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Budgeting with a bot? The ultimate cheap, eco-friendly weekend in Europe, according to ChatGPT

Amsterdam is the best spot for a budget-friendly eco break, according to ChatGPT
Amsterdam is the best spot for a budget-friendly eco break, according to ChatGPT Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Angela Symons
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Amsterdam is the best spot for a budget-friendly eco break, according to an AI chatbot.

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ChatGPT is already making its mark on the travel industry, with Expedia recently integrating the AI chatbot into its app.

We recently put the bot to the test by asking it to plan a no-expenses spared two-week holiday around Europe. The result was pretty disappointing. The carbon-intensive itinerary would have meant spending most of the holiday at airports, on flights and packed like sardines into over-touristed sights.

So, we decided to see if the bot could plan us a more interesting trip that wouldn’t blow our carbon budget. Here’s the ultimate, budget- and eco-friendly weekend break in Europe, according to ChatGPT.

Europe’s best eco-friendly destinations, according to a bot

In case you haven't heard of it, ChatGPT is a popular chatbot developed by OpenAI. Users ask it questions and it uses masses of data to give a unique, highly personalised response.

We asked the bot where we should go for an environmentally friendly trip in Europe. It came up with five suggestions.

ChatGPT hailed Copenhagen, Denmark, for its ambitious goal to become the first net zero capital by 2025.

It suggested Costa Brava in Spain as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, and it lauded the Azores in Portugal for their sustainable development initiatives.

It broadly recommended Norway for its “strong commitment to sustainability” and “eco-friendly accommodations”.

But the destination that stood out most was Amsterdam.

The Netherlands’ capital is on a mission to clean up its image - so what better place to go for a clean, green weekend trip?

“Amsterdam is very bike-friendly and has a great public transportation system. You can visit sustainable attractions such as the Eco-Supperclub and the Organic Food Farmers Market,” ChatGPT suggested.

The city also topped Schroders European Sustainable Cities Index 2021 for its strong environmental policies - though ChatGPT failed to mention this point.

What’s the cheapest, most eco-friendly way to get to Amsterdam?

Next we decided to test ChatGPT’s attention to detail when it comes to travel planning. We asked it to plan a budget- and eco-friendly weekend in Amsterdam, travelling from London.

Leaving no room for interpretation, we asked “Please can you plan me the most sustainable, budget friendly trip to Amsterdam from 26 to 28 May 2023?

Please include the most sustainable and budget friendly transport, sustainable accommodation, sustainable activities and sustainable meals or sustainable restaurants, including costs for everything.”

It told us that the train is the most sustainable mode of travel, producing approximately 8.5 kg CO2e per passenger for a one-way trip based on data from the International Energy Agency (information gleaned from a second question about emissions).

However, it recommended a train and ferry combination as a cheaper way of getting from London to Amsterdam.

Producing around 10 kg CO2e per passenger for a one-way trip, this mode of transport is still significantly greener than flying, which produces approximately 117 kg, according to data from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

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How to get the train and ferry from London to Amsterdam

Settling on the train and ferry option, we asked ChatGPT how to go about it.

Here are the instructions it gave:

  1. “Take a train from London to Harwich International Station. You can take a Greater Anglia train from London Liverpool Street Station to Harwich International Station.
  2. From Harwich International Station, take a ferry to the Hook of Holland. Stena Line operates a ferry service from Harwich to the Hook of Holland.
  3. From the Hook of Holland, take a train to Amsterdam. There are frequent train connections between the Hook of Holland and Amsterdam, with journey times of around 1 hour and 15 minutes.”

Since we’re travelling on a budget, we also asked the chatbot to include costs.

“By booking in advance, you can save money on train and ferry tickets,” it told us - very insightful.

“For example, you can take a Greater Anglia train from London Liverpool Street Station to Harwich International Station for around £15 [€17] per person, and then take the Stena Line ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland for around £50 [€57] per person. Finally, take a train from the Hook of Holland to Amsterdam Central Station for around £10 [€11] per person.”

