Please tread softly on the island

Text: Elena Symeonidou | Photos: Yannis Vitzileos

Take back with you only photographs & memories

In the year 2019, which was, supposedly, the last normal year for tourism before the pandemic hit, more that 1,000,000 people visited Paros island. The vast majority came in the 6-month period between May and October, and more that 400,000 visited in peak season, between June and September. Permanent or semi-permanent residents of Paros do not exceed 20,000.

Imagine what your community, block of flats or neighbourhood would look like if 20 times more people were around for a couple of months. 20 times more people using the elevator, having parties, taking their garbage to the bins. 20 times more people driving in the streets, queueing in the super market and in the gas station. 20 times more people at your favourite restaurant, on the beach or in the hospital. You get the picture.

Your preferences, choices, actions and behaviours as a guest in Paros, and in any place in the world you visit, for that matter, largely determine the impact you have on the island, on its community, economy, environment, natural resources and, ultimately, on the quality of your own experience and that of other travelers like you. Are you ready to assume this responsibility and tread lightly on the island? I truly hope you are! And it is not that difficult!

Take back with you only photographs and memories. Let rocks, plants, sea shells and other gems of local nature where they belong. Out of context, they will lose their shine anyway. Respect nature and wildlife, choose low carbon activities, walk and cycle instead of driving, take the bus instead of renting a car, hire local guides to show you around.

Dispose of your waste carefully. Try recycling. Keep the trash with you until you find the right bin. Try to make as little garbage as possible. Avoid single-use plastics. If you have your own reusable water bottle, you can fill it with drinkable water in dispensers, cafés and other shops all over the island. If you also have your own coffee mug, even better! You are probably doing all these things at home already!

Try not to waste energy and, most importantly, water. Water is one of the most precious albeit scarce natural resources on the Cycladic islands and people have been using it with utmost frugality through the centuries. The ever-rising needs of tourism have caused water consumption to skyrocket, compromising the island’s water reserves. We can do better, with your help. Opt for accommodation that uses water sensibly and, even better, recycles it. Try to reduce the use of air-conditioning and benefit from the meltemi winds, the northerly summer winds that keep the Aegean islands cool and dry.

By consuming local products, choosing small hotels and family businesses you will help the local economy stay afloat in a quite uncertain global context. What is more, you will reduce the environmental footprint of your holidays and, most probably, you will taste delicious local food, create authentic experiences and have real relationships with local people.

Respect is the key for any meaningful and beneficial interaction with humans and non-humans alike. No instagrammable photo is worth trespassing, vandalizing, or disrespecting local culture.

There is no doubt that when you are mindful of the place you visit, you savour it much more intensely. Put down your mobile phone, you have been dreaming of this holiday, and now you are here.

Engage your senses and your heart to experience this precious moment, you need nothing else. Then it will be so much easier to tread lightly on the island and we will all be grateful to you.