A friend recently told me about his favorite hike in western Washington. He described the physical details of the destination to me in detail. The hiking path is accessible from the side of a relatively major road. The trail is family friendly — perfect for his kids. It leads to a beautiful and clean place to swim They like to go on the weekend, simply pulling off on the shoulder of the road, wandering through the woods, and relaxing by their favorite swimming hole.
I sensed excitement and happiness in his voice. That deep, passionate vibe when someone truly loves something.
“Where is it?” I asked him, because I’m fairly familiar with Washington.
He paused, then told me. “Don’t tell anyone, though. I don’t want to post photos of it. And I don’t want other people to know about it.”
I get it.
Just this month, when I wrote about my favorite experiences in Lviv, I debated about whether to share details on where these experiences took place.
Listening to the nun tell the story about Sister Daria heightened the experience of looking at the pysanky collection. Moving through the private collection of Ukrainian costumes while talking with the owner made that experience particularly meaningful too. I think both experiences would have been enjoyable had there been a couple other visitors. But, more than half a dozen people in either space would have completely changed the experiences.
I’ve been working in travel writing for a decade now (!), and the reality is that media’s evolution is changing where and, more importantly, how people visit destinations. Guidebooks have always led people to the Louvre in Paris and St. Mark’s Square in Venice. They are popular tourist sites for a reason.
Some sites have always been crowded and popular. But, the travel landscape in the past decade has changed dramatically. The accessibility and ease of travel — aided by cheap, short-haul flights and peer-curated apps — and social media, in particular, have helped catapult an ugly side of tourism.
Coverage in a major magazine or on a peer-review site like TripAdvisor can spell a destination’s demise or success — or demise due to success.
A few photos geotagged on Instagram or shared on social media can turn an otherwise lovely natural backdrop into an environmental disaster.
So, when my friend told me he hadn’t posted pictures of his favorite hiking trail on Facebook, I wasn’t surprised. I don’t blame him for not letting other people know about his family’s favorite — and uncrowded and undisturbed — weekend getaway.
When I travel, I specifically seek out experiences that aren’t on the “must do” lists and “live like a local” apps. The sad truth is now visitors trying to do the “local” thing overrun many of those “local” places. Run out of their favorite haunts, locals move on to new, different, and locally priced cafes, bars, and artistic venues.
There’s always been a “beaten path.” And there are perfectly sound reasons to hit up those popular sites. But when travelers like myself — and others who are acutely aware of capacity management trends and the power of a well-written review or beautiful photograph — stumble upon Sister Daria’s pysanky collection or that perfect swimming hole, we definitely think twice about if and how to share our findings with the world.