I’ve been spending time in two different time periods this week. On one hand I’ve been planning my upcoming trip around the US in April. Then on the other I’ve been scanning photos and working on articles to celebrate it being 10 years since I did my big 16-month round-the-world trip through Asia and Australia. Looking at the two together, I can’t help comparing them. And when I do the one thing that really stands out is how much travel has changed, even in such a relatively short time. The way I plan my trips, the transport I take, the ways I stay in touch – they’ve all changed massively since 2003. But is all that progress good? Here’s my verdict on the 10 ways travel has changed for me over the last 10 years.
1. Travel agents
When I booked my RTW trip in 2003 it involved spending hours in a travel agency desperately trying to combine my travel wishlist and my budget. The extent of my route planning was looking at a map of the world. In 2013 there’s so much more information available to help you plan your trip. But trying to get your head around airline schedules and comparing flights can be an organisational nightmare.
Verdict: a win for 2013, though I think I’d still use a specialist travel agency to book complex RTW tickets.
2. Low-cost airlines
Although low-cost airlines had already taken off (so to speak) in 2003, they were mainly limited to European destinations and the network was pretty small. They could be real bargain though. In 2013 the network has grown hugely and extended across Asia and now even into Africa. The £1 flights are long gone though and they often cost more than a normal flight when you add up all the hidden charges.
Verdict: I’d call this a draw, as although the expanded networks mean that it’s easier to get around, the complex pricing, strict baggage rules and airports in the middle of nowhere are the downsides.
3. Keeping in touch
In 2003 keeping in touch with home involved finding an internet café and paying for a couple of hours of painfully slow dial-up internet access to send a weekly email to my parents. In 2013 you’ve got no excuse not to keep in touch. Wifi, smartphones, Facebook and Twitter mean you can be as connected on the road as you are at home and make it easy to arrange meet ups and keep in touch with people on the road.
Verdict: another win for 2013, though you might not think it when you get Facebook stalked by that boring guy you once shared a hostel room with or your mum sees you tagged in a hideous drunken photo.
4. Working abroad
In 2013 if you have a laptop, decent wifi and a flexible job you can work from anywhere. A growing band of ‘digital nomads’ travel indefinitely by working on the road, earning UK/USA wages and living cheaply abroad. But in 2003 the concept didn’t exist. If you wanted to earn money on your travels you needed to work locally. Job options were usually bar work, fruit picking or teaching English and your wages were in the local currency – enough to extend your travels for a few months, but hard to live on full-time.
Verdict: a definite win for 2013, as anything that lets you travel more has to be a good thing.
In 2003 I had a compact film camera, alternated taking photos with my friend in case we lost our cameras (we got through two each), got two copies of each film printed, sent them home and kept the negatives separately. Film processing was pricey so we only took a couple of shots in each place and you never really knew what you’d get til much later (usually involving a few inebriated shots you couldn’t remember taking). In 2013 I travel with a DSLR, I take almost as many photos in a week than I did in my whole RTW trip, delete the bad ones as I go along then spend hours sorting and editing them back home.
Verdict: a win for 2013 – although we’ve lost the anticipation of waiting too see your pictures, my photography has improved hugely by being able to take lots of shots and try things out.
I didn’t even carry a phone in 2003 until I got to Australia, then I had a cheap pay-as-you-go handset to help with job hunting. Now I always pack my smartphone, Kindle, camera and sometimes bring my laptop along too. And where you have technology you have a whole bag of wires and adapters to go along with them. But as my phone probably costs more than the entire contents of my backpack did 10 years ago, bringing all this technology along does come with a few security worries.
Verdict: a win for convenience, but a lose for the higher travel insurance premiums and heavier bags.
In 2003 I packed my address book and searched out post offices all across the world to send postcards home. My gran got one from each of the countries I visited and most of my friends got at least one. But I can’t remember the last time I got a postcard. With email and social media the postcard had almost died out – though the apps that lets you send them from your phone might start a renaissance.
Verdict: I miss getting postcards (or any post other than bills) so I’ll call this a win for 2003.
8. A taste of the exotic
In 2003 I lived in London so could go out and eat food from all around the world. But if you wanted to cook it yourself you had to find an ethnic supermarket or send off for mail-order ingredients. In 2013 I can buy fresh lemongrass and galangal in my local supermarket, Thai and Mexican restaurants are as common as Indian and Chinese, and there are cookery books and classes on hundreds of cuisines.
Verdict: I love reliving my travels by cooking food from around the world so this is a definite win for 2013.
9. Where to go… and where not to
Ten years ago SARS was peaking in Hong Kong, Kuta in Bali had been bombed and a huge earthquake hit the Silk Road in Iran, putting them on the Foreign Office’s warning list and taking them off my travel list. But in 2013 they are safe to visit but others like Mali and Algeria now aren’t. The world’s political situation is always changing and there are even countries that didn’t exist in 2003 – like Kosovo and Montenegro.
Verdict: Some destinations win here, some lose, so this has to be a draw.
10. Travel blogging
In 2003 I don’t think I’d even heard of a travel blog. The nearest I got was sending out monthly group emails about my latest exploits to my friends and family. In 2013 blogging is a huge part of my life. I spend hours every day reading and writing blogs and whenever I travel I’m constantly snapping away and on the lookout for things that’ll make a good post. Blogging is well and truly part of my travel life.
Verdict: as a travel blogger it has to be a win for 2013, though sometimes it’d be nice to totally switch off, step away from the laptop and completely relax on holiday without thinking about my next post.
So it looks like all in all it’s better to be travelling in 2013. Do you agree? And what changes over the years do you love or hate?