India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam

Travel Technology Through Three Decades

It’s not uncommon to hear and read articles, stories, blog posts, etc., about how technology and social media has developed and changed, is a gift and is a challenge or a curse. I am going to share my experience of this based on traveling over the course of 20 years.

I spent a year in Europe in the late 90’s, then 10 years after that spent a month in India and Nepal, and now 10 years after that here I am taking a year away from my home country and traveling again. I have noticed some significant differences based on technology.

1996-1997 Europe
I spend a year living and traveling in Europe with 2 friends in 1996-1997. We went to 17 countries in Europe, mostly all of the Western European countries and a few of the Eastern European countries. We had big travel books as our guides, I had Let’s Go, Suzanne had Lonely Planet, and Debbie had the Rough Guide. All these types of books are organized by country and then cities and towns. We used those books to pick our accommodations, restaurants, and sight-seeing destinations. Often we would just show up to accommodations we found in our guidebooks and hope a room was available. If they were full then we would walk to the next place. Occasionally we would call from a pay phone to secure a reservation ahead of time.

I took pictures with a camera and film. Remember film canisters? Small plastic black and gray containers. I used a small notebook to keep track of each picture, so I could remember the locations. Because we couldn’t carry all the used film and also didn’t have funds to get it all developed and didn’t want to carry the developed pictures even if we could pay to get them developed, I was fortunate to have a good plan worked out. After I finished a roll of film I would mail it home to my parents in the small, round tubes film comes in and include the notes on where and who all the pictures were of. My mom would develop the pictures. She got to see the places and things we were doing as the year went along. And I got all the pictures developed by the time I returned home.

There were no cell phones, laptops, and no cyber cafes available.

To communicate with friends and family I sent postcards, letters, and made phone calls. To make phone calls we found a phone booth and would call collect or use a calling card. Each week we would take turns and one of us would call our parents. Our parents then called each other to provide updates.

2007 India & Nepal
David and I spent a month in India and Nepal in 2007. We had the Rough Guide for India with us. We used this big book in the same way as I did 10 years earlier in Europe. We choose our accommodations, restaurants, and sight-seeing destinations with it. To find accommodations, most of the time we would just show up to one we picked out of our book. A few times we called ahead from a “phone stall” described below.

We had digital cameras to take photos. This was a little different then 10 years prior. We could instantly see the photos we took on the camera and delete any that we didn’t want to keep. We could upload photos to share them but we did very little of this. It was very slow, sometimes it took 30 minutes to upload just a handful of photos, so mostly we saved them to share until we got home. Once home we were able to save the photos to our computers and created a short slide show to share many of them.

We visited cyber cafes, a small room with a bunch of computers. That was how we would check email, send emails, I wrote “journal entries” that I sent to an email list I had created to share some of our experiences. David would copy and paste my updates onto a blog that he created. The cyber Cafes were very inexpensive, but the internet was very slow and sometimes the power went out. Most of them were small, dark, and dusty. The computers were slow, old desk top versions. In Nepal there was still power sharing, which meant you lost power daily for a number of hours. The internet was painfully slow. We wrote in one blog that it took 7 minutes for a page to load just to write a blog update and power was going to be cut in 30 minutes.

To call family members we visited a phone stall where a young man would dial the number we wanted and then he would hand me the phone once the connection was made. When I hung up a receipt would print of how long the call was and how many rupees we owed. This was surprisingly inexpensive and provided a good connection.

We did not have cell phones or computers with us. There was no access to Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, FaceTime, LinkedIn, Skype, Podcasts, Texting, WhatsApp, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, etc. We went to cyber cafes to send emails and phone stalls to make calls to family.

2017-2018 South Asia
Now in 2017-2018, we are traveling for a year.  So far we have been to India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, and Nepal.  We each have 2 phones and 1 laptop. 2 phones are our “US phones”;  we can text, call, and use it just as we would at home with the same US phone numbers we’ve always had as long as we have Wi-Fi.  Try it out and call me!  The other 2 phones we use as our “local phones” in each country. We purchase SIM cards in each country with a data plan, so we can have access to google maps and internet even when we don’t have Wi-Fi. Works well since the SIM cards with a monthly plan are usually only about $5 – $10 in each country.

We choose and book flights, Airbnbs, hotels, research places all with our phones or computers. We don’t have to print plane tickets or flight info, just show security and the ticket counter the info on the phone. Then they print the boarding pass. Sometimes we even book a taxi (Uber or Grab) with our phones.  I can type anything and search something like “cool places to stay in Ho Chi Minh City”. Make it up and type it into google and chances are someone has written an article or blog that will answer my very specific question.

To communicate with friends and family we have made video Skype calls, WhatsApp video calls, FaceTime video, and regular phone calls. I text with family and friends on regular phone texting, and WhatsApp. Send messages through Facebook, Instant Messenger, and Instagram. I check email and send emails by phone or laptop. We have continued to send postcards. There’s something special about picking our postcards for specific people and handwriting a note. When we first looked for postcards in Rishikesh India we were told no one had them anymore because no one bought or sent postcards anymore. We did finally find some and have had no trouble finding them in each country along the way.

I have all kinds of apps on my phones that help figure out things for me. One that tells me what time it is in any location I choose, and I have 8 different locations entered at a time. I have an app for currency exchange. I have an app for translating words and phrases from English to whatever other language I choose. We use TripAdvisor and Google to check out restaurants. Unfortunately, I can’t use my Starbucks app for any location around the world. That is country specific….at least at this point. Maybe there’s plans for that? ; )

We have been able to “friend” and connect with people on Facebook and Instagram that we have met along the way so we can continue to stay in touch. It really is so wonderful to have this access and be able to connect with people around the world through technology. It is possible to say hello and see what someone is up to in a number of different countries in a matter of minutes.

There are so many things that have been developed that make it feel less like I am half way around the world. I guess there is good and bad in that. It can be seen as a gift or a curse. I am choosing to see it as finding the gifts in the technology and trying to remember to use them as the helpful tools that they are. I can definitely get sucked into the phone or computer at times and hours have passed.  It’s all about connection and access.  I have really appreciated the ability to stay connected and have access to so many resources.  It kind of makes traveling half way around the world seem like a viable future plan!