I absolutely loved my time in Europe but there are challenges to travelling now that I didn’t experience when I was younger and quite frankly, things I don’t like about travel in 2023. If you’ve been part of our Have Wheelchair Will Travel community for a long time, you’ll know that I’m passionate about sharing positive can-do stories. But, I’m also about keeping it real. I don’t want to give you the glossy version of travel that is like a tourism advertisement. I want to tell it how it is while sharing the positive stories.
I am a firm believer in travel research and planning and feel that it is paramount to the success of an accessible holiday or getaway. In saying that, I also like spontaneity and flexibility in my travel plans. In 2023 spontaneity seems to nearly be impossible when booking major attractions. Admittedly we travelled to Europe in a peak season, so perhaps at other times there would be more flexibility. We found that key attractions like the Louvre in Paris and the Vatican Museum had limited availability and soon became booked out. Timed tickets needed to be booked which required us to commit to a day and time of day a month before we travelled. Even then we weren’t able to get the times we wanted for everything.
I don’t like locking everything in so tightly. We were fortunate everything worked out well, but we would have liked more flexibility. if the weather isn’t favourable, particularly when we travel with Braeden, we like to be able to change from an outdoor activity to an indoor activity. If we are enjoying a place or activity, I like the ability to stay longer. And if a local tells us about something we must see or do, I like to be able to add it into our plans. Being tied to dates and times makes it harder and often puts pressure on when you have to be somewhere at a certain time for entry.
Back in the day (yes, I know, ancient history) when I travelled with my parents and even with Hubby before kids, we didn’t have to be so regimented. We travelled spontaneously.
We spent so much time queuing for restaurants and attractions. It’s just part of travel and even with timed tickets, there were massive queues. Stand-by queues for those without tickets snaked around blocks. Outside the Louvre we queued for 45 minutes for our 9am ticketed entry.
Before we travelled I’d researched everything as much as possible and I’d seen a massive cattle-grid queue that fills the room where the Mona Lisa is displayed in the Louvre. I had no intention of queuing to see it (I’d seen it before but Amelia and Hubby had not) so I researched the quickest route to the painting. We made it to the room before the hordes of visitors but by the time we were leaving people were running into the room ducking under the barriers. It’s not what you’d expect from people visiting, arguably, the most famous art gallery in the world. There’s something quite unsavoury about it.
The Instagram effect.
Social media has changed travel. I understand the irony of me writing that sentence as I share our travels on social media every day. My aim is to share useful information in the hope of making travel easier for others. I take many photos but I always try to do it quickly and while being respectful of others waiting to do the same. That’s not what many do when they travel. We found many people, of all ages, taking their Insta-worthy photos with little interest in the attraction or painting they were standing in front of. It was all about snapping the photo for the ‘gram’ but in doing so they needed their partner or friend to take hundreds of photos of them doing slightly different poses. After doing so they wouldn’t move off to the side but stand there checking if they were happy with the images. Travel is about more than a photo of yourself in a place. Not only was it frustrating, but it also added to the queues.
Seeing a town or attraction without crowds is difficult in an era when travel is such a priority for so many. I think it alters the vibe of a place when you are literally carried along by a throng of fellow tourists. There’s something less authentic about an experience.
We’d been advised by a friend that there was a bad flu doing the rounds in Italy and we’d read reports that Strep A and Scarlett Fever were prevalent in Paris before we travelled. I didn’t want anything to ruin our plans when we got to Europe as it had been an organisational nightmare to get away. When we arrived in Europe there were an incredible number of people who were visibly unwell so we decided to take the only precaution we could, which was to wear our masks anywhere that it was busy and on public transport. Returning to Sydney we didn’t want anything to delay Braeden coming home from respite or to interfere with us supporting my parents. Covid was of course still on our mind given it had done the rounds of many of our family and friends in Sydney before we left.
How you can counteract the negative elements of travel in 2023
There are some obvious ways to avoid the travel downers I’ve listed above. The most obvious tip is to travel outside of peak times and school holidays, if your situation and work commitments allow it. Unfortunately, that option wasn’t open to us.
Allow more time at your destination and only include one ticketed attraction on any one day. Don’t feel you have to spend your days ticking off notable attraction. Some of our best travel days were spent absorbing a city’s atmosphere and wandering the streets.
Book the first available ticket of the day for attractions and arrive at least 30 minutes before your ticketed time.
Travel off-the-beaten track and to destinations in the off season. Amelia and I travelled to the incredibly popular summer destination of Cinque Terre in Italy. The five towns of the Cinque Terre were quiet in winter. The scenery was still stunning, and we could appreciate it without the crowds. The compromise was that many shops and restaurants were closed but we didn’t mind as it was refreshing to be somewhere without crowds. The trains also ran less frequently (every hour rather than every half hour like in summer) but this wasn’t a problem for us either.
Get up early – wandering the streets of Florence in the early hours of the morning was the perfect way to beat the crowds. Day-trippers hadn’t arrived yet and most places seemed fairly quiet before 9am.
Book accommodation that’s central – in Florence we booked an AirBnB a couple of streets away from the main attractions which made access easy in the early morning. In Rome we stayed across the plaza from the Trevi Fountain so again, we had the opportunity to see it without the throngs of tourists. While it’s often more expensive to stay in a central location it can save you time when it comes to sightseeing and for that reason it may be worth considering.
Look after your health by taking precautions like wearing a mask and santising your hands as you go. I’m thankful that we all stayed well this trip and also didn’t bring anything home to the family.
I don’t have an answer for avoiding the Instagram hogging photo seekers but all the tips above will help, especially getting up early because the hair and makeup routine of an Instagram influencer takes time.
Over-tourism in many destinations is certainly changing the face of travel. I am glad we visited the many places we did on our European adventure but in the future I’d spend less time at major attractions and more time in quieter areas. We visited in peak season, not only for Australian travellers but all for the Europeans, so perhaps at another time it wouldn’t be quite so overwhelming and exhausting. I recommend considering the tips I’ve mentioned above to help make the most of your time when you do travel.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on over-tourism and any tips you have on avoiding it.
Brian Ford says
Sage Travel. I cannot recommend them highly enough, A travel agent company based in Uk and USA, run by a man on a wheelchair who decided his experiences could benefit others. They arranged accommodation that was accessible, wheelchair transport, and tours for us. Here is my experience with them, for a guided tour of the Louvre organised by them, for my friend Sammi on her wheelchair and I : met our guide Titania at the horse statue in the Louvre square, far from the queues. She led us to the security entrance, showed her pass, we were let in and bypassed all queues, then did a lovely 1 +1/2 hour guided tour. No mess no fuss no coconuts – we bypassed the wait lines. I took Sammi from Australia to Paris with Sage Travel and it was wonderful – we did several tours with them, and used their recommended accomodation and transport and had the best time.