Overtourism and sustainability: traveling beyond the selfie

You’re at Saint Nicolas Viewpoint and you’ve been dreaming about this twilight for years. It’s one of the most beautiful twilight in the world and at last, you’re here. However, masses of people stop you from taking in the beauty of the sky and not just because they’re spellbound by the sunset on the horizon. The majority are taking selfies or photos of the landscape without actually seeing it with their own eyes. Does that sound familiar? Have you ever had a similar experience? Have you ever been the person taking the selfie? We’re sure you have as we’ve all fallen into that trap at some point.

Sustainable tourism: the difference between looking and seeing

We don’t think much about words in our native language, but when we study another one, we think long and hard about the nuances which differentiate one word from another. They seem to be synonyms, but this is almost never the case. A clear example of this is “look” and “see”. When you say, “I’ve seen Granada”, it means you’ve seen Granada but it hasn’t touched you in any way. “Seeing” is an involuntary action; you take in what’s in your field of vision, but you’re not focusing on anything. “Looking” implies you’ve chosen to look at what’s before you. You take it in, think about it, enjoy it, love it or hate it, but it will always stay with you.

Travelling during the time of the selfie, we see more than we look. Or maybe not. Perhaps instead of looking, we’re seeing and searching, but not for somewhere that really touches us inside, but somewhere for us to show ourselves off.

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That instagrammable location that shows your followers that you’re in the most beautiful spot in the world, but what happens when everyone has the same idea?

The streets are crammed, people can’t get passed, we damage part of the local heritage and we have to wait our turn while life, the history of our holiday or getaway destination, goes unnoticed. Our eyes and memory card are packed with photos, but we haven’t actually learned anything. If that wasn’t enough, we’ve completely saturated a historical spot, while other areas are left totally deserted.

Experience your holiday with all senses and you’ll avoid overtourism

So, you’re probably asking yourself, how can I practice sustainable tourism when travelling? Haven’t we been travelling with cameras for decades? Why is it such a problem now? The problem lies in quantity. Today, we can take as many photos as we want, wherever we want. However, we all end up doing the same thing, crowding around corners and pretty spots. We end up waiting and never truly enjoying the landscape because we feel the need to take a quick selfie and get out of the way for the next person.

The key to sustainable tourism is to really enjoy the present. Look with your heart, not through a lens or just a quick glance. The only important thing is how you and your fellow travellers look at what’s right in front of you. Genuine smiles and embraces as opposed to posing. People and their happiness are much more intense when you’re focused. On the other hand, cities like Granada have certain characteristics you’ll only be aware of if you use all your senses: the scent of spices in Plaza de las Pasiegas or the sound of water throughout the streets. Do the same with the stunning beauty of our monuments.

Prioritize close networks over social networks

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Travelling enriches our personal development, improves our self-esteem and brain health. That’s why families who can afford to travel to other countries have yet another educational resource. Thanks to this custom, figures such as Washington Irvin, Gerald Brenan or Virginia Woolf, came to our city, Granada. Currently, traveling to another country is more affordable, so more people choose to go off and discover other cultures. At CICERONE, we know that the majority of people who come and explore with us live outside Spain.

At CICERONE, when we talk about close networks, we’re referring to those which join you on holiday, those you come across along the way. You can make new friends and get to know the people who show you around cities or monuments if you choose to join a guided tour. If you’re currently in Granada or another city, you’ll realise that you’re surrounded by strangers. Imagine how many personal stories you’re missing out on when you take a selfie to increase your followers!

Therefore, if you want to see the monuments and explore the city alongside a guide, we’d recommend a private guide or a premium small group. Of course, you’ll be able to take photos, but you’ll do so with new friends you’ve met while wandering around for a few hours, chatting and sharing your thoughts. You’ll also establish a very intimate relationship with your guide, who you’ll be able to ask any questions or queries you might have, because they’ll have plenty of time to answer you. As there are few people in the group, you won’t interrupt day-to-day local life in the city or mistreat its heritage. You’ll leave an even richer mark on this destination and it will leave an even deeper one on you.

Countries are made up of nature and people. The best way of getting close to them is to establish an emotional link and the best way to contribute to improving their history is to mix with them, delve into them with all five senses, and more. The sixth: your heart. You’ll leave with unforgettable memories and make them eternal with photos and selfies. They might not have the most instagrammable backdrop, but you’ll have gained so much more: an experience that will change you forever.