How travel has changed

This week, my Yahoo! “Traveling Light” column gives a nod to the 12-year anniversary of the completion of my first vagabonding journey — an eight-month road trip through 37 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces in 1994. Reflecting on this journey made me consider how much independent travel has changed in the ensuing years, including the following factors:

1) Cell phones

In 1994, cell phones were too clunky and expensive to be of use to budget vagabonders; I used quarters or calling cards to call people, and I was functionally unreachable to incoming calls. These days, cell phones make communication cheap and easy stateside — and cell rentals are increasingly being used by travelers in overseas destinations. In time, the proliferation of web-browsing BlackBerry-type devices, Internet phone services (such as Skype), and satellite technology will make out-of-pocket communication even easier. On the upside, this makes travel anywhere safer and more efficient. On the downside, one of the charms of any journey is being completely cut off from your home — and a buzzing phone in your pocket only makes it harder to immerse yourself in your surroundings.

2) Email

Just over a decade ago, few people outside of research and technology circles had an email address; now it’s rare to meet a person without one. Fortunately, email is a useful and non-intrusive way to communicate on the road — just so long as you don’t get obsessive about seeking out Internet cafes to check your inbox as you wander.

3) Digital cameras

Not so long ago, waiting in anticipation for photos from a one-hour developing lab was a standard part of any travel experience. Now, digital cameras enable you to immediately document, analyze, and edit your travel experience. In a certain sense this threatens to dilute travel experiences, as the quest for a perfect snapshot can get in the way of actually seeing a place (if you don’t believe me, just witness the obsessive snap-check-edit rituals during any Santorini, Chichen Itza, or Angkor Wat sunset). Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for having a visual record of your travels: In 1994, I often got fed up with the hassles and uncertainties of my film camera — and my photo album has unfortunate gaps as a result.

4) iPods

In ’94, I thought my Sony Discman (and 60-CD storage wallet) was the pinnacle of compact audio technology. Twelve years later, iPods (and similar devices) allow travelers to carry their entire music library in their pocket — and still have hard-drive space left over for podcasts, digital maps and city-guides, TV episodes and photo storage. The advantages here are obvious; the challenge is in knowing when to set aside your digital world and better embrace the real one.

5) Internet travel planning

The World Wide Web is inarguably the most significant thing to affect travel planning in the past twelve years. When I was planning my 8-month USA trip in the early nineties, I often felt like a lonesome, semi-delusional iconoclast. These days, online travel communities like Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree,, and IgoUgo, can connect you with dozens of people who share your travel yen and are willing to pass along advice and encouragement. Moreover, online booking services allow you to score the best travel bargains; destination guides and tourism websites allow you to plan your itinerary right down to the last ferry run or museum opening; blogging software allows you to post your travel journal and photos in real time. In terms of increasing travel options and efficiency, this has been a godsend, but the primary temptation is to micromanage your journey before you ever step out the front door. Most everything memorable from my 1994 USA adventure happened by chance — and those happy accidents rarely happen on an over-planned itinerary.

To read my full column on how travel has changed over the past dozen years, click here.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | August 30, 2006
Category: Travel News

One Response to “How travel has changed”

  1. Steven Says:

    Haha ^^ nice, is there a section to follow the RSS feed