It’s not so long ago, but travelling was completely different in the years 2000. Whether you’ve been there or not, I’m sure you’ll laugh at the way we used to travel 10 years ago. How many of these situations did you also go through?
Technology has revolutionized the way we travel.
Nowadays we have thousands of websites and apps to help us in every step of our trips. From buying the cheapest flight, to choosing the best hotel and restaurant. Apps tell us the places to visit, and even the clothes to wear. It’s really unbelievable the amount of things we can get to know and organize even before leaving home.
We can now jump on $5-flights, be hosted by people we never met before and meticulously plan our itineraries to the last detail.
Smartphones, tablets, and notebooks are obvious items in any trip. A place where the internet doesn’t work is unacceptable. Taking hundreds of photos per day is the norm and not sharing them with the whole world is weird.
We know beforehand the best place to stay, eat, drink, buy, play, and dance. It feels like it’s always been like this. But it really hasn’t. You don’t need to go too far back in time to have a completely different scenario.
Do you remember how it was like to travel 10 years ago?
Do you remember how it was like to travel without a smartphone? If not, let me refresh your mind!
First of all, we need an air ticket. 10 years ago I’d go to a travel agency and let my agent check a few options in his complex systems. I’d trust him, pay him a commission and buy the ticket. If I had any problem during my trip, I’d have to contact him to deal with it, but of course he’d be in a different timezone and I’d have to wait half a day to get things solved.
Sometimes I also did it myself. I’d search for flights online up to 1 year in advance. I’d find a pretty amazing deal. But then the connection would fail, and I’d just miss it! There were the last-minute tickets: companies wanted to fulfill the empty seats and would offer the last ones for a much cheaper price. Some people even went to the airports to buy them just a few hours prior to the flight. Do people still do it?
Nowadays we buy flights that cost less than $10. We can plan trips just a few hours in advance. There are uncountable apps that claim to find the best possible deal, sometimes with accommodation, rental cars and tours included. They compare hundreds of airlines and send us notifications when a good deal is found. Basically, we can search within seconds, buy within minutes and fly within hours.
How was it before booking.com? It’s even hard to remember! I’d get recommendations from people who had been there. Or I would buy travel guides and magazines, and get the latest hotel reviews. I had to call the place to book a bunk bed or in some cases it was already possible to book online. Many times, I just found a room once I got to my destination.
Nowadays, we book places from our smartphones. We can know everything about them beforehand. We read their pages, check their photos and have access to reviews from hundreds of other people who have stayed there.
Not to mention CouchSurfing and AirBnb (just to mention the main ones), which allow us to stay in people’s houses! People that we don’t know at all, but reading their profile and references gives us a vague idea that they might be trustworthy enough. I’ve found CourchSurfing hosts just hours before reaching some cities and in the end they turned into close friends.
Where to go
Once at your destination, where to go? Back then, obviously to the hotel reception or the information center, to get some maps and professional advice about the place. I’d sit down and try to understand the map. With luck, it’d already show the main touristic attractions, so I’d circulate them and create my own walking tours and fit them into my days. I’d carry that map with me until the edges broke completely (because I’d fold them in a way that was logical for me, according to the part of the city I was visiting).
I’d search for advice with the local people and try to visit the off-the-beaten-track places. I got lost so many times! Once in Florence I decided to wander through some streets and got completely lost. It started to rain and got dark. I was soaked and started crying out of desperation. I was finally offered a ride by some policemen who happened to be patrolling the area and were compassionate enough to bring me back to the city center!
Today it’s so easy! We can find out anything about any place, from anywhere, whenever we want.
Some places were so beautiful and photogenic! I’d get my analogic camera, find the best spot, best light, focus, click… damn it! Film is over! And I didn’t bring another one!
I’d have to find a supermarket or store and get a new one, with 12, 24 or 36 new photo opportunities. I got my first digital camera in 2006. A small 5mp Sony. Before that, all I had was a small analogic camera and I didn’t even think such a thing as a digital camera was possible!
When I read what I just wrote, it sounds like a century ago! Nowadays, I can take thousands of pictures per day on my iPhone and post them immediately on social media, where everyone can check where I am and what I’m up to.
I’d go back to the hostel and want to write my family and friends.
Maybe read some news or traveling tips about places to visit. Well, I’d have to wait in line to use one of the few computers in the hostel. Usually there were 3 or 4. Some places only had 1.
Internet was slow and each guest could only use it for half an hour. Still, I’d write kilometer-long emails to my parents, telling them all about my adventures. Unfortunately, I couldn’t send any pictures!
