Travel has changed. In the 80s and early 90s, we saved for our Inter-Rail tickets, we had to figure out different currencies, we had a money belt with traveller’s cheques, no credit cards, a backpack, no mobile phone, no internet, a cheap camera and a roll or two of film. We had a paragraph underlined about the destination we were heading to in bibles such as ‘Work Your Way Around the World or ‘Europe by Rail’, an address of a hostel and perhaps it’s phone number. Inspiration to visit somewhere was from a documentary or a description told to us by another traveller we met along the way. Travellers talked to each other without hesitation, automatic comradary as we didn’t have access to friends through video chat – that was only on Star Trek. We needed to be alert, we needed to plan, to stay visual and sometimes rely on our intuition.
We wrote long descriptions home on special airmail paper – extra light – and planned where we will be in a few weeks so that home could write their news to us and we would have a letter waiting – cherished letters we kept with us and reread over and over whenever we felt homesick. Phone calls happened whenever we had enough coins, found a phone box and if we weren’t too distracted.
Few photos were taken, the essence of adventure was more easily portrayed in descriptive conversation and writing.
I have had mixed feelings about how travel has changed in the last 10 years or so. Flights became so affordable that overland trips were no longer the more cost affective option, hopping on a plane to go somewhere foreign for a weekend was common, no more plotting and planning and saving for a year necessary. No one seemed to ‘look’, ‘absorb’ with their eyes anymore, always through the screen of their phone, selfies and videos.
Travel pre internet was adventure. Mobile phones, GPS and pins have eliminated the possibility of getting lost which before had it’s advantages – having to find a new route, discovering a gem along the way, having to speak to a stranger who, could be a serial killer, or more probable a new friend for life.
Yes, technology is good for parent’s nerves, I still don’t know how my parents coped when I ‘forgot’ to call for three weeks. I am grateful, and relieved, that I can be on video chat with my daughter if she is walking home alone in another country, if I needed I could find my teenager’s exact location through a phone app within seconds. Without the possibility of video calls with family this Lockdown would have been a much more difficult experience.
However, with technology has the excitement and mystery of adventure been lost? Everywhere has been photographed, blogged about, reviewed, social media-ed to death. Before, when you read a few descriptive lines in a guide book imaginations ran wild about what to expect, now no imagination is needed. Often it is the opposite – a sense of disappointment when a destination does not live up to the expectations portrayed in filtered, colour balanced and altered IG photos.
The few times I have been out since the ease of lockdown has started, I’ve noticed people looking at the scenery around them, actually looking, not though a camera on their phone. Perhaps it is because they are from around the area and not tourists, or perhaps they are actually looking with new eyes and have a new appreciation of what is in front of them.
It is most likely that flights may be more difficult to get and more expensive in the ‘new’ normal. We will have to choose more carefully where we go and how we spend our time there – museums, restaurants, beaches, everything will need to pre booked. Thought will be needed and patience practiced.
Things in uncrowded spaces will look different, perhaps we will gain a new appreciation and a new sense of wonder and awe, after patiently waiting on a list to see a masterpiece.
We will have to think about new ways of finding our way through new travel challenges that are not yet google-able. We will need to be more alert, more visual, plan differently, use our instincts. A new version of adventure is ahead of us. It won’t be easy but then again, adventure never was.