Sadly, there are many negatives of travel. Local economies are damaged by cultures becoming westernized for tourists. Resorts, cities, and villages expand rapidly to fit growing tourism demands and develop in unsustainable ways for short-term gains. The use of transport to move from A to B harms the environment, through the release of carbon emissions. Pollution from tourists is wasting energy and contributing to climate change. What’s the solution?
Cheap isn’t always sustainable
In response to these negatives side of travel, many of us see budget travel as the solution. Don’t stay in large hotels. Don’t eat at chain restaurants. Don’t travel with expensive airlines. Avoid the evil corporations, and everything is OK. But it isn’t that simple. RyanAir, Megabus, Bla Bla Car, HostelWorld; all these companies are making money from the cheap travel niche. Just because they are budget, doesn’t mean they aren’t corporate.
What happens when we get too involved in the idea of cheap travel? Ultimately, we end up always looking for the cheapest option and not necessarily the most sustainable. If we apply the “budget is best” mantra to everything, we still aren’t helping the situation. Do we choose cheap supermarket food over an expensive local market? Do we choose a budget chain youth hostel or a pricier local guesthouse? Do we choose to hitchhike over taking a local bus?
Spoilt with money, spoilt with time
Many of us justify traveling all the time because we are doing it cheaply. But if we were more patient and traveled less, we could shift our priority from cheap travel to sustainable travel. Does being a traveler mean you should travel at every opportunity? Just because I can, it doesn’t mean I should.
An abstract sense of entitlement tells us to go traveling straight away. Whereas if I restrict myself and wait until I reach a set budget, I could travel much more sustainably. Plus, I would probably enjoy it a lot more. You can guarantee that the people who have waited years to go on a one holiday will enjoy every second of it.
Similarly, are we always looking the fastest option and not the most sustainable? Under the influence of the “travel bug,” we might feel entitled to a weekend break in a European city. With only three days to spare, there’s no time for a road trip, a train journey or an overnight bus. Instead, we will probably take a flight.
Let’s take a debatable example of hitching. Modern hitchhiking is ultimately an appropriation early 1900s North American culture when it was a necessity due to a poor travel infrastructure. At least in Europe and North America today, is it really necessary? With developed transport systems almost everywhere, except in isolated regions. This is a matter of opinion, and many advocate the social benefits and local insight that come with hitching, which outweigh the negatives.
When hitchhiking is a necessity, because you have no money and are stranded in a place without transport, most people agree there is nothing wrong with it. However, there should always be an awareness of ethical hitchhiking, and a sense of hitchhiking with gratitude, not an entitlement. For example, not judging those who don’t stop; blaming drivers for not picking up a stranger on the side of the road. Or at least giving a gift for the driver, whether this is money for the extra fuel, a local trinket or souvenir from your travels.
Depending on the perspective of the hitchhiker, the act can have an element of coasting – not so much sharing as taking – and even a sake of doing it for the cool image. Why not get the local bus if we can afford it? Give back to the local system and culture and save other people the extra fuel. At least this way, we avoid tiptoeing the thin line between frugal and egoistic.
Digital Nomad Travel
Many working travelers or digital nomads find it difficult to adjust to the blend between work and travel. In my experience, a steep learning curve let me face some of the myths of traveling head on. Despite the millions of Instagram #travel photos of people doing yoga on mountain tops, travel isn’t always a deep, spiritual, meaningful and peaceful adventure. Sometimes it is just frustrating or stressful or difficult or even slightly trivial, especially on a budget, and especially in the light of a looming deadline.
Accepting that seems to ease some of the pressure idealized travel culture has created for itself. But perhaps the line between work and travel is a good thing. It allows travel to maintain its title as an exceptional experience, not an everyday guarantee. By restricting our dependence on a budget, could we keep travel special?
Travel is a privilege
It’s a privilege to live in a society where travel is second nature to us and so accessible through free movement and safe cultures. I felt that a lack of organization and a lack of budgeting had led me to a point where I didn’t appreciate that privilege. The realization gave me a new perspective.
Although cheap travel is entirely possible, it is getting more difficult, at least in Europe. Hostel prices are rising. Couchsurfing now restricts the number of requests you can send to 10 per week. Carpooling sites like Bla Bla Car charge commission. Cheap travel is a niche and companies are making money from it.
As true cheap travel becomes more difficult than before, it creates more stressful and challenging situations. With a limited budget, we restrict ourselves, and this creates tension. We might even complain more while traveling. But to complain about travel is ridiculous. When the ability to travel in the first place is a wonderful, exceptional thing that should only be celebrated.
I realized the importance in catching ourselves complaining, to regain perspective and appreciate our privilege. Ultimately, I decided that cheap travel isn’t necessarily the answer if it leads to stressful and difficult situations that taint the joy of travel. Of course, great moments don’t depend on money. But having money does reduce the bitterness that comes with paying for extra costs. Perhaps, by saving money and doing it properly, it’s almost like giving travel the respect it deserves.
Agree or Disagree? What do you think? Leave a comment below!