In 2014, I had the opportunity to spend a year on exchange in the Netherlands. While in Europe, I took advantage of the ease and low cost of traveling, which allowed me to visit many countries, cultures, and sites that were very different than those in my home country, Canada.
My interest in photography meant I was constantly taking photos of my trips to share with friends and family back home. After traveling to many popular destinations, I found myself fascinated with other tourists and started taking photos of them rather than the landmarks we were visiting. I became curious about the tourist’s behaviour and intentions and found myself wondering what the vast majority of people want to gain from their travel experiences.
My attention then turned to how mass numbers of tourists can impact the character of the places they are visiting.
This effect could be anything from issuing expensive visiting permits, like in Antelope Canyon, or excessively marketing one part of a culture that happens to sell internationally, such as legalized marijuana in the Netherlands.
With the world becoming increasingly interconnected, traveling is now an integral part of many lives. This change has been especially evident in the past 20 years, which creates the timeframe for when, what I consider, “modern tourism” takes place.
In the past, travel was only available to a select group of wealthy individuals. But now, with the increase in technology, travel has become more affordable and possible for a wider number of individuals.
I realized that, in many cases, the essence of many romanticized destinations have been altered by the number of foreign visitors and how the local population has reacted to that growth.
Iceland is one such destination that is no longer self-sufficient and must import large quantities of food to accommodate the 1.2 million visitors every year. Tourist hot spots such as Zadar, Croatia, see the local populations leave in masses during the summer months due to increased rent prices because of the influx of tourists.
I personally have been caught in the massive flow of visitors through the Vatican Museums, unable to stop and acknowledge what I was looking at before the hoards of people pushed me onward. Similarly, in the Forbidden City in China, I had to walk at a certain pace before being reminded to keep moving via megaphone from the many employees stationed along the paths who prevent bottlenecks of people taking photos.
By studying how modern tourism functions in today’s world, I became interested in the obvious paradox of my own desire to travel. That is, I, like most travelers want to experience unique and untouched areas, but I also must acknowledge that my presence is another contribution to this new, modern age of tourism.
The idea of these untouched areas are what I believe is the driving motivation for many individuals who love travel. To explore and immerse yourself in a foreign and unique place can prompt personal changes in a way remaining at home cannot.
So this leaves me with a question I have yet to answer — how should we travel in the modern age?