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Should travel be inexpensive?



Posted Date: 12/19/22 | Dec 19, 2022 Budget travel has long been synonymous with cheap travel. Finding bargains, staying out of the ordinary, eating at “non-touristy” (ie inexpensive) restaurants, and staying in hostels. The budget traveler is looking for a “local” experience at a low cost. During the 2010s, the rise of sharing economy sites like Airbnb, increased competition in the travel industry, and a growing number of budget airlines offering long-haul flights made air travel less accessible. Travelers have benefited: global tourism has risen from 946 million passengers a year to 1.4 billion over the past decade. However, this exponential growth created a lot of backlash among the population, as many destinations were not equipped to handle so many visitors wandering the streets, clogging the streets, and driving up the cost of living. In addition, the locals did not like the feeling of living in a zoo, where they were constantly teased by tourists. Before COVID, overtourism became the industry’s hot topic. How can we make travel more sustainable? we all wondered. And despite the recent post-COVID price hike, travel remains relatively affordable, especially compared to historical averages. But is inexpensive travel really a good thing? Must it be so cheap if it also means unsustainable? I know this is an odd question to ask, because I work in the budget travel industry. And don’t get me wrong: I don’t think travel should only be for the wealthy. Travel opens the mind. It helps people understand the world, who they live in, and themselves. So, I want to be very clear that I am not advocating that travel should be out of the reach of all but an elite few. I think everyone in the world should be able to see more from their own little corner of the world. But should we enable the kind of mass tourism that creates so many environmental and social problems? Looking back at these days, I think we have a lot of good stuff. I think there needs to be some tougher restrictions on travel so we don’t love places to death. Way back a long time when Wi-Fi, apps and smartphones weren’t as ubiquitous and you still had to use a paper guide to get around. (Even back then, though, people were telling me how hard it was to travel “the day before” and how easy it was with the advent of online booking platforms.) There were so many ways to travel cheap back then – it was so it was Hard to find the information you need. I learned a lot in that first year, but it was information I discovered on the road, not online or in print. They were tips and tricks that I found through people and experiences. The growth of travel blogs like this one, as well as through social media, has made it easier to find information on how to travel cheaply. There is no confidential information that has not already been shared. There is no place in the world that does not have at least a dozen articles written on this subject. One no longer needs to roam the streets looking for a place to stay or eat. Heck, type “Thai” into Google Maps on your phone, and you’ll get results for nearby restaurants with directions, saving you from wandering! All of these new services and technological developments that I mentioned at the beginning – along with easy access to information – have made travel affordable so quickly that I don’t think most destinations have had enough time to adapt. Take Airbnb. Its rise has led to overtourism, housing shortages, noise issues, and other social ills. Gone are the days when you were actually staying at someone’s house. Now, you’re more likely to be in someone’s 10th rental property, where there are no standards or rules, especially in terms of safety. What happens if there is a fire? Is everything okay? Who do you know! And that cute neighborhood you’ve been wanting to pop into so you can get a taste of local life? This is full of tourists staying in Airbnbs now too. And like everyone else, I don’t like paying a lot for air travel, but all those short, cheap flights mean a lot of people go places that aren’t designed to handle it all (see weekend trips to Amsterdam). In addition, short-haul flights have the greatest impact on the environment. Do we need a tax on frequent flyers? Or restrictions like the ones we see in France. With the advent of digital nomadism and remote work, people are getting up and moving in record numbers again. (Don’t get me started on these visa and work rules.) This means that a lot of people live in places where they don’t pay taxes or adjust to society, or where they create other problems. Just look at Mexico City. I love it, but the increase in the number of Americans living there has led to a huge backlash among the locals, who are now paying the price from their own neighborhoods. And think waste. Plastic bags, electrostatics, even your poop. I’m sure it’s a topic you never think about when you travel. But what happens to all the waste you produce? Are the power plants, sewage systems, and garbage management systems on that beautiful Greek island meant for the 20 million more people you see annually? No. They aren’t. And cruises! Cruises cause a lot of problems (and I say that as someone who loves them). In 2017, the Carnival alone caused 10 times more sulfur dioxide air pollution than all European cars (more than 260 million) combined! This $50-a-night cruise might get more people moving—but not sustainably. Santorini during the cruise season is a nightmare. The solutions to these problems are complex and will require industry, consumers and governments to work together to make sure that tourism is sustainable. You can’t stop people in popular destinations from wanting to make money to feed their families. And I don’t blame many locals, especially those on the lower end of the economic spectrum, for choosing to live off the protection of nearby swamps. I think, as travelers, we should be more willing to vote with our dollars and decide: Are we going to be good and make sure we leave no trace, or are we there to treat destinations as zoos, parachute down for a “local experience,” take a few pictures, and then Launching, leaving behind a social and environmental headache for the residents who live there? Yes, it’s not the budget traveler who causes a lot of these issues (they tend to avoid big hotels, eat local food, use public transportation, and stay longer). But they still cause some. The body is the body. This brings me to my original question: Should travel be so cheap that so many people disembarking at certain destinations descend under the pressure? While we all want to spend less, I think it’s time to ask ourselves what are we taking in and what are we leaving? What is the impact of cheap travel on the destinations and the people who live there? Yes, traditional hotels and guesthouses are more expensive, but unlike Airbnb, they are licensed and do not take from the local housing stock. Yes, the train may be slower and more expensive, but short trips are worse for the environment. Yes, we all want to see Venice in the summer, but the city can’t support that many people at one time. I think the solution is not to travel but to travel better. When I see cities with taxes, fees, and restrictions on things like Airbnb and cruises, I can’t help but say, “Good!” There needs to be more restrictions on Airbnb and cruises, as well as other forms of mass tourism, to ensure destinations can handle crowds and local residents are not displaced or negatively impacted. Over the past few years, we’ve put a real focus here on sustainable travel, alternative tours, getting away from Airbnb, off-season travel, and reducing waste, because I’ve become more aware of the negative impact travel can have when there’s unchecked growth. I believe everyone should travel, but the unintended consequences that the rise of cheap travel has brought must be addressed. As travelers, we can do a lot. We can avoid environmentally damaging travel, use our flights less, avoid Airbnb’s, and go to “second class” destinations – or at least not the tourist hubs of crowded cities. As “top tier” destinations crack down on overtourism, people will have to go to other cities, which will spread tourist numbers and dollars around while also introducing new destinations and cannibalizing more popular cities. Plus, when you go where there are no crowds, you tend to have more unique and fun experiences. Will more rules and restrictions lead to higher prices? potential. Does this mean that not many people visit Machu Picchu, Petra or Japan? Maybe. As someone who wants more people to travel with, I admit this kind of sucks. While there are plenty of other destinations to choose from, it’s still annoying that some of these changes will result in some people not being able to visit some of them. But when we think about sustainable travel and its impact on the world, we can’t deny that people moving in large numbers has negative consequences. We need to come to grips with the fact that not many places can handle that many people and that some restrictions are needed if we hope to keep them, even if it means we won’t be able to see them all. Travel is a give-and-take relationship between the destination and the visitor. We must be willing to give more and take less. Our job as travelers is to make sure we don’t harm local people and the environment. This means traveling as sustainably as possible and not harming the local community. Because there is no point in going somewhere and then leaving it is even worse. We cannot love places to death. 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