Everybody loves the idea of a “postcard perfect” vacation: that trip you take that seems right out of a travel magazine or ripped from the #wanderlust hashtag on Instagram. But tourism, like most things, is not without its complicating factors. Going beyond the usual travel delays or hotel mix-ups, there are more significant ways that your trip to paradise can go south.

So what’s the reality behind those Snapchat vacation stories? Here are a few circumstances that can spoil your idyllic getaway.

Amazing Remote Spots Are Being Overrun With Tourists.

Travel in the modern age is really amazing: information about the most beautiful remote places to visit that were once only learned in books or by word of mouth is now accessible to nearly everyone over the internet. While this is fantastic for adventurous travelers, it also means that previously lesser-known places to visit are now being overrun with tourists.

Take for example the Italian villages known as the Cinque Terre. For decades, these picturesque ocean towns were only familiar to a small selection of visitors to Italy or the most savvy Frommer’s Guide reader. But now thanks to irresistible Instagram posts and the nearby docking of massive cruise ships, the tiny villages’ streets are clogged with waves of plodding tourists snapping pictures.

A local mayor has said that Cinque Terre is now a global tourism site, when before it mostly attracted only European and American visitors. The hordes of sightseers are unwittingly upsetting the quiet coastal towns they have come to see. Wrote one local about the five fishing towns in a petition to stop the cruise ship crush: “They were once a paradise but now they have become hell.”

Likewise, the small Philippine mountain village of Sagada is struggling with the same kind of problem. A recent report stated that the popularity of this small natural and cultural wonder is overwhelming locals and the town’s resources. There are not enough accommodations to house visitors who make the trip, and even the town’s water supply becomes strained by the extra demand.

While cities like Rome and Manila have the longstanding infrastructure to handle wave after wave of tourists, these smaller “off the map” places aren’t set up for the skyrocketing interest of the modern age. Overwhelmed, these cities are in danger of losing the very thing that makes them so special.

Frolicking With Exotic Animals Is Actually Not Cool 

A defining image of many exotic locations is a smiling selfie with an indigenous animal that would usually be yards away behind a barrier in a zoo. While swimming with dolphins or riding an elephant may seem like the ideal way to tell the world you are adventurous, the truth is it’s an exploitative activity that can be harmful to those creatures.

Recently, TripAdvisor made a decision that while it will still allow people to review “swimming with dolphins” experiences, they would no longer allow those experiences to be sold on the TripAdvisor site. The problems with swimming with dolphins sites are many: the water is usually not clean, the tanks are too small and shallow, and the dolphins are forced to do the same tricks over and over, failing to experience a variety of mental stimulation they usually would in the ocean.

Another popular activity that can cause harm is the practice in many Asian or African destinations of riding on top of an elephant. While elephants are massive animals, their bodies are not designed to carry 150+ pounds on their back. Furthermore, elephants need to be “trained” to be ridden, and this process is downright disturbing (as seen in this shocking image from 2011). Instead, visitors interested in the gentle giants should search for protective sanctuaries that still allow some interaction but let the animals roam free.

All-Inclusive Resorts Destroy Local Tourism Economies

The all-inclusive resort seems like a win-win if you’re visiting a country you’re unfamiliar with. You get to experience the food and beauty of that remote beach destination without the stress of finding the right place to eat, struggling to order in another language, or getting lost on strange back roads. Plus, the staff members are still all locals so you’re still contributing to their economy, right?

Not at all, in fact. All-inclusive resorts gobble up foreign tourism dollars for larger companies and very few dollars make it to the working hotel staff. Indeed, it’s been reported that hotel workers at all-inclusive resorts usually work longer hours and make less money than employees at more traditional hotels and restaurants. Furthermore, these hotels are set up with their own bars and shops to discourage guests from regularly venturing beyond their walls. This means that small tourism business owners have access to fewer customers. Some hotel guests are even misled to believe that their insurance will not cover them if they go out beyond the perimeter of their hotel.

Visitors can buck the trend by not staying in all-inclusive resorts and by following tips to be an effective cultural tourist. This includes shopping at local vendors or eating out at local restaurants. Such places will provide tourists with a more authentic experience and help to support the poor and middle class people of that country rather than dumping money into the pockets of huge hotel chains.

Our Polluting Habits Are Ruining Places of Natural Beauty

Hawaii and California are iconic beach destinations—the very names of those states conjure up images of surf boards strapped to VW buses silhouetted against an ocean sunset. But a new element is being introduced to this classic scene: garbage.

Some beaches in these states are suffering from catastrophic pollution issues. In California, waste dumping and sewer regulation failures have turned idyllic beaches in Dana Point and Santa Monica into environmental quagmires of trash and bacteria. Between the heavy industry that wiggles its way around incomplete regulations and the usual litter that journeys to the ocean via drains and storm runoff, the ecosystems of these beaches are under constant assault.

In Hawaii, one beach on the Big Island has been devastated by refuse that travels via tides from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Kamilo Beach is a spot that used to be where natives collected natural materials for building canoes. Today, plastic garbage constantly washes ashore creating, at one point, eight-foot-piles of debris along the beach. Thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers, who remove over 15 tons of garbage from the beach each year, the trash piles aren’t quite that high anymore. Nevertheless, even with constant environmental vigilance, this beach remains one of the most polluted in the state.

Can The Idyllic Vacation Be Saved?

As our world changes it seems clear that the nature of tourism should change as well. Certainly nobody is advocating that people should stop going places—many cities rely on tourism to bring in much-needed revenue. Instead, though, there is an increased call to focus on sustainable tourism.

What is sustainable tourism? It is an approach to tourism that seeks to re-imagine how people can travel to popular destinations without ruining them or destroying the special qualities that make them such great places to visit in the first place. According to travel writer Amanda Williams, there are three pillars of sustainability to consider: environmental, socio-cultural, and economic.

There are a list of tips available on the website Sustaining Tourism that can help travelers make sure they are not being a disruptive force on the places they visit. Some of these tips include buying goods from local sellers, not littering (duh), supporting responsible tourism companies, and eating at local restaurants.

One of the most important steps you can take is to educate yourself about the destination you wish to visit and make your plans with sustainable tourism in mind. By plotting your itinerary with consideration to the three pillars of sustainability, you can make sure you are not contributing to the destruction of a travel destination’s idyllic qualities. In short, sustainable tourism helps local populations and ultimately makes for better, more fulfilling vacations.