Can you imagine travelling without your smartphone and Google Maps and instead lugging around various physical maps? Not being able to quickly check for cheap flights online and this way get inspired for your next trip, but having to walk to the next travel agency first?
The internet and the technology nowadays have changed the way we travel and also how we get inspiration for new adventures. Many things have become significantly easier and often cheaper too, but do we really travel better nowadays because of them? Or does this new technology bring disadvantages too?
What does travelling look like compared to back in the day? What has changed and which experiences do we make nowadays when travelling? I looked into these questions…Travelling in the past and now
How travelling has changed thanks to new technologies
Technology for travelling
I especially am a complete technology freak. My iPhone is full of useful travel apps and in my backpack I carry around more weight in electronics than in clothes. Apart from my MacBook I have with me a Samsung camera, my little vlogging Sony camera, the Osmo for stable imaging, a tablet, a kindle, an external hard drive, external keyboard and mouse as well as various cables, batteries and a universal adapter so that I can always charge everything. Oh and sometimes I take along my drone in an extra backpack.
I know that not everyone carries this much electronics but most people do travel with at least a smartphone and a camera nowadays and often a laptop, tablet or kindle, too. Rather than bringing along heavy travel guides, ebooks are downloaded and most books for holiday reading are available in kindle format. This saves unnecessary paper kilos but the electronics probably amount to the same weight in the end.
But instead of just bringing one book you can pack as many as you like with your kindle! Especially if you plan to travel longer, this is great and does save weight then, not to mention the space it frees up.
The booking and planning of a trip
But it starts a lot earlier: not only in the luggage and on the trip itself, it has become impossible to imagine planning a trip without technology. Back in the day you might have gone to a travel agency and looked through various travel magazines and in the end you would have booked the trip at the agency, now you can simply do all that from your own bed and don’t even have to move your legs. Except for getting up to grab your laptop or tablet maybe.
And you often would have booked the entire trip in advance, all the flights, every overnight stay and every transport for excursions etc. Nowadays we usually just book the flights and maybe the first few nights. Everything else can be taken care of on site or in the country you are in before you head to the next country. Crazy, isn’t it?
We simply check Skyscanner or Momondo for the best flights or to get inspiration where to fly in the first place by leaving the destination and date open in the search. As soon as we have found good flights, we then book them directly on the airline’s site. People who plan to travel for longer or go on a trip all around the world often only book a one-way-ticket without really knowing when and from where they will be flying back.
The best hotel is quickly found via booking sites like booking.com, expedia.de or agoda.com, which allow you to book accommodations on site, sometimes even on the same day. And the best part: you can often get really good prices and profit from last-minute discounts.
Off we go: the actual trip
Back in the day you would have received your plane tickets and hotel vouchers either directly from the travel agency or they would have been sent in the mail. And before flying you would have probably checked the airline’s website or way back when looked into the teletext if there are any delays or if your plane is on time. You would have then headed to the airport with your tickets and all relevant booking confirmations and stood in line to check in and check baggage. You needed to be at the airport two hours before takeoff, sometimes even three hours prior to have enough time to handle everything.
And today? Today you get your tickets and confirmations as a PDF via email, check in online one day before the flight and choose your seat yourself. Apps like TripIt automatically notify you if there are any changes in departure time or the gate you fly from. So at the airport you only get in line if you want to check baggage. If you fly with a carry-on only like Line and I do, then you can go straight to the security check without ever waiting by the counter.
At the security check as well as the gate you simply show your eticket on the smartphone, no paperwork necessary thanks to the digital code. Rather than spending 2-3 hours at the airport you now can still catch your plane even when you arrive at the airport 45 minutes before takeoff if you are travelling with a carry-on or if there is no line at the baggage counter. Pretty easy and thanks to the paper saved this is also better for the environment!
On the plane
Can you imagine sitting in a plane while the passengers in the row behind you are enjoying their cigarettes? Me neither! Though as a child I frequently flew back and forth between Spain and Germany and back then it was perfectly normal to smoke on a plane. Nowadays I cannot imagine sitting in a flying cloud of smoke or getting of the plane smelling like cigarettes. Insane how some things change!
And that’s not all, planes used to be very different back then too. Everybody intently watched while the flight attendants explained the safety guidelines. Nowadays the All Blaks, the New Zealand rugby team, and international top rugby players are hired to parody the successful Men in Black film by showing a super funny movie of plane safety instructions. Virgin America, United and Delta have also produced similar films, all pretty cool, while flight attendants on a Southwest Airlines flight did a pretty good stand-up show. All that to get the passengers’ attention. Today you really need to entertain.
And while it used to be standard to receive drinks and snacks even on very short flights nobody is surprised now by the prices some airlines like Ryanair or EasyJet charge, a can of coke can easily cost you 3 €. You are really hungry? Then just get this super tasty, fresh Italian ciabatta sandwich for only 7 €!
You want to sit in the exit row so you will have more leg room? Just pay 30 € more and the seat is yours. And here I was thinking that it is a requirement that at least one person sits in that row to open the door in the case of an emergency. Then again, this scenario is very unlikely anyway (as the safety videos and the flight attendants always point out) and every Euro more is a profit for the airline.
