Have you ever arrived at your dream holiday destination, only to find it overcrowded with tourists? The Invisible Tourist is a blog dedicated to sharing the best ways to blend in when traveling and minimize the negative impacts on the local culture/environment often created by overtourism.
We had the opportunity to speak to the Invisible Tourist herself, Alyse, all about her dedication to responsible tourism and her top tips for those wishing to truly embrace different cultures by traveling like a local.
Hi Alyse! Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about how you came to start The Invisible Tourist?
Hi there! I’m Alyse, Australian-based travel content creator and author. I’m fiercely passionate about raising awareness to curb the negative effects of tourism, and started The Invisible Tourist as a means to spread my message about the importance of travelling in a more responsible, “invisible” way.
After travelling for nine years, I saw how rapidly travel had changed and it wasn’t always in a good way. I launched my blog in 2017 at a time when it seemed everyone wanted to stand out, become Insta-famous… I’d always just wanted to blend in!
Through my blog, I share detailed travel guides, itineraries and cultural etiquette guides incorporating ways we can avoid looking like tourists when abroad. Around a year after launch, it grew into more than I could have ever imagined and I’m so grateful to have turned my passion into a career.
You won’t find any pictures of me as I prefer to “be invisible” and allow experiences to speak for themselves!
What advice do you have for those who want to travel more responsibly but are unsure of how to get started? Do you have any top tips?
Think about how to be a tourist the locals will love – that’s a win-win for everyone!
Question more. Look at current trends, research why they’re popular… Then do the opposite of what the majority are doing. Sure, some trends are popular for a reason, but they can also have unintended consequences.
Travelling more responsibly means knowing the direction a bandwagon is heading before jumping onto it.
I think most tourists don’t realise that changing a few small habits can have a positive impact. Every decision we make when travelling has a knock-on effect at the destination, so the aim is to minimise our tourist footprints as best we can. This includes:
- Practising local customs, etiquette and dressing appropriately to demonstrate our cultural awareness
- Learning the basics of the local language to help preserve it and show respect
- Immersing ourselves in the local culture through food and experiences
- Purchasing handcrafted souvenirs to support local jobs and keep traditions alive
- Prioritising local accommodation over international hotel chains to keep tourism money in the community
- Seeking out alternatives to popular spots
- Packing reusable items for our trip to minimise waste
- Opting for small, local group tours instead of larger ones.
Travelling more responsibly means we appreciate that our holiday destination is someone else’s home. We can have more meaningful travel experiences by slowing down, putting local residents, flora, fauna and the environment first where possible.
What do you personally find most difficult about traveling ‘invisibly’? Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Sometimes it can mean having to sacrifice the easy, cheaper options in favour of more sustainable options. Day tours are one example.
For instance, I’d love to see Shirakawa-go during the winter. There are quite a few large group day tours that depart from Nagoya I could take. However, they are mostly on big coaches and only spend a limited time there during the evening for night illuminations.
This contradicts my travel philosophy about avoiding large group tours in areas that have been vulnerable to overtourism issues in the past, as Shirakawa-go has.
To overcome this, I could hire a car, stay a few nights and spend money with locals in the village myself. Unfortunately for me I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving solo in icy winter conditions. But it’s okay, I’m sure I’ll find a solution someday!
Having already established yourself with your successful blog, what made you want to step into the role of being an author? What did you want people to take away from your book ‘How to Not Look Like a Tourist: Unlocking Your Hidden Power for Overtourism Solutions’?
Having travelled since 2008, over the years I noticed a dramatic shift in the tourist mindset. Travel became accessible to more people than it was a generation before and by early 2020, overtourism created issues for locals across the globe. Much of tourism focussed on individuals and profits rather than the destination itself.
Witnessing first-hand a huge contrast with tourism in Kyoto in just a few years was a game changer for me. Arashiyama Bamboo Groves went from a tranquil stroll to an overcrowded, pushy photo op. Not to mention graffiti left on the bamboo’s delicate stems by tourists! This behaviour really reinforced my thinking that we tourists need to do better to improve the industry – not only for ourselves, but for locals too.
When travel ground to a complete halt in March 2020, I saw this as an opportunity to use a new medium to amplify my message about improving how we travel for when it would eventually bounce back.
I wanted my readers to understand how overtourism came to be, the lesser-known issues and provide actionable tips to combat them. Becoming an author meant I could elaborate on my strategies, tips and advice and collate it all in an easy-to-reference handbook to help my readers plan and enrich their future trips as Invisible Tourists.
