How to scratch your wanderlust itch without the crowds.
Coronavirus has stopped many things in their tracks – and travel has undoubtedly been one of them. Yet after months of lying low, who can blame anyone for being eager for a change of scenery?
Sure, many of us have been spoiled in recent years. Budget airfares and a ‘hashtag-explore’ culture on social media has made travel seem less of a privilege than a right. So it’s understandable that many people will be reluctant to shelve that aspect of their lives, even in the light of, first, eco-concerns and, more recently, global health.
But they don’t necessarily need to.
Even before Coronavirus, many destinations were buckling under the weight of over-tourism. So here’s where you can get a similar hit, whether at home or away.
1. Swap Venice for Slovenia
Venice, otherworldly city that it is, has long been in danger of drowning (much like a character in another fairy-tale, although that one was Danish…) not only under water, but also under tourism. The pandemic has been instrumental in slowing things down this year, but the fact that locals are keen for things not to return to pre-COVID levels is indicated by the fact that they are celebrating the banning of cruise lines for the rest of the year.
An alternative? Named the World’s Most Sustainable Country in 2017, Slovenia offers the traveller comparable food, wine and medieval architecture, minus the crowds. Head west to Ljubljana, and you can even get your canal fix by cruising on the river that meanders through the city.
2. Choose Costa Rica instead of Mexico
Even before the scourge of COVID-19, which placed Mexico’s death toll high on the global count, Mexico was problematic for travellers. Coral reefs in Cozumel have been decimated, package holiday hotspots like Cancun and Tulum have been burdened by tourist demand and Mexico City is beset by problems of poverty and pollution, to which thoughtless tourism contributes.
Swerve round it and head for Costa Rica: in 2018, it ranked on non-profit organisation Ethical Traveller’s 2018 list of The World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations, which examines human rights, environmental protection and animal and social welfare. The country aims to be carbon neutral by 2021 and around one-quarter of the country is part of a protected forest or reserve.
3. Head to Chile instead of Peru
Sidestep Peru, which is struggling under the weight of pollution, deforestation and displacement of locals, when planning your South American odyssey; instead, choose Chile, which also appeared on the Ethical Traveller list, and is an adventurer’s dream, with hugely diverse terrain encompassing volcanoes, lakes, high plains and vast expanses of desert, as well as buzzing city centres.
4. Europe-based? Eschew the Americas in favour of Switzerland
The 2018 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), produced by the Yale Centre for Environmental Law & Policy placed Switzerland in top place. It’s also accessible from the UK by train, so choose its mountains and lakes over those of Canada or Colorado for your next ski holiday. Yes, your chocolat chaud will be expensive – but so are those long-haul flights.
5. Embrace your Scilly side
Tourism to Greece has boomed dramatically in recent years and the islands, in particular, are struggling to cope with the pressure. Instead, try the Isles of Scilly – you may not always get the skin-sizzling temperatures, but you’re assured of azure seas and sailing.
The Isles’ westerly position means that you’ll also get spectacular sunsets to rival those of Santorini – and without having to fight off a horde of ‘grammers to enjoy it.
6. Caribbean? No, Cornwall
In response to the demand for staycations, Parkdean Resorts have put together a list of British beaches that meet a ‘Sandtone’ quotient. Craving those talcum powder-white beaches of the Caribbean but less sure about the travel? The lightest sand in the UK is to be found in Kynance Cove, St Ives – an area beautifully distanced from the crowds of some of Cornwall’s more hectic spaces. Turquoise waters and imposing rock stacks complete the ‘living the dream’ picture.
7. Choose Highlands over Himalayas
Located on the South Side of Glen Coe, Bidean nam Bian, in Scotland, is a complex mountain that rivals what you might find in Nepal. Looking for a challenge without the carbon emissions? Bidean nam Bian is steep, rocky and holds on to snow well into the summer. Allow a good 8 hours to tackle it.
8. Fragrance out of France
The lavender fields of Provence were a draw even before Instagram made everyone hyper-aware of how photogenic seas of purple were. For a similar experience closer to home, the UK’s lavender fields are just as deliciously hued, gorgeously scented and fabulously backdrop-worthy. The fields in Norfolk tend to be less touristed than some – and the region is renowned for its wide and desolate swathes of sand, too.
Check out more sustainable cities here.