But at least people don’t clap upon landing anymore. Unless you are in a TUI machine to Mallorca.
Yeah! New country, new stamp! Not really. Less and less countries use stamps nowadays and instead of the pages of your passport getting ever more colourful all you might find is the staple and a remnant of paper from your last immigration card. That’s a bit sad, don’t you think? I am always happy about a stamp and really don’t like that they are growing out of fashion. I wonder why they are.
Keeping in touch with friends and family
Back in the day many people called their friends and family right from the airport after landing, for that they got into the now almost extinct phone booths. Or they called immediately when they arrived at the hotel and could use the telephone in their room.
Nowadays you simply buy a local sim card or you receive one as a gift when leaving the plane like in Bangkok, charged with data and everything. You quickly shoot a WhatsApp message over to the loved ones at home so they know you are well and later you might call via Skype or write a longer email.
Taxis are ordered through an app
In the past you would have had to stand in line at most airports and train stations until you could finally get into a free taxi, now you just order one with your phone. Apps like MyTaxi or the new sharing companies like Uber are simply ingenious! You enter your location and destination and a taxi or Uber driver accepts your booking and will pick you up in a matter of minutes. The price is already set in advance and you pay comfortably via phone, no cash or credit card required and the ride is safe because all the drivers and your data are known.
Finding your way with public transportation is easy
You’d rather save money when travelling? No problem! Google Maps shows you the best way to get from A to B with public transportation. You no longer have to study maps, you don’t get lost or take the wrong train and you also don’t have to ask around forever. Simply follow the Google Maps instructions and you will know how to get where you want to go with public transportation.
The hotel already knows who you are
When Line and I were in Sydney for a week we stayed at the ADGE Apartment Hotel in Surrey Hills, a really cool apartment complex with reception and concierge service. At the check-in the two concierges gave us a map of the area in which they had marked cool cafes and restaurants that we might like. They had gone through our Instagram accounts and seen that we love good coffee and burgers, as well as Italian pizza. And all the places they recommended were really cool, they had picked exactly what we like!
Why only a room if you can have a real home?
Hotels have more and more reason to come up with special services or amenities to make your stay particularly nice. Because less and less people are booking hotel rooms, they go straight for a whole flat. AirBnB is the magic word here! If we are in one place for more than three days Line and I usually get an apartment through AirBnB.
And to be honest I often don’t even look for hotels in a certain place any more but go right onto AirBnB where there are pretty cool flats. We have stayed in amazing places like the apartment in Cape Town or a super cool villa in Canggu, Bali.
The advantage of an apartment is obvious: you can make your own food and often do your laundry too. This saves you a lot of money on the road! And if you are travelling with a group you can go ahead and get a whole house which is a lot cheaper per person than hotels.
And apart from that many hotel rooms are super impersonal and cold – I much prefer living in a real home!
Cool cafes and restaurants are only a #hashtag away!
You are looking for a homely cafe or a really good steak? Ask the community! Back in the day you would have had to rely on the recommendations of hotel staff or the tour guide and didn’t always find the right restaurant or cafe for yourself, or you had to wander around the neighborhood until you coincidentally passed a cool place.
I have been using Foursquare for a few years now to look for restaurants or I let myself be inspired by various hashtags on Instagram. You can of course check TripAdvisor, but to be honest I don’t like that platform much, because it is generally tourists giving advice here. Whereas on Foursquare often locals share their favourite places and you tend to end up at more authentic restaurants that are not overpriced.
So today thanks to technology and the online community it is much easier to find restaurants and cafes that suit you, where you will really eat among locals, not tourists!
Massive cameras and selfie sticks everywhere!
It’s selfie time! Yihaaa! Let’s be honest: when did this nonsense start and when does it stop? Not only selfie sticks are being fished from backpacks all over the world but massive cameras too. In the past only very few people were able to afford cameras like that and only the pros carried around huge lenses. Today this kind of photographic equipment is part of every travellers standard gear. And if it is not a SLR then at least the latest model compact camera. Or the iPhone. Or – really bad – the iPad.Travel moments
What do all these changes mean for our travel experience?
All these technological developments are very useful and definitely have made travelling easier and a little safer. But what impact do they have on our personal travel experience? Do we really travel better nowadays? I am not so sure, especially if I look at my own travel habits as a travel blogger.
New country yet not a foreigner
Sometimes I ask myself if we really still experience new things when travelling, if there actually still are surprises. Back in the day every trip was a venture into the unknown, a travel into adventure. You might have read a little about the country in a guidebook in advance, you might know stories of people you know or have seen pictures on television.
But apart from that you know nothing. You arrive full of anticipation, soak up everything with your eyes, observe your surroundings. Everything is new and foreign, everything is exciting.
Today this is very different: you have already looked at several websites before your trip, read blog posts, gone through the pictures of your hotel or AirBnB three times over and maybe have even strolled around the neighborhood where your accommodation is on Google Street View. You know exactly where the next cafe is, where you can get a good burger and how much it will cost.
