Lock me in your heart and throw away the key”, so the saying goes.

If you know a little about me by now, you’ll appreciate that I’m a fan of during touristy things when I visit a new destination without actually looking like a tourist. I’m always encouraging the support of local jobs and businesses when we travel while blending in with locals, as invisible tourism allows you to have an authentic travel experience and helps these people out in the best possible way. Everybody wins!

I do have one exception to doing a touristy thing, however: I’ll never leave love locks in the cities I visit.

Yes, I know I’m in the minority here. The horror! 😱

But why?

Most places I have visited have been with my travel buddy but we always questioned whether this trend was actually doing more harm than good. In my eyes, this seemingly harmless act is the exact opposite of invisible tourism, which is something I’m very passionate about and the reason why I created my blog.

Love locks in Prague
Chunky love locks in Prague

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from an unromantic grinch. Generally speaking, I do realise most people leaving these love locks on bridges and other structures are well-meaning. They’re caught up in the romance of it all… I get that. I’m not judging the majority of these people, I mean… It is a nice idea in theory to leave a piece representing you and your lover behind forever, right?

I’m not sure if many people don’t realise or seem to mind that their eternal lock they’re leaving behind is only as eternal as it takes for the padlock to rust… Which isn’t very long, at all.

Origins of love locks

In my earliest travels 9 years ago, it seemed love locks were an emerging trend. I visited 16 countries in Europe that trip and have to admit I can only really remember seeing padlocks in Rome and Paris, they were very few of them. At first I didn’t even know why they were there!

A blurry shot of love locks by the Trevi Fountain I took in Rome, 2008. I can only imagine the number of locks here has exploded since then!
A blurry shot of love locks by the Trevi Fountain I took in Rome, 2008. I can only imagine the number of locks here has exploded since then!

Fast forward to today and this trend has absolutely exploded all over the world. Theories suggest the trend originated someplace in Europe and has now extended to most corners of the globe, even as far as Melbourne, Australia and little Wellington in New Zealand, which is not a very touristy destination.

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Overloaded by love locks

So why haven’t I bothered leaving my mark? It’s true, my individual lock probably isn’t going to make much of a difference. So let’s think of it this way: Paris had 24 million visitors in 2015 alone. For a moment, imagine if 24 million people all put a lock on a bridge or structure. The extra and unaccounted-for weight will inevitably take a toll and cause irreversible harm to the structure.

Some of these structures are centuries old and people are so swept away by the seemingly romantic gesture that thinking about the long-term damage their lock will do is the last thing on their minds. These beautiful structures are part of the reasons we visit a city but they will slowly decay by being inundated with rusty locks.

Why I'll Never Leave Love Locks in Paris (Or, Anywhere) • The Invisible Tourist

Critics even argue love locks are form of vandalism and I have to agree. Not only do they look ugly and cause damage by rusting over time being exposed to the elements, the keys thrown into the rivers pollute the waterways which leads to poor water quality.

For instance, a section of a bridge in Paris was so weighed down by locks the sheer weight of them all caused it to collapse into the Siene. A centuries-old lamp post on Ponte Milvio in Rome almost toppled over under the weight of these locks into the river below, prompting authorities to remove the locks as a safety precaution.

"Eternal love" in a padlock
Lamppost on Ponte Milvio, Rome. Credit: hjj on Flickr

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Opportunists hold the key

In cities where love locks are popular I absolutely refuse to support local businesses or street vendors who promote and sell locks for this very purpose in exchange for making a quick buck. Why should we be supportive of people who are happy to accelerate the damage being done to icons in their very own cities? These vendors are opportunists and have a LOT to answer for.

They’re simply preying on people’s emotions rather than exercising common sense.

We need to help preserve these destinations, not contribute to their gradual decay and demise.

Rust forming on the locks over time

Alternatives to lock down your love

For me, a better alternative is to take a piece of the city home with you! I’m not in any way saying steal ancient rocks from the Acropolis or fill a jar with sand from a beach in Barcelona. No, no, no. By this I mean purchase a stunning painting from one of the talented artists along the Siene or treat yourself to a locally made bag, clothing item or unique piece of jewellery. Anything that hasn’t been mass-produced and has been created with thought and care to remember your visit.

As well as your photos and memories, I believe these are the types of things we should be taking home with us. We are free to use these things whenever we like and remind us of our fond time on our trip, rather than wondering if our rusty padlock we left on some European bridge fell victim to bolt cutters from authorities, without the chance of ever seeing or finding it again.

