I am certainly not the youngest travel blogger on the web and that probably influences my view on the world today. I’ve seen a lot of changes to my travel experiences from the latest technology inventions. My experiences now are significantly different to when I first began travelling with my work 22 years ago.
It is amazing to think that some of the travel bloggers you read today weren’t even born when I began venturing away from home to earn a living. I do wonder sometimes if they have a true insight as to what life was like then. It was a very less “in touch” world and there was a lot less travel centric technology. Online blogs certainly didn’t exist nor did many things we take for granted today. Here is an insight to the changes I’ve seen.
How technology has changed my travel experience
Before we had this advanced technological world, travel planning was a different experience. We’d spend ages reading magazines and travel guides you could buy from book shops (remember those?). I remember on our inter-railing trip around Europe in 1993 the big debate we had was whether to buy the Let’s Go Europe or Lonely Planet travel guides. Walking around with a thick tomb of a travel guide certainly added to the weight of luggage.
Compare that now to internet research, online apps and electronic books. Information is instant and spontaneous travel happens due to more possibilities and knowledge.
Booking your trip
A lot of travel now involves hotel or hostel stays. Our trip in 1993 involved a lot of hostels and B&Bs. Some we just tried our chances with from tips in our travel guide, others we booked ahead.
I had membership of the Youth Hostel Association (YHA), in fact I have life membership now. I remember how we planned ahead and placed booking forms for our onward hostel. Or we ended up making numerous telephone calls to see if there was a room at the inn.
Now with the wonders of websites such as Priceline or Hotels.com as well as Hostelworld you can do all this in an instant. Plan a few hours ahead and you know you’ll have somewhere to stay at your destination.
Visiting a travel agent was often a key part of travel. You’d go in each year and collect the latest travel brochures to bring home and rummage through with your partner. Then booking your holiday or flight was a timely process as you visited the travel agent shop in person.
These travel agent shops still exist today but I can’t remember the last time I used one. With online holiday comparison sites and flight booking engine tools like Skyscanner and Jetradar I can search and book 24 hours a day. My, how the latest technology inventions has changed the travel booking process to be quick and easy.
If I’m not sure if I’ll like my destination hotel I can always check out the online reviews on sites such as Expedia or TripAdvisor in advance. Prior to this we were dependent on the biased brochure or the recommendation of the travel rep which always had a risk of not being what you were looking for.
The travel experience
I wonder how many of you remember the multi-page flight or train tickets we used to get in the 1990s. Long books with multiple sheets, you had to be careful as you tore out each page. Now thankfully most things are electronic and a lot simpler.
I often go to the airport and just present my frequent flyer card and passport and the boarding passes are either issued in person or by a machine. Many airports now allow you to book yourself in.
Airlines have developed a process where you can do an online check in before you even leave for the airport. Print your boarding pass at home and save the airline print costs. Even better concede your mobile phone details and use text or a mobile app for your boarding pass.
Technological downside of travel
It is not all convenience even though we now that we have the latest technology. For instance my trips through the security line are slower than 20 years ago just due to the sheer volume of technology. Go through an airport security queue and they will be looking for you to remove from your carry on bag any computers, tablets, kindles. Often they ask me to remove the charger cables which go with these and so much more. I love the idea of travelling light, yet with so many modern essentials my carry on just seems to get heavier and heavier.
Technology is supposed to make our life easier and in various respects it does. Hotels now have a computerised booking system so they can quickly find your reservation details. I do wonder though if I’ve already provided a credit card for my booking why they ask to see it again.
In recent times I’ve seen hotel chains such as Marriott push for us to check in before we arrive, a bit like you can do with your flight. I was always hesitant with this for a number of reasons. Firstly they want me to download and use their mobile app. Well to be honest I’m not keen on mobile apps, the more there are the more they slow my phone down. Also, do I really want to bring my personal mobile with me everywhere around the world and incur hefty roaming charges? Thankfully due to my mobile plan I can avoid roaming charges in some countries.
I did once try a check-in on an app before I physically arrived at the hotel. I must admit to being unimpressed. Once I arrived at the Reception Desk they still asked me for ID, my credit card plus they asked a range of questions. It felt as though checking in with the app did not save me any time whatsoever. I’m not inclined to use it again.
Entertainment on the road
Whilst travel is ultimately about experiences, sampling the culture, seeing the sights and so on, there is always downtime. As a business traveller I don’t always get chance to go sightseeing. I will however frequently have an hour or two to kill in the evening whilst in the hotel.
In the 1990s and early 2000s internet access was not widespread. Unless of course you wanted to run up excessive dial up charges through the hotel bedroom telephone socket. Wifi was virtually unheard of.
Entertainment in those days often consisted of the in room TV with the local TV stations, the bed side radio or reading a book. If you are an avid reader or on the road for a while you could weigh yourself down with books to accompany you.
How things have now changed. Computer games are easily accessible on a computer, tablet, phone or online.
I rarely use hotel TVs anymore, thank goodness. I say that because they are either filled with trashy reality TV shows copied around the world, have serials midway through so I’m not up to date. Or they’ll have the watered down TV news channel more commonly known as CNN. (I always preferred BBC World, maybe it is just a personal taste thing?)
Now with hotel wifi (if it is a decent signal) and the use of a quality VPN service I can download or stream TV shows and films from my home country. In fact with various TV apps on computer or my tablet I can download plenty to watch on the long flight home. Long gone are the days of carrying a wallet full of DVDs, although cheap DVDs in China are still hard to resist.
