Over 25 years ago, I embarked on my first backpacking journey around Southeast Asia long before all of the technology that is available to travelers nowadays. Solo travel in the early ‘90s was a real adventure: no GPS, no mobiles, no internet, just yourself, a guidebook and the kindness of strangers. Yes, it was quite an adventure navigating around without the use of a smartphone and figuring things out completely on my own. Flash forward to our current world journey which began in 2015 and it has become evident how smartphones & technology have transformed travel.
Comparing my overseas travel from 25 years ago to my current RTW travels, I have taken note of the following trends.
TRAVEL 25 YEARS AGO VS. TRAVEL TODAY
25 Years Ago – Backpackers would sit around in the common room of either their small hotel, hostel or guesthouse and communicate freely about the activities and sights they have experienced during the day.
Today – Travelers are more withdrawn and less likely to strike up conversation with strangers as they are glued to their smartphones.
25 Years Ago – As a result of not speaking the local language, communication was much more difficult. You were forced to effectively communicate with your eyes, hands and facial expressions.
Today – More people in foreign countries speak English than ever before. When in remote areas where no English is spoken, the use of a translation app on the smartphone enables many nice conversations that would never have occurred.
25 Years Ago – There was more interaction with locals. For example, in order to book local day trips or tours, a traveler would communicate face to face to secure a local tour offering.
Today – So much info is available on the internet. All tour offerings are easily accessed and can be booked online without any real communication with the locals.
25 Years Ago – Postcards were sold in every single store and travelers were seen frantically filling them out and posting them home to family and friends.
Today – I told Barbie she is in the 1%. Unfortunately, the wrong 1%. Not the the 1% of wealth but the 1% of still filling out postcards and licking stamps.
25 Years Ago – The Lonely Planet’s: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring edition was considered the Bible. You would see this book in every travelers hands just as you see a smartphone in everyone’s hands today. The Lonely Planet was basically the only source of information for the traveler and without it, you would be virtually lost.
Today – Guidebooks are no longer indispensable. The internet, with its countless blogs, review sites and mapping apps effectively cover all the most popular activities, places to eat, sleep and ways to get around.
25 Years Ago – There were tons of Internet cafes on every block and in every tourist hub, lined with rows of desktop computers where travelers congregated to surf the net.
Today – Internet cafes are all gone as every traveler has a smartphone, Ipad or laptop where all you need is the WiFi password.
25 Years Ago – Travelers checks were your source for cash.
Today – Now they are nonexistent. To access cash, ATM’s are everywhere and these ATM’s offer the most current exchange rates.
25 Years Ago – Kodak, & Fuji film developing outlets were on every single block of every single tourist town. You would get your pictures developed in as quick as 30 minutes from the time you dropped your roll of film into the shop.
Today – No film is sold and no film developing places are anywhere to be found.
25 Years Ago – Every single traveler was equipped with the latest model digital camera and camcorder to shoot pix & video.
Today – The smartphone eliminated the need for both of these devices.
25 Years Ago – Everyone thought 100% cotton shirts would save you from sweating your ass off in the many steamy ‘hot as shit’ countries.
Today – Nike and Under Armour have the ‘Cool/Dry Fit’ material perfected to eliminate being bogged down by a drenched and sweaty 100% cotton t-shirt.
25 Years Ago – Bootleg DVD movies could be seen sold on every street corner in every tourist district.
Today – Movies are all available to be streamed online. Consequently, DVD’s are obsolete and street vendors have largely disappeared.
25 Years Ago – You would show up to a town and roam around the town with backpack in tow in order to secure a place to sleep.
Today – Simply click on Agoda, Booking.com, AirBnB or any other booking engine and all the hotel/guesthouse pictures with availability are right at your fingertips. No longer do you need to negotiate to get the lowest rate.
25 Years Ago – People taking public transportation would look around and observe all the stuff going on around them.
Today – Almost every single person has their heads buried in their iphone checking their ‘Likes’.
25 Years Ago – You would wait in huge immigration lines upon arrival to get your passport stamped for entry into the country.
Today – Many countries have self serve electronic machines to slide your passport thru for entry. Whereby, cutting wait times significantly.
25 Years Ago – You would see travelers spontaneously making friends with complete strangers and planning day trips / extended road trips in order to travel together.
Today – Travelers seem to avoid commitments and just want to be free and independent, whereby missing out on some meaningful connection building along the way.
25 Years Ago – Adult shops were more prevalent and ladies of the night were seen strolling the streets for the travelers attention.
