The thing I never loved about the concept of a bucket list is that it is inexorably linked to death. As in “kick the bucket” plus a list — meaning a “list of things to do before you die.”
Travel and exploration should be about living, not death. But sadly, as we face the consequences of our inaction on climate change, we are facing some real environmental challenges. It is an extraordinarily selfish act to travel just to check places off a list without regard for the impact on that travel on an environmental or societal level.
I think we should seek empathy in travel, learn from it, and gain insight into the lives of others — without destroying the very thing we set out to see. Over-tourism is closely tied to the ridiculous bucket list concept — as so many people crowd in to see the same places and things, causing real damage. The congestion and excess of visitors to so-called bucket list places can actually do real damage to the quality of life of locals while diminishing the very travel experience. Venice has been loved to death by tourists.
We need to just stop. Retire that bucket list and travel for a better world.
I feel a bit responsible, for a decade and a half I worked with Miguel Carvalho at the Portugal National Tourist office to introduce Americans to Portugal. We started with less than 200,000 Americans a year visiting Portugal, and grew to more than 1million in 2019.
I look at the crowding in Lisbon, Sintra - and Obidos - and I am saddened. Our goal was to promote all of Portugal, not just a few places. But today, the damage is clear.
So, if you love Portugal, consider these tips to travel for good:
Pack less: Pack what you need — over packing means more weight on the aircraft, and more reliance on cars.
Take the Train: Portugal has very good public transportation, and that’s better for the environment than a rental car.
Don’t fly once you get there: Please don’t fly from Lisbon to Porto or Porto to the Algarve, avoid the hassle and take the train — and cut back on the carbon.
Pick a central hotel or rental: The more you walk, the better the trip is, and good access to public transportation will be good for you and Portugal.
Skip bottled water: Plastic bottles are just waste. Rather, look for eateries that offer their own water in reusable glass bottles or order a 1.5-liter bottle — to cut back on the plastic.
Go off the path: When tourists follow each other like elephants, overcrowding is a natural consequence. Think off the grid, look for a new destination in Portugal: Skip Sintra, Obidos or Lagos and try Mafra, Marvão or Milfontes. Don’t travel for a selfie, but travel to learn, experience, and see the places that hordes skip, and in the end you will save money, have amazing adventures, and live a vacation you will be talking about for years.
Travel off-season: Save on air, hotels, and lines by picking shoulder season — the weather in May or October in Portugal can be better than July - so take full advantage.