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Budget Travel: The Good, Bad, And The Ugly

Colombia Beach

Cocktails At Playa Blanca Colombia

It seems all of us in the travel blogging community agree that travel is good.  The majority of posts that are produced within the industry are intended to  either sell the reader on the idea that travel is one of the most amazing activities one can partake-in and that they too should travel, or momentarily take them into a world of travel fantasy (as Gary Arndt from Everything-Everywhere.com likes to put it, travel porn.)  In both cases, the story of travel is almost always good.  However, there is indeed a bad and ugly side to travel, more specifically, to budget travel.

There are different styles of travel and each gives the traveler a completely different experience.  Usually, the type of style can be defined by how much money is being spent on that experience.  For example, a luxurious trip to a five star hotel in Rome will be completely different than backpacking through Southeast Asia.  That said, the following issues apply to a budget traveler and only to most places of the world, mainly to the less developed world.

The Good Travel

Travel IS good.  Although I admit, during the past 11 months, I have spent most of the time on the fence about whether or not I truly believe that.  Be forewarned, you too might find yourself questioning your sentiments on travel during your journey.  Here are my top 3 reasons why travel is good.

1.  Discovery

Travel allows you to not only discover a new physical and visual world unbeknown to you before, but it also helps you discover a new YOU within.  New talents and capabilities will begin to reveal themselves to you when put in situations you have never been before.   Understanding different cultural norms and the idioms of a language help you discover a whole new way of living.  It is a continuous journey of self discovery when you are on the road.

Sunset

Sunset At Isla Del Sol In Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

2.  Maturity

After travel you will likely feel more mature around your peers during challenging situations or in depth social and political discussions.  Travel develops patience, tolerance and a greater understanding or often greater confusion of how people survive in our world.

3.  Excitement

Everyday can be different and often things are not what they seem.  Nature, people, and animals will continue to surprise you.  Mountains, markets and birds will interest you.  You can go anywhere, do anything, at anytime you please.  How much more exciting can that get?

Sky Diving

Aracely Sky Diving

The Bad Travel

Yes, although travel is good, there is a bad side to it and no, I do not think that is a contradiction.  First, not everyone experiences the good above.  Some people are just not reflexive enough to learn or grow from their travel experiences.  In my humble opinion, that is the worst bad for travel.  There is other bad involved in travel.  Here are my 3 top reasons why travel is bad.

1.  Discomfort

If you’re from any of the developed nations and you think you know what being uncomfortable means,  “Ha, ha, I say to you!”  During your travels you will experience, and on a much larger scale, see how much discomfort can exist.  Staying in low cost hostels means you will usually not have the amenities of home.  Beds and buses are uncomfortable, communication is limited and hot water becomes your highest priority.

Bus

Riding The Bus In Panama City

2.  Confusion

Be prepared to be confused about 50% of the time.  This is especially true if you don’t understand the language and are in a country that doesn’t use much English.  Cabs lack meters, streets lack street signs and hundreds of mini buses with yelling assistants are sometimes the only means of cheap transportation.

3.  Lack of Order

It is a mad house out there!  Abroad, people are less likely to respect lines, many processes are slow and inefficient and your typically not on there, “I want to please you,” list.  It makes the US Motor Vehicle Commission look like Google headquarters.  Purchasing a plane ticket required us to pull a number from the ticket machine, sit in a lobby for 1.5 hours and then we watched the clerk shift the plastic credit card hand held machine over the carbon copy and our credit card.  This was for a major airline in Argentina.

Bank Line

People In Line For The Bank In Bolivia

The Ugly Travel

And yes, even though travel IS good, there still can be an ugly side.  This is the part that most blogs do not often discuss.  We bloggers mean well and as I mentioned earlier our goal is to convey to others how great travel is and to motivate the same to get out there and join us.  The harsh realities below could potentially be ugly enough to make someone want stay home and there is merit to that too.  Here are my top 3 reasons why travel is ugly.