Even the bedside radio alarm clock is almost redundant. With the latest technology advances I no longer need to tune a manual receiver dial into the World Service. Free radio apps and a wifi signal allow me to listen to the radio stations from home. The novelty factor became even more so when whilst listening from Melbourne a BBC radio station referred to my location as somewhere they currently had listeners from.
How you used to carry around a stack of cassettes or CDs plus spare supplies of batteries. It was bulky work to take the music you loved with you. Yet now with the joys of iPods or other electronic devices playing music the only accessory you need is a charger. Definitely an improvement on the way we were.
Whilst on reflection the latest technology advances would not see this as extremely complicated, the development of the reading of literature is amazing to me. I literally have thousands of titles on one single weight device in my kindle. The long battery life and wide choice of books can alleviate my easily bored mind in no time.
Keeping in time
Undoubtedly one of the things we all face with international travel is the concept of international time zones. All that fiddling about and asking people what the correct time is, never mind the yet lag. At first I used dual dial watches then I discovered a rather neat and affordable watch with a world clock feature. Even better still it is solar powered so I don’t have to worry about the battery going flat. I don’t know how long these types of watches have been around or how affordable they were in the past, but I’d never heard of them 2 decades ago.
Driving me crazy
With international travel, particularly business travel often comes the task of managing a hire car. First you have to make all the bookings and sort out what level of cover you have. Thankfully all my details and preferences are registered with Hertz so that is easy for me now.
Driving in different countries presents enough challenges with the rules of the road and do you drive on the right or the left? Yet what used to be more challenging was finding your way.
I remember in early 2002 arriving in the evening at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. I had about a one and half hour drive ahead going somewhere I’d never been before. All I had was some half baked driving directions typed on a piece of paper. I say half baked because I ended up going the wrong around the main ring road of Amsterdam, adding a lot of time to my journey.
Not only did this mean I often got lost it was very dangerous too! I had to keep looking and even squinting in the dark at the paper with directions to figure out where to go and which was the next turning. All whilst moving at around 100 km/h! Having a fellow traveller with me would have done wonders for my safety.
Now driving alone in a foreign country is not so bad, thanks to the latest travel technology. Yes, I’m talking about satellite navigation or more commonly known as “Sat Nav”. My Tom Tom goes with me virtually everywhere now. It is not perfect of course. Sometimes roads and maps change and need updating to avoid large detours. Also driving through big city centres like Toronto can mean it takes a bit of time for the Sat Nav to get a signal. All in all though it is a big improvement from what I used to have to do.
Here’s a quick question for you – other than calling Reception when was the last time you used the phone in a hotel bedroom? Exactly. There is virtually no need for them anymore.
Most people now have a mobile phone which is great. However as I said before roaming charges can be a real pain in the wallet so I don’t always have mine.
Years ago I used to use a calling card. You’d dial an access number then you’d be able to dial home at a lower charge rate, that is as long as hotels didn’t block the access number (yes that used to happen!).
Now though paying for communications is often a choice and rarely a necessity. With the wonders of Skype and Facetime through my Macbook Air or iPad I can call home with a decent wifi connection. There’s also Viber too. Whilst I’ve never used it I know people often use What’s App for free messaging.
For more detailed communications there is also the internet. E-mail messaging has almost killed the concept of letter writing. Yet memories of non-verbal communication come back to me from the year 2000.
The first I guess was a momentous time. I was living and working in Saudi Arabia and one of my closest friends had also become a pen pal for many years. I remember receiving lots of letters from her whilst in my Riyadh compound. All the stories of what was going on back at home. There is something magical and very personal about the hand written word.
Yet this is my most recent memory of receiving letters from her. Since then we moved onto e-mail and telephone communications as a norm. Modern communication is amazing but receiving a hand written letter still fills me with excitement.
Then the sadder story of my time in Saudi also comes to memory.
I moved to Saudi in May 2000 and it took a few weeks to become settled and fully aware of communications. The only internet access I knew of was a shared computer in the office where people were literally queuing up to use the computer.
It was a few weeks before I checked my e-mail (my e-mail use was still in relative infancy then). Yet I was suddenly prompted into a bout of urgency to check e-mails following some very tragic news.
Out of the blue I received a phone call on my brick like mobile phone (expensive roaming charges alert). The caller was a friend asking if I knew about a mutual friend. At this point I didn’t and was quite casual in my interaction. Then the news was presented to me. Our mutual friend had died from a horrible illness and the funeral had already taken place. The caller was thoughtful enough to check if I knew because he wasn’t sure if I did or not. The truth is up until that point I never even knew our friend had been ill.
Then I checked my e-mail and there were, maybe 3 or 4 e-mails with updates on our friend’s deteriorating health. Then the terrible news that he had died.
It was at this point where the distance from home sunk in.
People knew I was in Saudi, making the funeral would have been impossible for me. Yet somehow, it was assumed that I knew but technology hadn’t advanced enough by then. Internet access was not easy to obtain in my location in May 2000.
The latest technology inventions have transformed travel
There is little doubt that in the last 20+ years the latest technology inventions have transformed my travel experiences to something far more convenient than ever before. I’m not sure if travel has as a result become more personal or maybe less impersonal. With so many people sharing their travel experiences live on Facebook and Twitter do we really need to face a photo slide show once these friends return home? I guess not.
For now, the technological advances have been immense. I just wonder what travel will be like a further 10 years down the line. Any guesses?