Should Travel Be Inexpensive?
Posted: 12/19/22 | December 19th, 2022 The term “budget travel” has long been synonymous with “cheap travel.” Finding deals, getting off the beaten path, eating at “non-touristy” (i.e. inexpensive) restaurants, and staying in hostels. The budget traveler is on a quest for a “local” experience at a low cost. During the 2010s, the rise of sharing economy websites like Airbnb, increased competition in the travel industry, and the growing number of budget airlines offering long-haul flights made traveling on less a lot easier to do. And travelers took advantage: global tourism rose from 946 million annual travelers to 1.4 billion over the past decade. However, this spiraling growth created a lot of backlash among residents, as many destinations weren’t equipped to handle so many visitors driving around, clogging streets, and raising the cost of living. Plus, locals didn’t like feeling like they lived in a zoo, constantly being gawked at by tourists. Pre-COVID, overtourism became the hot industry topic. “How do we make travel more sustainable?” we all wondered. And, despite the recent rise in prices post-COVID, traveling is still relatively affordable, especially compared to historical averages. But is inexpensive travel really a good thing? Should it be so cheap if it means it’s also unsustainable? I know that’s a weird question for me to pose, as I’m in the business of budget travel. 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, those who live in it, and themselves. So, I want to be very clear that I am not advocating that travel be out of reach for all but the elite few. I think every person in the world should be able to see more than their little corner of the world. But should we enable a type of mass tourism that creates a lot of environmental and social woes? Looking around these days, I think we have too much of a good thing. I think there should be some tighter restrictions on travel so that we don’t love places to death. I backpacked a lot back when Wi-Fi, apps, and smartphones were not widespread and you still had to use a paper guidebook to get around. (Even then, though, people would tell me how hard travel “back in the day” was and how easy I had it with the advent of online booking platforms.) There were plenty of ways to travel cheap back then — it was just that the information you needed was harder to find. I learned so much that first year, but it was information discovered on the road, not online or in print. They were tips and tricks I found through people and experiences. The growth of travel blogs like this one, as well as through social media, has made information about how to travel cheaply a lot easier to find. No tip is a secret that hasn’t already been shared. No place in the world doesn’t have at least a dozen articles written about it. And one no longer needs to roam the streets looking for a place to stay or eat. Heck, type in “Thai” into Google Maps on your phone, and you’ll get nearby restaurant results with directions, saving you from wandering around! All these new services and technological developments I mentioned in the beginning — coupled with easy access to information — have made travel so affordable so quickly that I don’t think most destinations have had time to adjust. Take Airbnb. Its rise has led to overtourism, housing shortages, noise issues, and other social ills. Gone are the days when you are actually staying in someone’s home. Now, you are more likely to be in someone’s tenth rental property, where there are no standards or rules, especially regarding safety. What happens if there’s a fire? Is everything up to code? Who knows! And that cute neighborhood you wanted to enjoy so you can get a taste of local life? That’s full of tourists staying in Airbnbs now too. And, like anyone else, I don’t like paying a lot for airfare, but all those cheap, short-haul flights mean lots of people going to places not designed to handle them all (see the weekend trips to Amsterdam). Plus, short-haul flights have the highest environmental impact. Do we need a tax on frequent fliers? Or restrictions like the ones we are seeing in France. With the rise of digital nomadism and remote work, people are getting up and moving in record numbers again. (Don’t get me started on those skirting visa and work rules.) This means lots of people living in places where they don’t pay taxes or adapt to the community, or where they cause other issues. Just look at Mexico City. I love it, but the increase in the number of Americans living there has produced a big backlash among locals, who are now getting priced out of their own neighborhoods. And think about waste. Plastic bags, electricity, even your poop. I’m sure it’s a subject you never really consider when you travel. But what happens to all the waste you produce? Are the power plants, sewer systems, and trash man