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While the prices it gave are definitely on the low side, the journey checks out and could be done in a day in around 11 hours.

Where is the greenest place to stay in Amsterdam on a budget?

For accommodation, ChatGPT recommended Cocomama hostel, “a certified eco-friendly hostel located in the city centre.

“A bed in a shared dorm room starts at around £30 [€34] per night, or you can book a private room starting at around £75 [€85] per night.”

Again, the prices are optimistically low, though ChatGPT did estimate slightly higher prices in our final budget. Also, the property is booked up for our dates - and many in the future.

That said, the property has decent reviews, is cheaper than most places in the city, and its green credentials check out.

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According to its website, it offers bike hire and prides itself on using pre-loved furniture. It also has natural stone heating, water-efficient toilets and showers, double glazed windows, a grass roof for eco isolation, an environmentally friendly water system and waste recycling.

They also have a cat, so we're sold.

What are the greenest things to do in Amsterdam on a budget?

ChatGPT also gave its recommendations for “sustainable activities that allow you to explore the city while minimising your environmental impact.”

Here are the suggestions it gave:

  • Take a walking or cycling tour of the city: Many companies offer guided walking or cycling tours of Amsterdam, which allow you to explore the city while minimising your carbon footprint. Some companies offer free tours, while others charge a small fee.”

This isn’t exactly an inspired suggestion but it makes sense for an eco visit on a budget.

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  • Visit the local markets: Amsterdam is home to many local markets, including the Albert Cuyp Market and the Noordermarkt. These markets offer sustainable, locally sourced food and goods.”

The Cuyp frequently tops the list of markets to visit in Amsterdam, though that’s not a reason to swerve it. It’s also right around the corner from Cocomama hostel.

The Noordermarkt offers everything from organic food to antiques, making it a decent idea for an eco shopping trip.

  • Explore the city's parks: Amsterdam has many beautiful parks, including Vondelpark and Oosterpark. These parks are great places to relax, have a picnic, or go for a walk or bike ride.”

While Vondelpark is the city’s most popular, it's also great for visiting on a budget - especially in summer when you might stumble upon a free open-air concert. Oosterpark is known as a bird watching spot, so another reasonable suggestion from ChatGPT.

What are the greenest places to eat in Amsterdam on a budget?

In a city packed with vegan, organic and farm to table restaurants, it’s tricky to choose where to spend your mealtimes.

ChatGPT turned our basic request for sustainable meals or restaurants into a decent list of spots offering “locally sourced, organic food”.

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These included:

  • De Kas: This restaurant is located in a greenhouse and offers seasonal, locally sourced food. Prices vary depending on the menu, but expect to pay around £50-60 [€57-68] per person for a meal.”

With great reviews and a seasonal ‘plant to plate’ approach - the restaurant grows 300 varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruits on site - this seems like a good suggestion, albeit a little pricey.

  • Vegan Junk Food Bar: This restaurant offers vegan fast food options that are made with sustainable and locally sourced ingredients. Prices are affordable, with most items costing around £8-10 [€9-11].”

Again with excellent reviews, this vegan spot is primed for Instagrammers with its neon signs and graffiti-licked walls. It also has four outposts around the city.

  • The Coffee Virus: This cafe offers sustainable coffee and locally sourced food options. Prices vary depending on the menu, but expect to pay around £15-20 [€17-23] for a meal.”

This arty cafe is located in A Lab, a creative community that takes over Shell’s former lab - at least it’s being put to greener use now.

What’s the total cost for our ChatGPT trip to Amsterdam?

The total estimated cost given to us by ChatGPT was definitely on the optimistic side - especially since we were planning little more than a month ahead.

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  • Transport: £75 (€85)
  • Accommodation: £90-225 (€102-255]
  • Activities: £20-30 (€23-34)
  • Meals: £60-80 (€68-91)

Total: £245-410 (€278-465) per person.

However, if we could even come close to that, it would be a pretty pocket-friendly visit to one of Europe’s most expensive cities.

Some of the suggestions could have been more original, but all in all we’re pretty pleased with the result of our second foray into chatbot trip planning.

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