You arrive and know immediately how things are done there, where to go, what the street and what your bathroom looks like. And everything is new for you as well, but not unknown, not quite as exciting. Because you have already seen it all online.
Isn’t that a little sad? Of course it is great that we can check out everything in advance and save ourselves unnecessary time for searching or the anguish of not knowing how to manage in the new place. But doesn’t this always kill a bit of the excitement, of the adventure that used to be part of travelling to a new country? Where is the novelty, the surprise and the anticipation?
Are we really away from home?
Back in the day you were really gone, you were travelling and could not be reached. There were real goodbyes at the airport or train station, people wished each other well and there were even tears. And upon arrival you were greeted by the whole family and your friends, sometimes an entire welcome committee. And everyone was happy that you had returned alive and well. Your stories were anticipated with great excitement and everybody was happy about your tales from the road.
Today you basically take your friends and family along when travelling. You are always in touch thanks to WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc. You text all the time and even get to see them regularly in video calls. Emails are of course answered when on the road and Facebook keeps your friends up to date.
There are no elaborate goodbyes when you leave, because you have already planned the next Skype call and text every couple of days anyway. When you return, they already know all the stories, so you don’t really have much to say. And all your best pictures have long been published on Instagram.
Of course it is great that we can always stay in touch with the loved ones at home, but does this not also take away from the travelling? Are we really away from home? Where is the excitement, where is the time for yourself, time to be alone or with another person? Where is the joy of seeing one another again after a longer time away?
Do we live less in the moment?
Ironically, it is because we always have our smartphones and cameras on us that I sometimes feel like we are experiencing less. I myself am a good, or rather a very bad example for that: I am constantly looking at my phone to quickly shoot a message home, to check for a cool cafe with wifi in the vicinity, to post something to Facebook or answer a comment, or to share the latest Instagram, to this, to that, to…..
And then every moment of course has to be captured on camera. Be it with the iPhone or with a big camera. A picture of food here, a fantastic view there. And the mother giraffe that is roaming the savannah with its offspring has to be filmed non-stop with a few pictures snapped in between as well, to make sure that I have a cool picture for later.
I know I am the very same way, but does it really have to be like this? Can we not simply be in the here and now, can we live in the moment and just enjoy life as it is. Does every instant have to be captured on camera, does every experience have to be shared with social media?
In the past we were a lot more in the present – that is my feeling anyway – we really enjoyed a given moment and didn’t stress about getting a good image of that moment. We used to live more and thus experience more as well.
Are there still real adventures?
And here we have arrived at the question that really captivates me as an adventure travel blogger: does the real adventure still exist? I mean even in the middle of the Australian Outback, in the middle of nowhere, where there are no humans for miles and miles, Line and I still had a 3G data connection on our last road trip through Western Australia. In some smaller towns out in nowhere it was even 4G.
So we were never really alone, we could always text back and forth with our friends at home, could check Google Maps so that we would definitely not get lost. You see a weird animal and don’t know if that maybe is a poisonous spider? Just google it or ask a Facebook group and you have your answer. Where is the adventure?Travelling today
The adventure persists, even now!
I think that the adventure is a different one nowadays. The adventure now is to travel super flexible. To not have your whole trip planned out in advance and book everything from home. To be able to decide at several points along the way where you will be going tomorrow and what you want to experience. Instead of flying on to Vietnam like planned, you can fly to Laos spontaneously, because you heard from other backpackers that Laos is still a lot cooler and less travellers make their way there.
Thanks to the ‘all places’ search option on Skyscanner you consider flying to countries that you had never even thought of before. Countries like Oman, Nepal or maybe Guatemala. Thanks to the internet and blogs like Off The Path you get inspiration for lots of adventures of various kinds like a sailing tour of Antarctica or a riding safari in South Africa. I am sure that you would not have gone through thousands of books to learn about adventures like these!
And you might be more inclined to actually experience these adventures yourself because you have been able to inform yourself about what awaits you in advance and this way you are able to overcome your fear. I strongly believe that adventures will not die out and that we even have a better chance of experiencing adventures today thanks to the flexibility we gained and because we hear about them in the first place.
Luckily there will always be countries and regions where there is no cellphone service, no cafes with wifi and no 3G. So that even I am forced to rely on my own knowledge and instincts and not on the apps on my iPhone. And when all that is no use then the smartphone or laptop can even stay at home, the camera can stay in the backpack and the moment can simply be enjoyed and truly experienced as it is….
Travelling has become so much easier
Everyone is responsible for what he or she does and in the end all the developments have their upsides: travelling has become so much easier, staying in touch with old and newly made friends when travelling is pretty simple, the family at home is less worried and can live your adventures with you, the food is a lot tastier because thanks to the internet community you know exactly which restaurant to go to and with AirBnB you have a comfortable home anywhere in the world and then the internet keeps giving you inspiration for your next adventure!
What do you think, do we travel better nowadays than in the past? Are there still real adventures?