The main take away I hope readers have from the book is that the choices they make as tourists directly affect how the industry operates. We tourists hold the hidden power to drive positive change!
How do you decide where to travel? What keeps drawing you to Japan?
I’m very inspired by books, and my interest in history and culture plays a large role in determining where I travel. I’m always driven to find out why things are the way they are, and how they came to be.
I have a part cliché answer to why I love revisiting Japan: The kindness of strangers, omotenashi (Japanese hospitality), the distinct seasons, the delectable food, efficient public transport, stunning natural scenery, upholding of ancient traditions, and the seamless blend of old and new.
But the real reason Japan keeps drawing me back is because the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know. This country teaches me things I never knew I needed.
There is an extraordinary attention to detail bestowed in Japanese people that I greatly admire. My travels throughout Japan have taught me so much about appreciating the small things in day-to-day life. I’ve learnt about accepting flaws through wabi sabi, how precious each moment is through ichi-go-ichi-e, and my reason for being through ikigai.
In Japan, there is a beautiful intertwining of spirituality, proud ancestry, deep connection to nature, and abundance of symbolism in almost everything. I feel it is quite a contrast to growing up in Australia and I yearn to keep experiencing these things.
What is your favorite cultural experience you’ve had in Japan?
I have a few for different reasons! But a stand-out cultural experience in Japan for me was a tea ceremony with a geiko (geisha) in Kyoto. I was completely mesmerized by the symbolism in all her hand gestures, the extensive history and meaning behind the ceremony.
It introduced me to a whole new way of thinking that I hadn’t really been exposed to before. My learnings during the tea ceremony have really stuck with me.
Do you have any advice specifically for those who want to travel responsibly in Japan?
- Travel independently (if you can) and enrich your trip with local expertise! This allows the most flexibility to explore at your own pace, take the time for all your senses to soak in and appreciate your surroundings, and actually give back to locals through their cultural experiences on offer.
- If you prefer not to go it alone, small group tours are a responsible option. Whether it be a multi-destination tour or a tour of an area with a small group, money will go directly to the local community. Huge coach tours of 50 people are impersonal, can contribute to economic leakage and have caused issues for local residents in the past (especially in Kyoto), so they are best avoided.
- Staying longer in popular places allows you to visit attractions before and after the tourist crowds come and go, sometimes skipping them altogether. With more time up your sleeve, you won’t have to rush around to popular attractions at the same time as everyone else!
- Don’t try to see Kyoto in a day or two. Allowing at least four days for your first visit is a more sustainable way to see the city. The extra time means you can enjoy stumbling across hidden gems and explore areas off the beaten path.
- Directly support locals of the places you visit. You can help by purchasing unique hand-crafted souvenirs to keep traditions alive, staying in family-run accommodation such as ryokans rather than international hotel chains, and booking Japanese cultural experiences. Food tours such as Arigato Japan’s are the perfect introduction to learning more about Japanese culture through food – you’ll gain insights from locals that you would never have found on your own!
Is there anywhere in Japan you haven’t been that you’re dying to visit?
Can I say everywhere?! Mostly destinations that are off the Golden Route. But specifically, I’d love to see more of the countryside in Gifu prefecture, and am itching to explore Shimane, Tochigi and Shizuoka prefectures next.
Of course we have to ask – what’s your favorite Japanese food to eat when you’re here?
There are so many unique sweet treats in Japan (like shinshu apple KitKats from Nagano), but hands-down my favourite Japanese food is wagyu beef – I can’t get enough! The way it just melts in your mouth is to die for.
As a culinary tourism company, we always love to recommend unique experiences around Japan. What would you suggest for tourists who are looking to do something new and exciting?
Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, travelling is an opportunity to do things we normally wouldn’t normally do at home. While a particular Japanese food or drink may seem strange at first, it might be your new favourite thing. But you won’t ever know unless you try!
Having a local guide at first will teach you the connection between food and its significance to Japanese culture. Then after you’ve been shown the ropes, you’ll gain confidence to experience more on the rest of your trip.
Not into pub culture or bar hopping at home? No one knows you in Japan, give it a shot! Take part in a tea ceremony and gain a different perspective on life. Have fun indulging in the different flavours and aromas on a street food tour.
You’ll soon see why Japan’s popularity as a tourist destination tripled in just 6 years.
Thank you so much for taking the time to introduce us to your blog and your outlook on travel. It’s been incredible to learn all about why traveling responsibly is so important and we can’t wait to take on your advice on our next trip!
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Interested in an authentic experience with a local? Book our food tours in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima or at the base of Mt Fuji!
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