The changing face of travel

Travel Writers & Books — By on September 26, 2008 at 2:15 pm

There is an interesting and in-depth interview with travel writer Rolf Potts on World Hum. Potts covers a variety of topics and it’s worth checking out the entire piece, especially if you’re interested in travel writing. But here is a small excerpt from the interview about the transformation of travel in recent decades.

What major changes have you noticed in travel in general?

Electronic communication has radically transformed the travel experience. Fourteen years ago I took my first vagabonding trip, eight months around North America. That was before the ubiquity of email and cell phones; communication meant sending a postcard or jamming quarters into a pay phone, which meant I was usually out of touch with family for weeks at a time. Five years later, I was paying $15 an hour to send emails from a slow dial-up connection in Luang Prabang, and it seemed like a communication miracle. By contrast, just last month I was traveling with an AT&T BlackJack in East Africa, and I could use it to call home or check my messages in Juba, Sudan. This wasn’t just a one-way thing: The people in Juba may not have much in the way of indoor plumbing, but they love their cell phones, too; I lost track of how many little thatch-roofed kiosks I saw selling phone credits.

So that’s the main transformation I’ve seen. There have been other big developments in the past decade, including the boom in online travel-planning resources and the rise (and possible fall) of cheap airfares. But communication technology stands out. 

The new challenge here, of course, is learning how to wean yourself off this new technology as you travel. The charm of leaving home has always been that it transports you into new places and vivid moments; it makes you slow down and take note of your new surroundings. This can be hard to do if you’re always checking your inbox or texting your friends back home. If you can actually do that—if you can cut the electronic umbilical cord and embrace the moment on the road—travel can still be as amazing as ever.

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