I first went overseas in 1991 on a family holiday to the West coast of the United States. For me, the late 80’s and early 90’s were a golden age. A time before mobile phones, before the internet and a time where the use of social media was non-existent. I was eight years old and life was good! Over the next 10 years, I returned to the U.S on the longest family vacation of all time and also spent some time in Singapore. During these trips, the use of technology was limited to my Nintendo Gameboy and the monthly phone call home to my grandparents.
The year after I finished high school I ventured overseas again, this time for a 10 month jaunt through Asia, eventually ending up broke and desperately seeking a job in Europe. This trip was a first for me in that it was the first time I had traveled with readily available technology. Of course the term “readily available” in 2002 was nothing compared to what the modern-day traveller is faced with. For the purpose of this trip I set up my first email account so I could keep in touch with my parents from internet cafes without the cost of calling home from halfway across the globe. This also meant I would have more money to buy beer.
In 2009, my feet grew once again itchy so I decided to pack a bag and head back to Europe on a one-way ticket. This time around, my smart phone, laptop, digital camera, e-reader and iPad were amongst the first items to be packed. The times and travel had well and truly changed.
The contemporary traveller is faced with unlimited free wi-fi and time to kill. 12 years ago, I remember taking an overnight bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap with nothing to entertain me except for a deck of cards and the latest Harry Potter book (in print format). In between games of Euchre with the person next to me, I gazed intently out the window, contemplating life and watching the Cambodian countryside pass me by. Of course I took the occasional photo but I had to wait until I returned to Sydney 18 months later to have the film developed before seeing the results. There was no thought of posting it on Instagram for my friends and family back home to double-tap for a ‘Like’ (although I wish I had thought of such an idea at the time. I’d be rich!).
On this trip, I remember sitting on the porch of an old beach shack we were staying at on the shores of the Andaman Sea, drinking a beer and watching the wild monkeys move daringly closer to my position, only to flee in haste at my slightest movement. Fast-forward over half a decade and I again found myself sitting on the same beach, this time in a swanky cafe that of course had free wi-fi. This time around, the monkeys were gone and I was madly tapping away on my keyboard uploading photos to Facebook and updating my status. The only common factor between the two was that I was still drinking a beer (it is comforting to know that not everything has changed!).
Don’t get me wrong, I will admit that if there is free wi-fi, I am usually the first to ask for the password so I can read the news or scroll through Instagram to see what my favourite chefs have knocked up for dinner. However, I do consider myself very lucky to have experienced travel before the age of widespread access to the Internet. It felt as if I had unlimited time to sit and contemplate the world and my place in it. It forced me, a moderate introvert, to talk to strangers and get to know other travellers instead of jumping onto Skype every time I felt alone on the road.
I still travel with my reliable notepad and pen in my daypack so it is there in case an idea comes to me or if I find myself in a cafe with a couple of hours to kill. For me, there is something special and therapeutic about writing my thoughts down on paper as opposed to tapping away on a keyboard.
Unfortunately the pre-internet days are well and truly behind us. I will never again be able to travel without the comfort of knowing that my loved ones are contactable from almost anywhere on the globe. The days of news from home taking a week or more to reach me are a thing of the past. When I travel I have to constantly remind myself of the reasons as to why I travel. I travel to switch off from everyday life. I travel so I can disconnect from my life at home and experience what the rest of the world has to offer. I travel so I can have some peace and quiet (that is the introvert in me coming out).
I have always laughed at older people when they deliver the timeless line of “Back in my day…”. I guess it is a sign of the times, and a sign that I am too getting older, but in my day travel was different. It was freer. It was less comfortable. It was unplugged and disconnected from everything familiar. It was how it is meant to be.
Wi-fi is everywhere these days!
The original travel writer.