1.  Income Distribution Gaps

While living in the state of New Jersey and working in New York City for many year, never did I ever see a homeless child or a begging child.  There are homeless, yes of course, and they are of different ages, but I do not recollect ever seeing a child (I do know they exist however).  In other parts of the world they are everywhere and in your face all the time.  For me, it was a difficult thing to “get used to” if one can ever do that.  Most of the world is poor and when we go to bed in our warm homes, we often forget that.  When you travel, you will be reminded every day.

Child Labor

Shoe Shinning Boy In Antigua, Guatemala

2.  Stray Dogs

There are few animal control organizations to contact when you’re traveling abroad.  You will see animals that look as though they have not eaten in months, obviously carrying disease and no positive future for them.  It’s a big problem to us, but often ignored in poor countries.

3.  Environmental Disaster

I still don’t know if this is a culture issue, a lack of resource issue, a corruption issue or all of them combined, but the bottom line is many cities do not have proper garbage collection services and just about every local litters.  We have waited at bus terminals only to watch dozens of adults, children and babies throw their trash out of the windows waiting for the bus to leave.  We have collected dozens of plastic bottles while hiking.  Local picnic spots can be identified by all the styrofoam and plastic trash that litters the grounds.  Amazing lakes such as Lake Atitlan in Guatemala are a toxic mess.  Crude oil contaminates the drinking water of Amazonian tribes.  Waters flood villages every time it rains from the logging of thousands of mountains.  Mining chemicals like cyanide flow into fishing rivers.  That’s all very serious, but on a simpler scale, try walking on the sidewalk alongside buses with no catalytic converters on their exhausts.  You will find yourself covering your face on many occasions.

Stray Dogs

Stray Dogs Sniffing Through Garbage Outside Uyuni, Bolivia

That said, budget travel is really not for everyone.  Yes, most of what we read makes it sound like travel is the ultimate experience, which it can be.  However, it is important to manage expectations and be mentally prepared for the unknown and unfamiliar during your journey.   I believe it takes a certain kind of person to step way outside of their comfort zone, leave it all behind and head out in search for the adventure of a lifetime.   And if you are not yet that certain kind of person when you begin your journey…you will either be forced to become it or return home.

,

Hey Guys, I agree with you on many of the aspects you mention in this post.
I think travelling is a great opportunity to get to know more about different cultures and our fellow human beings, but unfortunately what we learn about those places or those people is not always as happy or as fortunate as we might expect.
Though I haven’t travelled abroad yet, I’ve been to many different parts of my country (Argentina) and social unfairness is a common and painful picture indeed. We’d had several economical crisis during the past decades and these have had the most dreadful effects on middle and low class people =(
Anyways, I agree that travelling is not only a very interesting experience from the personal growth point of view, but also brings about social awareness and conciousness about one’s existence and role in society.
Loved your blog btw!
Best,

Maru

Jason says:

Thank you Maru for discovering our blog. I am glad that you can relate to some of the same feelings we have encountered during our travels. We have been to Argentina in 2010 and loved your country. From Patagonia to Salta to Iguazu!

Shannon (mynetdude) says:

Ok… I think I’ve seen enough, no that doesn’t stop me wanting to go travel but it DOES make me think a lot more about what I am READY for, when do I want to step into that environment, I went to Tijuana Mexico yes it was quite different (enough) but it still reeked of US too (not in terms of smell) Mexico is NOTHING compared to what you have described.

My mom went to NYC last year (and I recently went in October) she would talk about how there’s garbage on the sidewalks in bags (not in cans like we’re used to out west); again I thought NYC had it bad! NOPE!!!

I want to experience it someday so I can say “i’ve been there” “you have no idea” “we are fortunate” in other words I’d rather get out of my unsheltered US environment as we’re so sheltered here in the US.

Who doesn’t know that India is poor, or Africa? Many of us know that, but we just don’t visualize it and you do a GREAT job of visualizing it.

