Travel is a beautiful thing. Journeys to unfamiliar places can inspire new customs, alter previously held perceptions, encourage big ideas, and evoke a newfound appreciation for things long underappreciated.

And the benefits of travel aren’t exclusive to the traveler. Tourism has become one of the main income sources for many developing countries, representing a key driver of socio-economic progress.

But too often tourism remains restricted to a small selection of hotspots. Too many Instagram accounts are displaying travel photos that differ only in their levels of brightness and saturation.

Amazing day exploring Phang Nga Bay aka James Bond Island

A photo posted by ✈️🌷🍣 (@simpletart) on

#JamesBondIsland #PhangNgaBay #Thailand 😁😉☺

A photo posted by SДJīđ Jдяяєđ (@sajidjarred) on

This type of trendy trip planning is having an unfortunate impact on these popular destinations. Constant crowds are eroding natural landscapes and overusing scarce resources. Tourists are being lured into areas where they are disturbing cultural customs and unintentionally exploiting local communities and wildlife.

In the age of mass tourism, travel has lost a bit of its beauty.  

It’s time to give travel a makeover. This year, take the road less traveled. Challenge yourself to visit destinations undiscovered by your friends, and take the time to research how you can mitigate your negative impact on local landscapes and communities.  

For a bit of inspiration, check out this list of destinations that could make great alternatives to those currently teeming with tourists (and their iPhones).

Instead of Thailand, go to the Philippines.

With beautiful islands, drool-worthy food, grand temples, Full Moon parties, and lush jungles, Thailand can seem like the perfect travel destination. It’s why Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket make it on the itineraries of many first-time travelers.

These days, too many travelers are getting caught in Thailand’s tourist traps (e.g., monkey islands, zoos filled with mistreated elephants and sedated tigers) and are missing out on the real cultural experience.

Take a break from Thailand, and plan a trip to the equally enticing Philippines instead.

Kalanggaman Island, Leyte ---Photo by @toddumpa--- #leyte #philippines

A photo posted by The Philippines 🇵🇭 (@the_philippines) on

Instead of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, go to the Pantanal swamp in Brazil.

It’s every science geek’s dream to see the species that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution. It could also be argued that there’s no better place than the Galapagos to gaze at unique wildlife standing inches away from your face.

However, the region’s unique ecosystems may not be able to survive the pressure of mass tourism. And the annual influx of money from tourism isn't being fairly distributed among local residents who struggle with poverty.

If you want to see wildlife, visit the Pantanal swamp in Brazil, one of the world’s largest wetlands. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a jaguar!

Instead of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, hike to Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City) in Colombia.

Machu Picchu is nothing short of spectacular. And following a multi-day trek through the majestic Andes, some travelers might compare their first glimpse of this ancient civilization to a spiritual awakening.

However, constant crowds are threatening Machu Picchu’s delicate landscape, and porters are commonly mistreated or exploited.  

If a strenuous trek to a mysterious lost city is what you’re after, check out this trek in Colombia instead.   

Instead of Indonesia, go to Taiwan.

The thought of Indonesia inspires images of golden beaches, yoga retreats, and bike rides through sprawling rice paddies. But popular destinations in Indonesiasuch as Baliare filled with congestion and commercialization.

If your goal is to acquire peace of mind, direct your attention toward Taiwan. The country promises nature walks, fine-sand beaches, hot springs, and myriad religious temples.

Instead of Costa Rica, go to Nicaragua.

No one can deny the beauty of the rainforest. It’s a widely known fact that Costa Rica’s tropical landscape makes it a top destination for tourists.

What’s less well known is that Nicaragua’s natural riches rival those of better-known Costa Rica. Give Nicaragua’s economy a boost by planning your next rainforest adventure in this developing country instead.  

Nicaragua: tierra de lagos y volcanes. 💙 #isladeometepe

A photo posted by Adriana Paniagua (@adrispanis) on

Instead of Siem Reap, Cambodia, go to Bagan, Myanmar.

Siem Reap is home to none other than Angkor Wat, one of the most famous man-made wonders of the world. Travelers from near and far come to watch this ancient temple slowly appear under the light of the glistening sunrise. It’s an incredible experienceand one that’s attracted an increasing number of visitors over the years.

The rapid boom in tourism has left local authorities scrambling to come up with an effective tourist management plan.

Give Angkor Wat a breather, and try exploring awe-inspiring ancient temples in newly democratic Myanmar instead.

A solitary temple in the valley of Bagan complex, Myanmar. Follow our travels on Snapchat 👻: NomadBeautiful

A photo posted by Snapchat: 👻 NomadBeautiful (@nomadisbeautiful) on

As you prepare for your next adventure, remember that travel trends are constantly changing. What’s now considered a traveler’s best kept secret could soon be an overcrowded destination threatened by exploitation.

Always do your own research before committing to your next travel destination, and always be conscious of the impact tourism is having on vulnerable local communities. If you can, do your best to visit destinations that encourage sustainable tourism, like Bhutan or Palau.

With the right frame of mind, you can make travel a rewarding experience for yourself and the communities involved.

2016 is a new year. Make it a year of the traveler, not the tourist.

Follow Caryn on Facebook and Twitter.


Demand Equity

2016 travel guide for global citizens

By Caryn Carver