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Forward thinking

The more we try and stop something, the more people are going to figure out ways around it. I get that, too. But how can we compromise on this? I don’t see why there can’t be dedicated places for lovers to leave their locks. Places like South Korea and Russia already have dedicated lock sculptures created specifically for this. Perhaps this is the type of compromise we need – lovers get to leave their mark on a city in a non-damaging way and iconic structures are free to be as beautiful and clear of locks as they day they were completed. Everybody wins!

Trees of Love on Luzhukov Bridge, Moscow (credit: Gallery.ru)

Supporting the preservation of our cities

There is a website dedicated to raising awareness and informing people of the dangers leaving love locks in Paris (and around the world) creates. No Love Locks, created by Lisa Anselmo and the late Lisa Taylor Huff documents damages caused by the overwhelming impact of love locks and provides numerous examples of street vendors in Paris who attach heavy bike chains to bridges and other structures in order to sell more locks – it needs to stop.

Their work on encouraging preservation of Paris from the padlock invasion has been featured in numerous articles by major news outlets. More recently when the locks were removed from Pont des Arts in Paris, No Love Locks shared images on their Facebook Page as they captured lovers resorting to tagging the glass panels as a new way to leave their mark on this Parisian icon. This blatant graffiti is completely disrespectful to locals, their city and is the exact opposite of being an invisible tourist.

So… Have I convinced you?

Are love locks really about love? Or gaining likes on social media? 

Love locks have proven time and time again they are contributing to the demise of the structures they are attached to. Surely, this can’t be what we really want to happen to our beautiful old cities and I ask that if you are thinking about leaving one behind to reconsider.

If we want to preserve these incredible destinations, we need to be Invisible Tourists – do as locals do and leave nothing behind that could potentially harm structures of the destinations we love so much. I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I am an invisible tourist and this is why I will never lust after love locks.

What are your thoughts on love locks? Do you agree with their removal from iconic structures? Feel free to let me know in the comments below. If you enjoyed my article on this unpopular truth, please share it or come and join me on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest for more about invisible tourism!

Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist


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Why I'll Never Leave Love Locks in Paris (Or, Anywhere) • The Invisible Tourist

 


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Alyse, The Invisible Tourist
Author

Alyse has spent 9 years travelling "The Invisible Tourist Way" and hopes to encourage fellow travellers to do so, too. A professional language hoarder, she can usually be found burying herself in travel books and Wikipedia articles sipping a good hot chocolate. Her dreams? Always about the next destination and how to make the most of the experience.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for this excellent piece Alyse! I’m currently visiting Stockholm and was surprised to see love locks pretty much everywhere here. They aren’t as prevalent as in Paris, but pretty much every bridge or waterfront railing in the centre of the city has a handful of them. To me they are basically litter and I wish people wouldn’t leave them. If they want to remember a place, they should take a photo or as you suggest, buy a thoughtful and ethically chosen local souvenir.

    I’m a hiker and adventure traveller and in that context I’m a really big proponent of the Leave No Trace philosophy. The idea behind it is to prevent tragedy of the commons type situations in fragile wilderness settings. So of course it advocates against graffiti and littering but also for visiting at off peak times to spread out our impact. I hadn’t thought of applying Leave no trace principles to my more urban adventures, but your post has inspired me to think about that more.

    • Alyse, The Invisible Tourist
      Alyse, The Invisible Tourist Reply

      Thanks so much for your comment, Taryn! That’s a shame to hear about Stockholm. Oh yes I love the Leave No Trace philosophy as well! It’s very important, especially for the benefit of our future generations. It’s definitely possible to apply it to urban adventures, too. Most of my adventures are urban and I find I get so much more out of a trip by being “invisible”. Happy to hear I inspired you 😊 Keep smiling and travelling!

  2. I’m not a fan. I’ve seen the love-locked bridges of Paris, Prague and the like and people trying to make them a “thing” in other cities and a big part of me just screams “NO!” It is a form of vandalism, despite what anyone says… and I think love is best celebrated quietly, without fanfare. But that’s just my opinion. 😎

    • Alyse, The Invisible Tourist
      Alyse, The Invisible Tourist Reply

      I completely agree, LC! I find it annoying when a bridge has a few padlocks on it from people trying to make it a thing, as you say. Why try and be like everybody else? Being different is much more fun, I think. And yes, how does the saying go, “the sign of a good relationship is no sign of it on Facebook?” 😉

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