You’re right, without being prepared I’m not sure if I would crap my pants or freak out. No amount of preparation can really prepare you for what I’d be about to see if I choose to cross this path; so my question is HOW do you deal with it? Have someone that has done it go with you for a few hours?

Jason says:

I think we will all deal with it in different ways. Some of us remain oblivious to it, some of us deciding to never to visit again, some of us decide to learn from it and some of us will actually try to do something to improve it. We can’t control how people will react, but I truly believe it would be best if we all did experience it. It’s an education that we wouldn’t otherwise get.

Christy @ Ordinary Traveler says:

The littering in other countries was definitely something that took me a while to get used to seeing. It’s funny to me that I get irritated with people in the states who don’t recycle and yet people in other countries just throw their trash everywhere.

I noticed the car fumes last week when we were in the Dominican Republic. Every time we went into town, I felt like my lungs were being coated with pollution. I don’t think I’ve ever been that sensitive to it before, even in cities like Hanoi.

Jason says:

I get irritated with people that litter and don’t recycle in the States too, even after I have traveled to less developed countries. We are more developed, therefore we need to be more responsible. We have no excuses. It’s also my feeling that advanced, more powerful countries need to be leaders and set examples, instead of accepting poor behaviors.

Sheila says:

Very informative and well written post. I’ve been reading many travel blog post lately and I’ve been inspired to partake in this adventure next year. Thanks for writing this because some people might experience a culture shock if they dont know what to expect. My husband and I were born in Philippines but grew up in NY. I’m trying to sell the glamourous life of traveling on a budget yet at the same time remind him that some places are still going to have squat toilets. We’ve gotten used to the modern amenities that if were not mentally prepared we might end up unhappy with our decision to travel. Thanks I’ll be sharing this post with him.

Jason says:

It is good to set some expectations. Traveling is a fantastic feeling of freedom and exploration, but yes, budget travel can also be challenging sometimes. I hope you guys have a wonderful trip ahead of you.

Mariella says:

thanks for you blog, you give a whole new perspective on travelling. long term travelling is a life changing experience everyone should try, it helps us experience different things and people we would have never met otherwise. Thanks for sharing all your experience, from what I’ve read so far it has definitely changed your life and your perspective on life, making you a stronger person. Thanks for sharing all your experiences with us :)

Jason says:

It is absolutely a life changing experience and one that I wish everyone could witness, but I understand that’s not possible for many reasons. However, I am confident that the world would be a better place if we all had these experiences.

kheir says:

great blog and the posts are very informative.i love the fact that you give the bad along with the good,it’s very important to prepare travellers for these shocks.great work.

“Travel is more than seeing of sights;it is a change that goes on,deep and permanent,in the ideas of living”-miriam beard

Jason says:

Thanks Kheir. It is important to know that there is always good an bad, and we need to have some of those expectations.

backpackers says:

Seeing the bad and the ugly reminds us of how good and catered to our lives are when we are in the 1st world rat race environment. We have to remember that a large percentage of the worlds population don’t live as we are accustomed to and seeing that other side reminds me how lucky I am to have all the modern comforts this world has to offer.

Ivo Stoichev says:

I vaguely recall one of the Greek philosophers once said that everything is about balance. So it’s only natural that something which seems entirely good on first glance to be comprised of good and bad things, and travel is not an exception. But as you said, it’s all about getting used to it.

Outstanding article guys! You’ve summed it up very nicely. Something I would add to the ugly section is misogyny and being a constant target for unscrupulous types – something my partner and I struggled with in our three months in Tunisia, North Africa, along with everything else you’ve mentioned.

Regarding the litter thing, we had a very interesting conversation with a man who was a big fan of Osama Bin Laden. Probably the only thing he said that made any sense to me was his dismay at the Tunisian government’s pro-Western policies and the price he saw his country paying for “development”. Quite simply the more Tunisia “develops”, the more stuff is consumed and discarded and the result is a litter strewn country. True, they haven’t established the infrastructure and systems to deal with rubbish yet and that would help but that’s a secondary issue – collecting it all into nice neat little piles we don’t have to look at is better, not generating it in the first place is best.

