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The original travel expert, Rick Steves, on how to avoid contributing to overtourism


Summer travel season is ready to take off. But what if you book that trip, fly for hours, and find yourself surrounded by people just like you? Overtourism is real, from Mt. Fuji to the beaches of Phuket to the trails at Glacier National Park. It's busy out there. We're joined now by a giant of the travel industry, Rick Steves of "Rick Steves' Europe." Welcome to the show.

RICK STEVES: Ayesha, so nice to be with you. Thanks.

RASCOE: How big of an issue is overtourism?

STEVES: Well, it's a big issue if you let the information bully you into places that everybody else is going. You're your own worst enemy if you're suffering from crowds because you're going where all the social media tells you to go. And for every tourist-plagued restaurant in Rome, there's a beautiful place that's a mom-and-pop family-run place with deep roots into the culture in the neighborhood just around the corner, without hitting the jackpot on TikTok, that is a wonderful value without the crowds. You've just got to realize that when the cruise ship is in town, 3,000 tourists just dumped off of that ship, and they're all hellbent on going to the same place, wherever you are, and you want to kind of avoid that during the hours that the cruise ship is dropping the hook.

RASCOE: Has it always been a thing? Because as you're saying, social media does make certain places really trendy. Because, like, when I think about the Amalfi Coast - you see those pictures, it's like, I want to go there. I want that picture (laughter).

STEVES: Exactly. And that's the big dynamic because it didn't used to be that way. But right now, Americans really have a herd mentality. We all want to go where everybody else is going. If you see a mob scene on one pier in one little town that never used to have any tourists, you say to a local, what's going on? What's everybody there? Oh, that's the Instagram spot this year. And all the Instagram people - they don't even know the name of that town, but they're tripping over each other to get there to get that photograph. And so we have that new entry into the field of information, and we have less sophisticated consumers of information that are letting that shape their itineraries.

Now, what I do as a guidebook writer - I was just in Rome working on the 25th edition of the "Rick Steves' Rome" guide. I know what the trends are after 25 years, and I know that what you need a reservation for, what is worth the crowds and what you might want to avoid and find something else that's essentially just as good but not as popular. There's always alternatives to the mob scenes, and that's what I'm enjoying finding. I was just on the Amalfi Coast, and I found a couple of places - Minori and Maiori.

RASCOE: But don't name them, don't name them. Then everybody's going to know. I need you to give me that after the show. No, but I'm joking.

STEVES: I know. But...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

STEVES: ...That's the funny dynamic, isn't it? I'm like the whaler who says, quick, harpoon it before it's extinct.

RASCOE: Do you have any other suggestions for figuring that out for people who are not making guidebooks and don't do that sort of traveling?

STEVES: It's not rocket science, Ayesha. A good example is, don't go between 10 and 4 when all the cruise groups are there. If the Acropolis is open until 8 o' clock, go at 6 o' clock. Nobody's there at 6 o' clock. You got 2 hours all alone at the Acropolis on the Parthenon in Athens, you know? And Europe has, Ayesha, what I call second cities. A lot of us, we have to go to Edinburgh. What about Glasgow? We have to go to Lisbon. What about Porto? And you'll get a different side of Europe if you can go to some of these towns that aren't so darn trendy.

RASCOE: Mm. OK. But see, your profession - you do make guidebooks. You're not necessarily, you know, maybe on Instagram, just taking pictures. But do you feel like maybe I'm a little bit a part of this because I'm telling people about these cool places?



STEVES: I'm the hired hand of my readers, you know? I'm over there trying to find untouristy places, and yeah, you can say I'm trying to ruin them, but I'm not that powerful. I mean, TikTok ruins a place tomorrow. A cruise ship ruins a place tomorrow, and you have to make a choice as a consumer of information what is going to shape your travel plans. Is it clickbait? Is it the thing that's trending on social media? Is it what everybody else is doing? Well, no, unless you just want to be part of the problem.

RASCOE: Do you have any other unique ideas for summer travel that you think are off the beaten path that people don't normally think about?

STEVES: My best tip for summer travel is go off season. Don't go summer travel. Bring an extra sweater and go off season. I love traveling off season these days because it's not only crowded in the summer, Ayesha, it is hot. Climate change is hitting travel a lot. When you go to Europe, it's almost low season now in July and August, in Spain and Greece. I mean, people are starting to avoid it. You just have to recognize that, boy, the world is changing, and you need to avoid the peak season, and you need to avoid the heat and the crowds of summer if you can.

RASCOE: That's travel writer and host Rick Steves. Thank you so much.

STEVES: Hey, thank you. So nice to be with you, and if you do your homework, you can travel great in 2024. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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