What is alternative travel?

What is alternative travel?

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Simon Gooder

Traditional vs. Alternative travel

In many regards, traditional travel has lost touch with it’s original intent. When we set out to travel, we set out to expand our minds, learn new things, see new sights, or breathe new air. What we’re often served, by the traditional travel market, is a watered-down and emotionless version of what travel once was.

The world needs more alternative travel

We need to get back in touch with the roots of travel, and why we do it. We do it because we have a need to fill, or an itch to scratch, or because we need to know how they do this thing in that country. It’s about curiosity, experience, and mental stimulation.
Sure, lots of us travel for business or a vacation, but many of us are in it for the adventure. We want to see a bunch of cool shit and experience an authentic culture. This is where the learning takes place.

In order to get here, we need better systems to find what we’re looking for. Currently, the markets are so saturated with services offering these types of accommodation and transportation, all owned by the same company. In my recent search for AirBnB competitors, I found FIVE other room rental sites all owned and operated by the same company.

That being said, there are still a few holdouts. The monopolization of this market leaves more opportunity for others to find more clever ways around while making other alternative markets more appealing (see Couchsurfing). Staydu and HomeStay are two that come to mind, offering paid room rentals, work in exchange for room rentals, and straight up free room rentals. Although these services are not nearly as popular as other room rental services, the communities are active enough to find a reasonable place to stay with a good rate, anywhere you need it.

Benefits of Alternative Travel

Of all the wonderful side-effects of traveling by alternative means, I’ve managed to corral four of the strongest and most important.

Living like a local (means paying like a local)

Obviously, a budget (at least for me) is often the determining factor when planning a trip or adventure. When it comes to creating the itinerary, staying flexible is a great way to make the whole thing a little more affordable, but alongside saving money on booking, there are some great benefits when you actually get into the travel flow.

Get tips on the cheapest places to eat, drink and be entertained. Free advice on which local sites to see, and when to see them. Best of all, if you ask nicely and pay for the beer you can often get your own personal tour guide.

We must continue to take advantage of what the internet brings us; global community, instant communication, and limitless organization.

If you’re renting a room or staying with someone, you’re a lot more likely to have conversations, and learn about the local community than when staying in a hotel. Sure, hotel staff can be helpful, but they will no doubt gear their advice towards travelers with money, and other businesses within the hotel district. By staying with a local you’re privy to a wealth of local knowledge and advice which would often be inaccessible while staying in a hotel or resort district, far from the authentic part of town.

Photo by Auskteez Tran

Keep it real (and authentic)

Some of my best memories of backpacking Mexico involved the little places we stopped, which only the locals could have told us about; incredible taco stands, with the best horchata I’ve ever tasted, shops off the beaten path which served the best and cheapest fresh foods, or the little jungle waterfall paradise, only a short walk from the edge of town.

Keeping it local is easily the best way to get a taste for the culture. Often resorts and hotels are situated in districts set aside from the real parts of the city, and end up lacking in any sort of local culture.

Many people travel for a vacation, or time away, but many of us travel to learn about and experience other cultures. We want to immerse ourselves in the local scene, eat what they eat, see what they see, smell what they smell. There is no better way to learn about somebody than to experience what they do.

Save the world

Sometimes ignored and overlooked, is the footprint many traditional travel industries leave behind. Resorts are bulldozing jungles and beaches to put up rows of hotels to house the thousands of classic tourists every year. Rarely do we hear of the effect these projects have on the surrounding environment. We are too distracted to consider it.

Alternative travel brings accountability. The responsibility of the surrounding environment is in the hands of the people who live there, and who must deal with the consequences of their own actions. We bring a whole new light to the impact of these projects.

The positive effects of carpooling, for instance easily outweigh those of the one-car-per-person commute. And renting out extra rooms injects money into the local economy and allows those with less of a budget to experience travel.

We must continue to take advantage of what the internet brings us; global community, instant communication, and limitless organization. With these tools, we can share meals and experiences with our fellow humans across the world, and so we should.

Photo by Jasmin Causevic

Alternative Vacation Ideas

To conclude this piece, I’ve created some example itineraries which can be easily duplicated. Feel free to experience them for yourself, and be sure to write about it. We would love to hear about your alternative travel experiences!

  1. Short trip, small budget - Catch a ride with Hitchplanet to your desired destination. Get some local insight and a couch to sleep on through Couchsurfing. Expect to pay around $20-$50 for a ride, and Couchsurfing is totally free.

  2. Medium trip, budget of $500 - With your credit card handy, hit Secret Flying or The Fare Deal Alert for a return flight of around $280. Find a house/pet to sit on HouseCarers or Nomador for a week or two at your flight’s destination. Keep in mind, you’ll need to book around 30 days in advance to be able to set everything up! For less than $500 you’ve booked a two-week vacation.

  3. Roadtrip, small budget - Book an RV through ApolloRV for only 1$ per day. Find campsites along the way through FreeCampsites or camp in style with Harvest Hosts. These rentals are truly 1$ per day, and the camping is totally free. Free and road trips fit together nicely.