Early on in the planning stages we decided that we wanted to travel long-term and didn’t think we could do this if it meant subjecting ourselves to dodgy, barracks-like, drunken gap-year adolescent-filled hostels. We decided to buy a motorhome and this has meant we have all the comforts of home (and car) and an oasis to retreat to if it all gets a bit much. Also, we still consider this “budget” travel as we save on accommodation, food and transport. Yes, there is the initial large outlay but we’ll resell at the end of the trip, hopefully when the pound is a bit stronger, and even with depreciation it won’t have cost us very much at all.

Our time in Tunisia was pretty depressing and it would take something special to get me to spend any real length of time in a developing country again. We’re very open about the less salubrious aspects of our time there and sometimes it feels like we’re the only travellers who’ve been somewhere and haven’t had “the time of our lives”.

I think this article should be published in the National Geographic or on Lonely Planet’s blog. It was very refreshing, a must-read for any newbie travelers… actually all travelers!

Erica M says:

First, I want to tell you that I love your blog, it’s very informative.

When it comes to this subject, I can understand why the bad and ugly would bother you. I don’t want to appear heartless by writing this reply. But I share the same experiences as Cris Campos, living in a third world or developing country those things don’t bother you. It’s very sad to admit, but we see poverty on a regular basis and abused animals that we somewhat become immune to it. When you leave your hometown to live in a developed country, you have a chance to see your country from the outsiders point of view it makes you uncomfortable. Like Cris said, we know what is going on but we don’t fully grasp it until we are out of it for a while.
The good thing about it is that when you go back home for whatever reason, you have a new and better perspective of the situation and you will find a way to make a difference even if it’s for one person.

You guys have an amazing blog, great job on it =)

Aracely says:

Thank you Erica, I’m glad you find our blog informative. You don’t appear heartless, what you are saying makes perfect sense to me. You highlighted a good that should be included which is that travel gives you a new perspective of live. When we don’t travel we think the world is just as we’ve known it…once we get out there we learn a new way of life. Thanks for being a part of the discussion.

It wouldn’t be so ‘good’ if not for the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ in my opinion. Travel can’t be perfect :)

Wanderfly says:

I do agree with most of this list, and I love that you mentioned that traveling is not a vacation – going to the beach is a vacation!

However, while the “ugly” truly is the ugly part of travel, I don’t think the “bad” in this list is all necessarily bad. In my experience the discomfort and confusing aspects of travel sometime to turn out to be some of the most enjoyable parts of the experience. Flying by the seat of your pants, getting lost, being confused, sitting on the floor of a bus – those things are all part of the fun. If you let go of the worry that these things sometimes create, they often morph into the “excitement” and “discovery” part of travel!

Also, I would add one thing to the “good” list: “Inspiration”. I’m always amazed at how inspiring travel can be, pushing you to travel better, travel more often, learn new things, take more chances, and start to inspire others to do the same.

While there are some bad things in travel, I think they are outweighed by the massive amount of awesome things. Great post!

Aracely says:

I agree with you that “flying of the seat of your pants” is part of the fun. But not everyone feels the same, surprisingly a lot of people prefer to be in control of all situations and that just isn’t travel. I wanted to make sure people realize this. And I love the inspiration as being part of the good…we feel the same. Thanks for the comment.

Cris Campos says:

It’s very interesting to see your point of view.
Coming from a developing country, my experience was the opposite. Arriving in New Zealand, my “shock” was with the organization, social equality, honesty and cleanness.

It’s not hard to ignore the bad and the ugly that you mentioned when you actually live in these places. Even when you try to do your bit (as I do), sometimes the dogs, the rubbish, corruption, disorganization and even the children disappear right in front of your eyes. When you grow up seeing homeless kids everywhere and learn to be afraid of them because of the high crime rates, it just becomes “normal” to avoid them.

Travelling and living in developed countries made me realize that this is extremely wrong, it’s not normal! Not that I didn’t know it before, but I had never seen it from the outside before.

