Photo courtesy of Jeff S. Photo Art
Photo courtesy of Jeff S. Photo Art

“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.

Masai on Cell Phone
Photo courtesy of simo2409

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.

This article was originally published on Matador Network.

9 thoughts on “10 Reasons Travelling the World for Free is BS”

  1. You’re so right. Those ‘free travel’ and ‘travel hack’ websites give me the creeps. Its clear that their focus isn’t on sustainable tourism or responsible travel, it is just all about saving a buck!

    1. Yes! Though I think that travel hacking sites have their place – just stick it to “the man” not the locals ha.

  2. Hi Alyssa!

    Stumbled across your blog today while looking up tips for the UK Tier 5 Visa (so helpful!) but didn’t stop my reading there 🙂

    This topic in particular was great to read about, as this is one of my biggest pet peeves I encounter when I travel. It’s so frustrating to me when people spend their time bartering over .50 cents or a dollar… I know we all want a fair price but I figure a lot of the locals need it way more than us. I know backpackers aren’t always rich but at the end of the day we we’re able to fly across the world so we obviously have a few bucks in our pockets! It’s not up to locals to fund our travels.

    Anyway, really like your blog! Our stories sound pretty similar – I intended to ‘get it out of my system’ by going away after uni as well but met a guy and like you, am still ambling around 🙂

    All the best!


    1. Hi Alex,

      Thanks, I’m glad it was helpful! I think that if the person is being honest with the price and they’re not giving you some kind of “tourist tax”, then it’s probably not great to haggle. I love travel love stories, I hope to read some on your blog! Thanks for commenting, I hope to see you back!

  3. I hear ya! There’s no such thing as free travel, especially not when you’re writing articles about it encouraging as many people as possible to travel that way. I never really thought about it until I met a European couple traveling around the poorest countries in Asia, boasting about how far they went to pay as little as possible during their travels. I won’t go into details, but I was appalled. Ever since, it’s something I’m quite sensitive about. Thanks for listing these!

    1. Hey Sarah, it’s impressive in a way, but when it comes down to it a lot of these countries are thriving off the money we spend. It’s not a reason to get ripped off, but save the penny pinching for home, when everything has a serious mark up! I find it particularly disturbing when people haggle with someone trying to make an honest living, like come on – what is 5 cents to you in the grand scheme of things? Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  4. Wow. I absolutely loved this. I know that being an ex-pat means the majority of the points still apply to me…. but I really do hate tourists. I loved the way you were able to write this without directly saying what I was thinking (and just said in the sentence prior to this one). It’s a great skill I hope to learn. Loved it 🙂

    1. Thanks, Sarah! A lot of people said that this made it seem like I was discouraging people to travel. I was just trying to make people more aware – I’m glad you got that!

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