More modern places already offered Wifi, but it was only available in the reception, so everyone who had a phone with access to the Internet (I got my first one in 2009!!) would gather there to connect to their loved ones.
I still remember my first backpacking trip in Europe, back in 2009. Most places I stayed didn’t have Wifi, so I had to bring my book to the computer area and be patient, sometimes wait for more than one hour to be able to use one of the old, wrecked machines.
And then I got to one place where they already had WiFi IN THE ROOMS! And I had a smartphone (it was primordial, with buttons, so not that smart at all). I still remember how happy I was to be able to connect and talk to everyone from my bed in a hostel! Unbelievable!
Nowadays and I can write and call them from anywhere! Whenever I go to a country where I stay longer than a week, I buy a local sim card with 3G data. Now I can check anything, about anywhere, anytime: what places to go, how to get, how much, the best time to visit and so much more!
I remember buying endless cards to make international calls. In 2004 I spent 2 months in the US. At the time I called my home country pretty much every day (excuse me, but I was only 15) with those cards. Each card had a long serial number (maybe 16 digits?) and I memorized all of them because I used it so often. We had to call a central place, listen to a recorded message, dial specific numbers according to the country we were trying to reach, and finally insert the numbers from the card. Each card had some minutes worth of calls and the price varied according to that.
Nowadays we have several apps to make video calls from anywhere to anywhere in the world. You can be at the top of the Eiffel Tour in France and call a friend who’s in the middle a jungle in Thailand. It’s just so easy and fast that we take it for granted.
Staying in Touch
When you travel you meet a lot of people from all over the world. How do you stay in touch?
When I used to travel 10 years ago I still didn’t have a Facebook account (I created mine 8 years ago). So my way to stay in touch with all those people was… per E-mail! Sounds so old school, I know. Postcards were also a great way to show people that you remember them (and that you’re traveling while they’re not). And in some rare cases, I’d still send letters. Yes, handwritten, pen and paper.
Today we “add” and “follow” each other within a matter of seconds. This, in turn, makes me have almost 2000 friends, many of whom I just met for one day. But if you’ve ever traveled alone, I’m sure you’ve been there. You find that person who’s going to the same place as you are, you spend some amazing hours together, you exchange contacts, add each other and promise they’ll have a guaranteed couch if they ever visit you. Most of the times, that never really happens. But sometimes it actually does!
When I went backpacking in Europe in 2009, I met several people and made many of those one-day-best-travelling-buddies. We stayed in touch and years later, I was hosted in Wellington, NZ, by a guy I met in Rome. I had lunch in Bangkok with a friend I made in Florence. And the list goes on and on.
And although some might say it’s useless keeping people in your list that you never talk to, I still think it’s worth it keeping most of those traveling friends. Who knows where the world will take us? If we had an awesome time shopping together in NYC, what prevents us from having a great time surfing in Bali?
10 years ago, if I got lost in a city, the only way to find my way was using a (paper) map and asking people for directions. When I took a cab, I didn’t have any idea whether the driver was taking me in the right direction. I didn’t have much access to reviews and references of the places I stayed and if something happened, probably the best defense was to scream.
Today you guide yourself using GPS and multiple options of maps and routes. You can check if the driver is taking you in the right direction (something I did in rickshaws in India, for example). You can read hundreds of references about the places you stay, eat and visit. And if anything happens, there are also several ways of reporting an emergency. You can use your phone to call the local police or you can write people you know. There are apps where you can activate an emergency button to report peril.
So much technology, has it spoiled the way we travel?
Some people might say so much technology may have taken the mystery and the awe of traveling. But I think traveling itself is always going to be a surprising thing. And if it’s not because it rained and the map broke into pieces, it’ll be because the connection failed or you lost your phone.
I think travels will keep on presenting us with unexpected events and unpredictable challenges. For me, traveling is a way of staying alive and alert. It’s a way of seeing new things with new eyes. It’s a way of challenging yourself, getting amused, excited, and feeling alive! And no matter the amount of information you can get previously from such apps, the experience of travelling and exploring new places will never be spoiled. You can know everything about a place, but being there and experiencing it is a whole new thing. Traveling always makes my eyes shine and my heart beat faster with excitement, regardless of how much technology is involved.
During my amazing trips, I had the most revealing insights in my life, and realized what I love doing the most. I wrote a book about finding love, happiness, self-knowledge and empowerment. You can read more about it here:
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