Parisian bridges are weighted down with copycat "love locks," while visitors crowd cheek-to-jowl into Barcelona churches and Dubrovnik's historic center. In Italy, attempts to manage the impact of tourism range from segregating visitors to fines for flip-flops.
As a glut of anxious headlines document overtourism, it's easy to think that the planet is simply full.
But stray from the well-worn tourist trails, and you'll discover another travel story entirely. In much of the world, there are places that are eager to welcome tourists -- and when practiced sustainably, where tourism can even help alleviate poverty.
The contrast between the most- and least-visited places is stark. In 2017, nearly 87 million international tourists arrived in France. That same year, a mere 2,000 international tourists visited the South Pacific country of Tuvalu, where it's easy to find a beach -- or even an entire island -- to yourself.
Based on the most recent data (PDF) compiled by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, this list reflects many of the world's least-visited countries and overseas territories, where you'll find gorgeous natural beauty, culture and history without pushing through a thicket of selfie sticks.I completely understand the tourist-related problems of Dubrovnik, Venice, and Santorini, where we found ourselves packed into narrow streets with other visitors. (Of course, the fact that we were tourists in these places - off of cruise ships, no less - meant that we were part of the problem.) The thing I like about the idea of visiting under-the-radar destinations is that you can actually be part of the solution, rather than the problem, by pumping money into these economies (as long as your trip is done sustainably).
What's interesting about CNN's list of the 25 least-visited countries (which actually contains only twenty sovereign nations; the other five are dependencies of other countries, even if they have some measure of autonomy) is that many of them are also among the twenty-five smallest independent countries that I want to visit before I die, including Tonga, Tuvalu, Kirabati, and São Tomé and Príncipe. That stands to reason, because the world's tiniest, most obscure countries would also see the fewest visitors. (Two of the nations on CNN's list - Lichtenstein and St. Kitts and Nevis - are ones I've already visited and checked off of my list.)
My goal remains visit these countries, although I know it won't be easy getting to many of them. There's also the paradox that countries with few tourists probably don't have a lot of tourist infrastructure. I'll need to do my research before I visit some of these places.