Photo: Dmitry Molchanov/Shutterstock

10 Reasons Traveling the World for Free Is BS

Budget Travel
by Alyssa James Jan 16, 2014

“16 Ways to Get Paid to Travel”
“How to Travel Anywhere for Free”

“Fly Around the World for Almost Free”

“The Ultimate Travel Hacking Guide”

YOU GET the picture. People want to know how to travel for free, or better yet, get paid to travel. To all you travel hackers out there, I applaud you. It’s a hard skill to master. But the idea that travel is free is bullshit — there are always costs to you living your dreams, even if not to you.

Here are 10 reasons why your travel hacking is costing the world a hell of a lot.

1. All of those air miles you cashed in for a free flight? Destroying the environment.

According to David Suzuki, airplane travel alone accounts for 4-9% of humanity’s climate change impact. All of the planes, trains, and automobiles we travelers have taken throughout our travels have definitely contributed to our fair share of environmental degradation.

2. Your very presence in other countries affects natural and cultural resources.

Mass tourism impacts heritage sites through overuse and increased pollution. Foreigners — especially those from developed countries — tend to over-consume. According to UNESCO, tourists in Granada, Spain, use seven times the amount of water that a local would.

3. That developing country in which bartered your services in exchange for free stuff? They lost money.

Some travel hacks tell you that you can exchange something you have (English language skills) in exchange for a free night in a hostel or a free meal. It’s a great idea in theory, but in traveling there you’re using the country’s resources without paying for them. Basic infrastructures are necessary for successful tourism, and these costs are usually paid for by taxes to the government that you just avoided paying and will come out of a local’s pocket.

4. You stayed at foreign-owned accommodation instead of a local option. Locals lose again.

In the study of tourism, this is known as a the “leakage effect” — tourist money spent in a country doesn’t actually stay there. The reason rates are often higher for local businesses is because they’re often smaller, have fewer visitors, and require more money to stay competitive. They also have less capital behind them.

5. Cultures are commodified…

Travel hacking means more travel. The more people who travel to a place, the more others will try to profit from it. Type “Maasai Tribe tour” into Google and you’ll find dozens of tour operators offering overnight stays, cultural tours, Maasai adventures….

The commercialization of festivals, local customs, and religious festivals essentially turns a place’s way of life into a theme park where locals can be pressured to conform to tourist expectations, as in this horrendous video of a police officer making a Jarawa tribeswoman dance for tourists.

6. …then those same cultures start to change…

Mass travel often leads to changes in traditions and customs through globalization and the natural process of idea sharing and awareness. It can even be something as innocuous as souvenirs — visitors want ‘authentic’ arts, crafts, and cultural objects that can be taken home, so craftsmen create them in response to this demand and may change them in order to conform to foreigners’ tastes.

The irony is that when this happens, travelers feel cheated out of an ‘authentic’ experience — which could never be authentic by virtue of an outsider being there anyway. Often, travelers who find a ‘hidden gem’ return years later only to disappointed with how the place has changed or been developed in response to tourism. Native Americans don’t live in tipis and Maasai tribesmen have cell phones — get over it.

7. …or disappear altogether.

According to National Geographic, we are in danger of losing half of the world’s 7,000 languages by the 22nd century — and with them their culture. Cultures are encoded in language, based on how and what you can express. Multilingual people will understand — there are often ways to say things that exist in one language that you can’t say in another.

On top of that, different ways of life may be influenced by the outside world’s opinions about them or pressure from local governments to ‘get with the times’ in order to become competitive in the global market.

8. Your travel makes basic necessities less affordable for the people who actually live there.

This is also known as inflation. It’s assumed that tourists have more money to spend — prices rise, and locals may not be able to afford them.

9. It even leads to exploitation and human rights violations…

Criminals see mass tourism as providing a means for drug trafficking and sexual exploitation. Some businesses see it as an excuse for poor working conditions and child labour.

10. …and conflicts regarding land and resource use.

Governments and businesses begin to develop tourism infrastructure on local land and restrict local access, creating a conflict between maintaining traditional ways of life and bringing in income from tourism. This can also lead to resentment towards visitors. For example, conflicts over land use rights arose in Kelimutu, Indonesia, during the development of a national park often visited by tourists wanting to see the tri-colored volcanic crater lakes.

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