Today – Traveling pervs can now sit at home, stream their dirty movies online and order a girl direct off the internet. Eliminating the need for adult movie shops and hookers roaming around in search of the tourist dollar.
25 Years Ago – You would have to carry your heavy backpack or luggage around which actually provided a good workout.
Today – Its all wheels and ball bearings nowadays.
25 Years Ago – To get around, buses between towns were a true real adventure. Gas guzzling, smog emitting sweat boxes and so fun. Many times I would find myself seated next to a bunch of wild chickens making their way to the next town.
Today – The bus fleets have been modernized in most countries. Now, comfort is usually a given and I am usually seated next to a local surfing the net on their shiny smartphone.
25 Years Ago – When you were sweating your ass off in steamy Southeast Asia, sipping a cold sugary Coke in the ‘old school’ glass bottle with a straw was the refreshing beverage of choice and mostly the only option available.
Today – A cold bottle water is available on every corner. The negative of this is the same empty bottle of water seems to find its way into the streets, rivers and on beaches.
25 Years Ago – You would need a folding paper map to navigate around.
Today – Just follow the blue dot on your Iphone and it will lead you to your desired location without thinking or the risk of getting lost.
25 Years Ago – It was a given to be scammed by a corrupt taxi driver in every city.
Today – You hop into an Uber/Grab/Lyft car and the rate is set and the driver is not able to rip you off.
25 Years Ago – Calling home on an ATT calling card could cost over $1 per minute.
Today – It is free using Skype, Facetime and other online voice over the internet programs.
25 Years Ago – You were relentlessly hounded by locals to buy shit from their shop or eat in their restaurant.
Today – Most of the locals, even in the poorest towns, are so preoccupied having their faces buried in their own smartphone making them somewhat apathetic about harassing travelers.
25 Years Ago – Trains were mostly antiquated and took a long time to get between places.
Today – High speed Bullet trains, especially in the newly developed fast growing Asian countries get you to your location in a jiffy. To bad these advanced transportation networks spanning the globe have outpaced anything found in America.
25 Years Ago – You would need to keep track of the carbon copied paper airline tickets
Today – Your airline ticket is digitally displayed on your smartphone.
25 Years Ago – There were multiple internet cafes lined with rows of desktop computers on every single block in tourist hubs.
Today – Internet cafes are gone as every traveler has a smartphone, ipad or laptop and replaced with cafes where all you need is the WiFi password.
25 Years Ago – Upon departure from a country, you were obligated to pay a departure tax in the local currency before you could board your flight.
Today – These annoying departure taxes are baked into your airline ticket price. No longer do you have to remember to keep any local currency on hand.
25 Years Ago – The most exotic beach destinations, especially in Southeast Asia were populated by young ‘like minded’ backpackers swinging in hammocks and sleeping in cool ‘no-frills’ beachside huts.
Today – Many of these same paradises have been discovered and spoiled. These unique beachside huts have been transformed into upmarket multi-level tourist resorts.
25 Years Ago – Accommodation options were quite limited and most places to stay were clustered in distinct travel districts.
Today – AirBnB has opened up so many doors by allowing travelers to stay in local neighborhoods and live among the locals for a way more authentic experience.
25 Years Ago – I would see travelers from every country around the world. However, an inordinate amount of Japanese tourists traveled in huge flocks.
Today – The Japanese tourist flocks have been displaced by newly minted Chinese tourists traveling in their own gangs.
BFD RANT –
Now, allow me to rant just a bit about what I have taken note of after four (4) years of living outside of the continental USA. I loved living in America and fully appreciate everything it has allowed me to do, including putting me in a position to embark on our current Round the World journey. Also, enabling me to have possession of the most valuable passport allowing me to visit just about any country without any visa hassles. We are constantly on the move and taking in some amazing life experiences from different countries as we Flashpack around the globe. My eyes have been wide open to what is going on in the world outside of America. I have learned that many Americans are a byproduct of 24 hr. news television. American media likes to scare the crap out of their viewers portraying the entire world as a dangerous place. This is probably the reason Barbie and I see so few Americans traveling in far regions of the world. Americans are brainwashed into thinking that America is the greatest thing since sliced bread and the rest of the world are a bunch of chumps. This is the furthest from the truth. It has become so apparent during our extensive travels that the USA is lagging so far behind in technology, infrastructure, healthcare, public transportation….etc. Yes, America has the best and greatest bombs that can blow the shit out of things. But, I sure wish more energy and money from the richest country in the world would be allocated to things that make the quality of life so ideal that I see in so many other countries.