media – and a sense of entitlement and wanderlust – have decided there’s no place we can’t go (more like trample over) in our quest for attention.
The hotspots for travel are now little markets and villages in countries many people have never heard of. Jungles and rainforests. Glaciers and cliffsides and isolated islands.
All-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean are out. So are classic destinations like Rome or Paris. Sure, tourists still flock to these places, but youth breeds impatience, and “kids these days” think these places are boring.
But over-tourism in destinations that never expected a huge influx of tourism in the first place is now becoming a major problem.
Waves of tourists are traveling to places that can’t handle it. Social media influencers and intellectual hipsters are like bulls in a china shop, trouncing into corners of the world that will make for good photo-ops on Instagram.
This over-tourism may bring a temporary economic boost to local economies, but in the long run, tourists are damaging the very scenery they came to see, inconveniencing and downright annoying residents, and ruining any future for tourism with their destruction.
Take Holland, for example. It’s had its fair share of tourists over the years, but in the age of Instagram, everyone wants a photo of themselves frolicking in a tulip field or patronizing Amsterdam’s Red-Light District.
Proud American Traveler has previously shared how traffic became unbearable, tulip fields were trampled in ruin, and residents had to leave their homes because their backyards were filled with obnoxious photo-seekers.
The result? They don’t want tourists to visit anymore.
And then there’s Iceland. Beautiful, yes, but not the first place you’d think of to go on vacation.
Because of its unique qualities and the fact that literally no one would have Iceland at the top of their bucket list, it’s become a top destination.
Social media influencers are posting themselves basking under the northern lights, camping out in the canyons, posing under waterfalls and on glaciers.
Iceland’s population is only 300,000, yet nearly two-and-a-half million tourists invaded the island last year. That’s 9 times more people than the entire population itself!
Sure, Iceland did their best to entertain and amaze us, selling the island as an otherworldly getaway.
Residents put up with crowds, obnoxious behavior, and the loss of untouched beauty that made them want to live there in the first place.
Justin Bieber even shot a music video there in 2015. That’s enough to ruin any nation’s legacy.
Iceland saw so many tourists in such a short time, they had to create an exhibit with the northern lights as a digital presentation in a museum.
But after a few years of over-tourism, the inevitable happens.
Iceland was the hot new tourist destination for a time. Everyone got their photos for Instagram, bragged about their adventure into the unknown, visited a few trendy cafes built for the influx, and then…
Iceland, along with other hot travel spots of the last few years, are seeing what happens when their stars starts to fade.
The excitement dwindles and the crowds disperse. People who may have wanted to visit aren’t as inspired to do so because it’s now tainted as a “mainstream” destination.
Or, they avoid going to a previously trendy destination because it’s literally lost its original appeal – wilderness destroyed, too many out-of-place shops and restaurants you can see anywhere — or they fear it will still be too crowded with the final stragglers.
It’s a sad state of affairs.
These trendy travel destinations see tourists clamoring to visit. They build cafes and museums and gift shops, and then it all stops.
The businesses close. The museum exhibit halls are empty. And residents are worse off than they were before.
The tourists leave without a second thought, checking off a box on their list and moving on to wreak havoc on the next unprepared, Instagram-worthy location.
The question then becomes, how far are people willing to go to experience the next greatest thing?
Are they going to travel uninvited into remote tribal villages and storm into native huts so they can brag about their “authentic” experience? I wouldn’t be surprised.
There are only so many places in the world, especially ones that can handle a mass influx of tourists only there to pillage and destroy before moving on.
And how long, really, will the social media posting frenzy go on? How many times do we want to see someone’s dinner, no matter how exotic?
How much patience do we really have for all this boastful arrogance?
It won’t be too long before it all becomes unsustainable as new locations scurry to accommodate — and then struggle to recover when the fad is over.
I’m not saying you have to stay home and watch travel documentaries.
Human beings will continue to dream. We will continue to be fascinated by the unknown. We’ll continue to explore.
But we don’t have to follow the herd, knowing full-well that trends always lose their charm eventually. We hold some responsibility to each other. (Yes, millennials, I’m talkin’ to you.)
There’s a difference between being a tourist and being an attention-seeker.
It’s up to all of us to decide which we’d like to be.
For more on how obnoxious tourists are ruining special places, visit Proud American Traveler.