I grew up with an image of travelling that might now be considered archaic. Going overseas meant visiting strange places not knowing what to expect, experiences were entirely novel and postcards or the occasional phone call were your lifelines home. Photographs were carefully considered and taken. Getting in touch with home was a big event, consisting of emotional phone calls that made you scratch for any extra coins to fend off the panicked beeps announcing loss of contact for who knew how long. Discovering an empty beach after a trek through a wild jungle made you wish you could share it with everyone back home, but also made you feel satisfied that you couldn’t.
Technology opens doors so widely that you sometimes forget you are leaving home and stepping into the big, scary outside world. Challenging routes such as heading overland through Africa have become not routine, but with GPS and applications like Google Maps, more of a steep hill than a mountain.
With a few clicks you can find out how long the Boulevard Che Guevara in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso is or which hotels your budget can afford in Da Nang, Vietnam. The challenge now is to find the right map for your GPS or the right website that has most up-to-date information. No more needing the latest edition of each guidebook.
Someone has always been there, done that, written a blog about it – with accompanying photos, and a GPS map. Does this mean the sense of adventure is gone from a round-the-world trip? Not necessarily. Being able to plan every stage of your trip and have everything organised before you leave does not make climbing Mt. Everest, diving the Great Barrier Reef or hiking through the Amazon any less adventurous. It doesn’t make the Sistine Chapel, the Eiffel Tower, or Angkor Wat any less impressive.
Getting away from everything that is familiar, going travelling and finding adventure – whether it is lying on a beach in the Caribbean or hiking Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo – technology can get you there. It is once you get there that the dependency on technology becomes a problem. The number one must have item for travelling now is not a sleeping bag, it is an international plug converter. Ipods, Ipads, Blackberries, laptops, digital cameras and portable hard drives fill backpacks now rather than tents, sleeping bags, hiking boots, mosquito nets and minimal clothing designed to be worn as layers.
Staying in a dorm at a hostel, a twelve hour bus or taking an overnight ferry are no longer opportunities to meet people or stare out at the mysterious scenery. Everyone focuses on passing the time, watching their movies, listening to one of ten thousand songs or popping sleeping pills so they can sleep.
There is an obsession with connectivity. Facebook albums containing two hundred photos of one place visited, constant status updates talking about the beauty of the beach you are on (in real time via Blackberry) all show more of a concern with what other people think about where you are than you do. Bangkok, London, even a small town in Cambodia – internet cafes are full of disheveled backpackers staring at brightly lit monitors, moaning how long it is taking to upload photos because there isn’t broadband. The first stop once you deplane is the nearest shop to buy a local sim card followed by a text message home; people have no trouble leaving home physically – just mentally.
Travel used to mean a well-thumbed guidebook with the pages dog-eared from constant reference and personalised by chaotic pen strokes marking where you want to go and places you can afford to stay. Now you come back from a holiday that has had a constant audience, suffering from facebook fatigue, already knowing everything you have done and what you have seen. Your horror stories are about some piece of technology failing or losing your Ipod. Instead, I would rather not hear from you for the whole time, get excited you’re back, and eager to look at a few unique photos showing the character of your favourite places while listening to some funny stories. So listen to the GPS, “˜take the next exit’ and then disconnect for a while, please.
What do you think? Has technology taken the adventure out of travel? Post your comments below.
Photos by: Calmenda, M Gifford