Now I find myself amazed with everything and finding everything beautiful, including my own country, while many people take it for granted.
Still, when I’m in a rich country sometimes I miss the sense of solidarity and friendship that I’m so used to.

Jason says:

Chris, what country are you from or do you live in?

Cris Campos says:

Hi Jason,
I’m from Brazil, and I’m in New Zealand at the moment. In between I have travelled to a few other countries too… ;)

Erica L. says:

Interesting overall concept that I completely agree with, but I don’t agree with how you broke it down. Especially the ugly bits. I live in New York City and all three of those ugly scenarios are ones that occur every day here. I volunteer at shelters in the East Village where young children, even infants, come in with their single mothers every week. I volunteered once (couldn’t take it after that) at an animal shelter in Queens where the cats were beyond ill and malnourished. Nobody to care for them, and donations and city funding aren’t nearly enough to keep these cats healthy or even alive. Kill shelters exist in abundance here. And environmental disasters — the Gowanus Canal? The South Bronx? NYC isn’t the worst city in this regard, but we certainly have our environmental hurdles.

If anything, this article and the comments that follow are more reflective of people’s tendency to ignore the bad in their backyard. The “it couldn’t happen to us” mentality. Midtown high rises, SoHo shopping strips and LES bars don’t see the ugliest parts, but New York is more than Manhattan. This is why I love volunteering (with New York Cares, just FYI) because I feel like I am traveling in the city that I’ve known for years and challenging myself in the “good” ways you mention.

In my opinion, the true ugly of long-term international travel comes from the loneliness – almost existentialism – that sets in when you are separated from what you have known for so long. I lived in Russia for a year and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, despite my severe homesickness that last few months. I made no true friends. I was an English teacher and connected with my students, but they couldn’t replace family or friends. I would love to travel again to another region to see if I am stronger the second time around.

Jason says:

I do agree that there is good, bad and ugly everywhere, and yes especially in the United States as you mention. But, I can’t agree that it is on the same scale. One difference you point out is that in the United States there exists social programs or offerings. In many less developed countries there is no animal shelter, no soup kitchens and no homeless shelters. This sets the U.S. experience apart from visiting a country like Bolivia for instance.

There are few environmental protection laws, foreign corporations from places like the US exploiting resources and few trash collection services in many remote regions of these countries.

However, often, as you suggest, we only have too look beyond our safe neighborhoods to witness many struggles of the world.

Although, I have come to the conclusion that many have it pretty good in the States.

Norbert says:

Great post Aracely! The truth is that travel, even to developed countries can show you some of its good, bad, and ugly sides. I dare to say that backpackers and independent travelers tend to have a better perspective of this since we tend to venture a bit more “off the beaten path”.
A couple years ago, on my trip to Thailand I saw some of the “ugly”. Like pointed in the post; stray dogs (in every single corner), homeless, and even remnants of the destruction of 2004’s tsunami. These are things you don’t typically read on blogs and magazines, but once there you live them and experience them.
It’s a great thing to let travelers know that not everything in travel is “picture perfect” and glamorous. Budget travel has its sacrifices too, like comfort. As for me, as a traveler, I like to experience each place raw, as it is… be it good, bad, or ugly. Thats what makes them unique!

Aracely says:

Norber, I agree that backpackers/independent travelers have a more in depth perspective into the culture since we usually take public transportation, eat where locals do etc.

The sad thing is that even when people are mixed in with the locals, they don’t necessarily get something out of it. I have witnessed people’s body language at a bus stop and have seen westerners/gringos with a look of disgust in their face and edge away from a locals because she didn’t want to be touched by them.

I was very angry when I saw that and thought to myself, why is this person here! Anyway, this goes to my point that some people even when they travel this way they don’t necessarily change or get anything good of the experience. This is very unfortunate.

Norbert says:

That’s true, I’ve seen those reactions too. But, in my opinion, those come from people who are not “ready” to travel yet, because they are not “open” enough to absorb their surroundings as they truly are. They are in it just for the ride and thrill of traveling around.

