I just finished reading Elizabeth Becker’s Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, and I kind of wish I hadn’t — not because it isn’t good, but because it opened my eyes to some of the significant negative impacts of international travel. I don’t like having to feel bad about traveling, dammit! But it’s hard to ignore the author’s persuasive arguments about the immense environmental, economic, and historical damage we’re doing through our unquenchable thirst for global travel experiences.

You probably won’t be too surprised to hear that cruises are among the most environmentally damaging kinds of international travel out there, in light of tragedies like the sinking of the Costa Concordia in 2012. But many travelers — myself included — naively assume that at the very least, those ports-of-call stops boost local economies by creating jobs and bringing an influx of money to the craft vendors, refreshment stands, and shops clustered nearby. Sadly, Becker demonstrates that it isn’t so; the ports attract large international chains like diamond sellers (affiliated with the cruise companies) to soak up tourist dollars, and those day-trip excursions arranged by cruise companies keep tourists from strolling through the local streets, where they might actually spend money and help out the local economy. Businesses are pressured to advertise on the cruise company’s official map in order to become a recommended business; meanwhile, the cruise directors strongly advise passengers against shopping “off the map,” ironically implying that doing so might result in getting ripped off. And that’s not even mentioning the irreversible damage that pollution, raw sewage and waste, and water displacement have done to historic locations like Venice.

If this is all too depressing, stop now before you read a single page of Overbooked! But if you find the topic interesting, and you’d like to know your options for more responsible and ethical global travel — yes, Becker does provide some suggestions — this is a really fascinating look at trends in travel from an international perspective. Stay tuned for a full review!

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Stephanie Perry
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