After what we’ve all endured during the pandemic, budget travel may seem like the best and only option to many of us around the world. Unfortunately, budget travel only perpetuates the financial losses that our communities are already experiencing.
Budget travel is the planning of a trip where the traveler skimps and saves all of the money that they can at the expense of experiences and supporting the economy of the destination. In short, it is the prioritization of spending the least amount of money as possible on a trip. To many, that seems like the proper goal. Why spend more money than you have to? What those people don’t realize is that by saving a couple dozen dollars on a hotel reservation or a couple dollars on a meal is actually hurting the economy they can be boosting.
Let’s say you take a day trip to Sedona, Arizona. For your meals, you bring food with you from home and get Chipotle before driving home. For your activities, you choose free wine tastings with no intention to buy a bottle. For your souvenir choice, you take a photo in front of the red rocks instead of buying specialty drink mixes from ChocolaTree Organic Eatery. All you did was consume instead of contribute when you could have easily contributed to the local economy by traveling on a budget instead of being a budget traveler. (If you don’t know the difference between budget travel and traveling on a budget, see our article here.)
Budget travel is a selfish act that affects more than just your wallet. Here are the six worst ways budget travel harms our communities.
What are the Harms of Budget Travel?
Chain Restaurants are Chosen Over Local Restaurants
Two of the most common types of budget travelers arrive for the day via cruise ship or bus tour. As these types of travelers prioritize staying near their ship or staying with their group, they often do not go outside of the tourist centers and need to dine in large groups. Instead of spreading the money between the businesses across the city, their money only goes to the group tour companies and a select few restaurants who can hold a group of their size. Any restaurant that is smaller in capacity, or doesn’t have a long history, ends up being ignored and doesn’t earn the revenue.
Another type of budget traveler is the frugal couple, family, or solo traveler. They often choose the least expensive restaurant flat out, such as McDonald’s, Subway, or a generic eatery that is the most family-friendly and is not often owned by locals. This in turns only gives money to franchises and chains, and not the local economy.
Foot Traffic and Neighborhood Congestion
Budget travelers also create congestion in forms of foot traffic. Group tours, at their least expensive, generally deploy a group as large as 50 people and walk them slowly through historical centers and museums. This in turn creates difficulties for slow travelers as well as locals who are simply trying to navigate the streets or head to work.
Cruise passengers also evade the group tours to explore on their own for day excursions. These passengers often clog up the shops and restaurants near the ports as to avoid straying too far from their ship, and end up avoiding the areas of the city that could benefit from their tourist dollars.
Locals are Pushed Out of Their Neighborhoods to Make Room for Airbnbs and Hotels
Have you ever noticed that next to every major downtown theater, beach, and tourist attraction, there are no homes to be found? This is because popular areas, such as city centers and waterfront communities, are often all bought by large corporations. To gain access to this land, these corporations evict the residents, bulldoze the modest apartment buildings that stood there for decades and put up a flashy, luxury hotel in its place.
In the last decade, this has gone beyond building hotels as many property managers are now using their properties for short term vacation rentals and Airbnbs. This has reduced the amount of affordable housing in every major city around the world and continues to push struggling families into less safe communities.
A Strain on Infrastructure
When faced with the prospects of making a lot of money quickly from tourism, many city governments will prioritize the gentrification and the upkeep of the tourist centers over that of residential neighborhoods. They’ll allocate more water, electricity, and business to that area at the expense of its neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have to endure old and strained pipes, electrical wiring, and cracked roads while the tourists get to take advantage of clean and smooth streets, unfailing electricity from every wall, and reliable plumbing. Budget travelers benefit the most from this strain as those in town for a day or two always visit the greatest hits of the city and rarely travel deeper into a destination. All they care about is that Bourbon Street, Hollywood Boulevard, and Fisherman’s Wharf are lit, clean, and offering them drinks.
Businesses Serve Tourists Instead of Locals
Local commercial centers should be a place where residents can purchase their basic necessities: food, clothes, hardware, and other supplies. Instead, in places where tourists have been known to flock, these businesses become replaced with vendors of curios and frivolous entertainment. Do locals really need face painting, charactertures, and cheap T-shirts? Do locals need four frozen yogurt stands? No, but both tourists and locals can benefit from affordable plant-based restaurants, clothing stores, and handmade goods.
The Privileged Life of Begpackers
If you are unaware of the term “begpacker”, it’s a term to describe overprivileged travelers who travel all over the world with little to no money, relying on the locals for transportation, food, and housing. You will see them with signs on the side of the road like they are homeless; but really all they are are entitled travelers who should have saved money for their trip before leaving home. Even worse, some begpackers actually do have the money and just don’t want to spend it, in hopes of making their trip last as long as possible.
Begpackers are a burden to the locals and contribute little to nothing to the local economies. These are the worst of all travelers because they rely on the generosity and naivete of the locals to fulfill their dreams of traveling the world. Travel is not a right, and begpacking is certainly not a right of passage.
In just the past generation, we’ve already seen how budget travel, and tourism, has devastated some of the world’s most marvelous destinations. Barcelona has kicked out many residents to make room for Airbnbs, Santorini has become a city only for tourists and no residents, and Quebec City is now overridden with day travelers from cruises. If we don’t change our perception and attitude with how we spend money while traveling, then the situation will only get worse. If you don’t want every major skyline to include the golden arches of McDonald’s, every neighborhood to be polluted with the flashing lights of casinos, and every meal to lose its authenticity, please consider spending with intent instead of spending with the least amount of dollars in mind, unless you want every dollar you spend to go to waste.
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