Amy says:

I’m in a small Mexican fishing village at the moment and so much of what you say rings true – particularly the business about the stray animals and the rubbish everywhere. For our first few weeks here, I ended up feeding the strays but then they would follow me everywhere – I was the stray dog girl. And I’ve wracked my mind about the rubbish situation – I just don’t get it. I don’t understand how anyone could want the place they live to be covered in refuse.

Great post!

Aracely says:

There was a comment on our F’d Up Economics Of Tourism In Uyuni Bolivia post that read:

“Many cultures don’t have a concern about the external cosmetics of their area such as westerners do….From my experience from staying in many homes, the home is always clean and nice, but the externals of the area are sometimes trashy and for many westerners would an eye sore.”

I believe this to be true. Usually homes are clean on the inside but people still litter a lot on the outside. And if there is no proper garbage collection…I don’t know what else is left for the people to do.

Great article Aracley. I definitely agree with q8travelbud in the fact the “bad” and “ugly” parts are also what makes traveling that much more important. It gives you such a great appreciation for the little things back home.
For me, missing friends and family is a big part of the “bad” in traveling, but if I was to stay in New York my whole life I don’t think I would realize how lucky I am.
After living in Argentina for almost a year, It is definitely the “Lack of Order” that hits home the most with me. Well that and the lack of really good turkey sandwiches!

Thanks for the great writing!

Aracely says:

Gareth, had Jason written the article, one of his bad things would be…no good NY Style Pizza and lack of good beer selections, they are mostly all pilseners beers.

q8travelbud says:

I think thats part of the “good” side of travelling … it gives you a sense of appreciation…

Audrey says:

There’s a great quote in a Paul Theroux book (“Old Patagonian Express”) that is something along the lines of greater understanding of the world leads to more depression. There’s something to that when you see firsthand environmental, economic, educational and other issues day in and day out without a real break when you’re on a long journey. We sometimes feel like our brains can’t take anything more. On the flip side, one also sees stories of great hope and inspiration where you least expect it as well.

What you wrote at the end is very important for anyone setting out on a budget trip – it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Otherwise, it could be a disaster and you may never want to leave your house again!

Aracely says:

Hi Audrey, Jason I and sometimes feel the same about not being able to take any more. I know we had a few conversations like that with you and Dan during our road trip back in Argentina. When you’re out here…there are so many things we see that make us think and think and think. Hopefully it is making us all think enough to make us act in some way that brings about some change. I’m sure the work that you and Dan do bring you a lot of satisfaction when you see positive results in people.

Ian and Wendy says:

Absolutely! And hurray for (clean) hot water! Not to mention showers that actually work, beds that are clean and comfortable and floors I can walk barefoot across without mentally planning the trip to the doctor! Somehow, the “good” (almost) always outweighs the rest and we keep on going back for more! Although, there is nothing quite like falling asleep in your own bed after a good long hot shower when you get back from whatever far-flung corner of the globe you’ve been off exploring!

Aracely says:

Ian & Wendy: Hot showers are great, but to be honest, I have become much more environmentally conscience during this trip and now feel guilty taking long hot showers. Spending time outside of the US had made me really appreciate things that I once took for granted.

Ian and Wendy says:

Hi Aracely!

I didn’t mean long – just HOT! We live in California, where water is, of course, always an issue. And expensive, naturally. Which makes most people pretty “green” in a hurry! ;)

Aracely says:

Ian & Wendy, yes, quick, hot showers!! That’s all me! :)

Cam says:

Couldn’t agree more!
I think sometimes people don’t account for the “bad and ugly” that is necessary to achieve “the good”. Traveling is not a vacation… it is the action required to get to your ‘vacation’.
Awesome skydiving pic – very brave!

Aracely says:

Cam-“Traveling is not a vacation” So true. I always find it funny (not really) that everyone back home always says that we are on a “year long vacation.” Travel, especially Budget Travel, is definitely not a vacation.

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