“Doing it for the ‘gram” dominates huge swaths of the travel landscape these days. People are voyaging to far-flung (yet wildly popular) destinations more than ever — funneled to a prescribed set of spots by Instagram influencers. We’re throwing down the cash to get that sunrise shot at Petra or the Pyramids of Giza or above Machu Picchu, and that’s great. We’re traveling! But we’re also over-taxing some very delicate ecosystems, local populations, and old infrastructure.
The Uproxx crew is always on board for you to travel more. But in an age when huge populations are becoming wealthier (Russia, China, India) and traveling is cheaper and easier than ever, we have to travel more wisely and respectfully. Iconic beaches on well-worn Instagram trails are being shuttered due to over-tourism. The effect of this is threefold. Locals lose out on employment and the money that tourism reaps. The environment is f*cked by too many people trampling through for that “perfect” Instagram post. And, when places are ruined, we all lose out on experiencing something magical.
It’s time to start thinking about expanding your tourism (and Instagram) horizons and being a little more intrepid. The thing is, the earth is freakin’ massive. There are so, so many amazing places to see. With that in mind, we thought we’d list some of our favorite destinations on the planet — each one every bit as awesome as more touristed locales. We’d also like to point out the added benefit of blazing your own path and being a true original instead of following what literally everyone else is doing.
One quick caveat here. When we offer an alternative destination, we are not saying that the original destination is somehow lacking or not worth seeing. Over-touristed destinations are packed for a reason — they’re spectacular. We’re making this list to give those places a chance to breathe and recover from the millions who tax it daily. Please don’t stop going somewhere just because so many people already do. Just think about whether it’s right to go “right now.” Then maybe consider one of these spots instead.
MADA’IN SALEH, SAUDI ARABIA (3,900 Instagram posts)
Alternative to Petra, Jordan, 722,813 Instagram posts.
Mada’in Saleh is a mythical place in the middle of the Arabian Desert. Around 2,200 years ago the Nabatean Kingdom carved 131 tombs into the rocks around Al Madinah Region of Saudi Arabia. This is basically exactly what you get at Petra in Jordan with about a millionth the tourism.
Of course, there’s a big reason that Petra is over-touristed and Mada’in Saleh is not. Saudi Arabia has a notoriously draconian visa policy for most people from the West. That being said, scoring a visa is not impossible for the country. And, if we’ve learned anything in all our travels, the places that are a little harder to get to are the places worth the effort.
SULAWESI, INDONESIA (872 Instagram Posts)
Alternative to Bali, Indonesia, 40,215,808 Instagram posts.
Indonesia is fabulous. The island nation has over 20,000 islands to choose from in a space larger than the continental United States. Yet, for some weird reason, people tend to focus almost solely on Bali (it could be Islamaphobia, as this is the only non-Muslim island in the chain).
Sulawesi has so much to offer. Its pristine beaches are untouched. That’s not hyperbole. There are miles and miles of postcard-perfect beaches in Sulawesi with no one on them. You can go there and have an island to yourself.
Granted, the tourist infrastructure is a little more basic in this part of Indonesia. But that’s what makes it that much more rewarding and fun. Plus, there are still resorts and touristy stuff all over the region. It’s just that little more remote, a little more chilled, and (if you like those qualities) a little more magical.
FAROE ISLANDS (251,585 Instagram Posts)
Alternative to Iceland, 8,459,652 Instagram posts
There’s no denying a big reason Iceland has blown up recently is due to WowAir’s amazingly cheap flights and layovers to Europe from America. It’s also a wondrous place. With a little more effort you can go to an equally wondrous place with far fewer tourists clogging the highways, bars, and hot springs — The Faroe Islands.
The Faroe’s are an absolutely breathtaking outcropping in the North Atlantic. The culture is unique. Nature and wildlife are lush. This is a place that looks and feels, for lack of a better term, epic. The nearly black rock walls rising from the gnarly seas are covered in flocks of puffins, sure-footed sheep, and the greenest grass you’ll ever see. Go! Eat whale. Hang out with the locals. Take that epic insta for your feed.
VERONA, ITALY (32,015 Instagram Posts)
Alternative to Rome, 19,123,656 Instagram posts.
Italy is so varied and full of wonderful hidden gems — sitting right alongside some of the most touristed corners of the globe. Millions flood into Rome every month to see the big sites and, again, that’s great. But, you’re going to be waiting in lines to see those big sites — sometimes for hours in the baking sun. There’s a small city up north where you can get a lot of what you get in Rome without the lines or throngs of tourists: Fair Verona.
Verona isn’t Rome. We’re not trying to say it is. But the city does offer so much of what you want from Italy. There’s a great food scene that’s way more local and accessible (and a little cheaper). There’s more than enough history with castles, churches, and cobbled lanes. There are touristy aspects, like the whole Romeo and Juliet scene.
Then there’s the Arena. Verona has an awesome coliseum that’s straight out of Roman times right in the middle of the city. The big difference — and what gives Verona the edge here — is that this arena is still 100 percent functional. You can actually see a show here and sit right on the seats Romans did 2,000 years ago. It’s fantastic.
GDAŃSK, POLAND (603,064 Instagram Posts)
Alternative to Prague, 12,249,918 Instagram posts.
Prague has dominated the European backpacker trails for well over two decades now. The neo-classic and baroque architecture, gothic cathedrals, deep history, and copious amounts of great beer have drawn generations to the city. And… holy shit is that city packed to the point where on some days it’s hard to walk through the old town. The thing is, most of Central Europe is just like Prague: There’s similar architecture, plenty of Gothicness, similarly intense history, and great beer all over the region. That’s why it’s time to hit Gdansk.
Gdansk’s history might even rival Prague’s as it was the infamous Free-City of Danzig before the Nazis took over. Then it was destroyed in WWII and ethnically cleansed of all its Germans (over 90 percent of the population). Later, the city became the heart of the Polish revolution, freeing itself and Poland from the yoke of Soviet rule. The architecture is as stunning as anything you’d find from Riga to Prague. The beer flows freely and the food is a fantastic mix of Baltic seafood and Central European comfort food (think smoked salmon and all the pierogies).
Gdansk has one huge advantage over Prague: The Baltic Sea. Gdansk has three huge beaches five to 30 minutes from Old Town. An added benefit: These stretches of sand are accessible by public transportation. Fish huts and beer huts pop up every 500 yards or so and the water is just right for swimming all day. What are you waiting for?
VALENCIA, SPAIN (48,979 Instagram Posts)
Alternative to Barcelona, 40,104,185 Instagram posts.
Barcelona is at the breaking point with tourism. The local population has had enough of our shenanigans and have started to rally against us. It’s not that they want tourism to end, they just need less of it to function as a city. So let’s give the people of Barcelona a little bit of a rest. Go to Valencia instead.
No, seriously, go to Valencia right now. It’s one of the dopest cities on the Med. It has one of the coolest old towns in Europe. The maze-like inner-city is a blast to get lost in while you explore all the tapas bars. The Mercado Central is a food wonderland. Plus, the city has amazing beaches, just like Barcelona.
It’s all there, walkable, massively less crowded, cheaper, and younger. Seriously, this city is rad. There’s a great bar culture that erupts every night in old-school cafes and laser-filled underground clubs. Then you can spend the day wiling away the hours in some shady plaza eating great paella while you contemplate a trip to an air-conditioned museum or another trip to the beach. It’s the best of everything the Mediterranean coast of Spain has to offer only more local and cheaper.