Stephanie Yoder sent me an email this week asking :
How has technology affected the way you travel?
Besides the obvious answer, that blogging and podcasting has sometimes paid for my travel, the biggest change has been how much more connected I am when I travel.
When I was a kid I made a long road trip with my parents. We drove thousands of miles around the west in the U.S. and Canada. This was before smartphones, cell phones, email, the internet, calling cards or even affordable long-distance calling. When you hit the road you basically dropped off the face of the earth except for an occasional call (operator assisted) billed to your home phone or a collect call. What we did not know was that almost as soon as we left my grandmother fell ill and went into the hospital. It was at least a week or two before worried family members were able to connect and tell us the news.
For years after that my father would handwrite a list of people we might stop and visit before a long trip and mail it (yes with an actual stamp) to family members to make it easier to find us.
By contrast, this week alone I have chatted with friends in New Zealand and Thailand and worked all week at my job which is 3,000 miles from my home via cell phone, video conferencing, chat, internet and VPN (Virtual Private Network).
I have called my wife for free on Skype from Tanzania. I have connected to the internet while passing through a Hong Kong subway station. I have called home while driving in the middle of nowhere in Utah and I have tweeted from the top of a volcano in New Zealand. The world is much more connected now.
Travel Planning and Navigation
When I was a kid before we traveled we would stop at the local AAA and get both tour books that we would use to find attractions and campgrounds and we would get a AAA Triptik. The Triptik was a small spiral-bound flipbook of maps on which someone had highlighted our route by hand. Traditionally in our family, I was the navigator so I would often get to sit in the front seat and hold this magical pre-cursor to Google Maps. Just imagine the excitement as each flip of the page led us farther and farther from home. We had other maps as well in the unlikely event we would change our route in the middle of our trip. We would need those maps whenever we were trying to navigate a city as unlike your smartphone, a triptik had no zoom feature.
My family once ate dinner at an ice cream parlor because it was all we could find that was open. It was only after we had eaten that it occurred to the proprietor that there was a grocery store open a few blocks away. That story shows the limitations of the technology when the technology is “stop and ask someone”.
GPS, turn by turn directions, Google maps, and location-based services have all had a major impact on the road trip.
When we were ready to stop we sometimes pulled off the road to look for a hotel. And I do mean “looked” as in driving down the road looking for vacancy signs. Or we would just stop and walk into a hotel. We did not make reservations via the internet so we largely did not make reservations. When we got to the hotel it had a TV, but only showed local and broadcast networks usually. HBO had not been invented yet nor satellite TV. But it usually had a pool which could look very inviting after a long drive in a car on a hot summer day.
Since hotels knew that you did not know where to stay some advertised for miles. The most memorable of these for me was the Little America hotels in Salt Lake City, Little America Wyoming and Cheyenne Wyoming. This chain of hotels had a sign or billboard every few miles from the California / Nevada border to the Wyoming / Nebraska border. Many signs showed the chain’s mascot which was a penguin. By the time you drove all the way across Nevada and halfway across Utah, we had already decided we had to stay at their hotel. What else could we do? TripAdvisor?
Road Trip vs Flying
Why, you ask, didn’t we fly to our destination instead? This was in the days before the airlines were deregulated and flying was something we did maybe once every 4 years because it was expensive. My father flew quite a lot on business at the time and was in United’s 100,000-mile club, but this was also before frequent flier programs (invented in 1979) would help him earn free trips.
The good news is that you did not have to pass through metal detectors when I flew as a kid. Those did not come into use until 1972. On the other hand, hijackings were surprisingly common. In 1969 33 regularly scheduled US airliners were hijacked (7 attempts failed).
On the rare occasion that we did fly we dressed up. I know that some people bemoan the old days when people dressed for an airplane flight like they were heading to an important business meeting (kids included). We always checked our baggage which is good because suitcases didn’t have wheels yet. I personally got over the glamor of flying when we flew to humid Wisconsin in the Summer and the airline lost our luggage for 2 days. All I had to wear was a denim leisure suit. Oh yes, and I was stylish.
Another odd thing about air travel at the time is that the planes would fly even when almost empty. My family flew once on the 4th of July. There were 10 passengers on the entire flight. My family was 4 of those 10 and two of them were an airline employee’s family. Yes, the plane flew with 8 paying passengers. We were treated very well.
When a kid flew in those days he could expect a souvenir pair of “future pilot” wings, a pack of playing cards and of course a meal. He would not get an in-flight movie, nor as I recall was there any need to tell him to turn off his portable electronic devices… as they had not been invented yet. He would, hopefully, get to sit in the non-smoking section which I guess was supposed to have some undetectable barrier between it and the smoking section in the row previous.
We carried traveler’s checks when I was a kid. Consider that the first ATM was not put into production until 1969 and I didn’t have a bank with an ATM until I left for college. Also, in those days banks were only in one state so getting cash when you traveled was a big hassle. We did have credit cards, fortunately.
All our cameras were film cameras and film was not cheap so we might come home from a 3 week trip with only a roll or two of film to develop. Sometimes months would go by before we finished the roll and could develop our pictures. Our cameras were manual. I started on a box camera but quickly graduated to an old Kodak pony camera. And of course, sometimes we would discover only too late that the film had not been loaded properly and we had no pictures at all.
Even when my kids were little we were still shooting film and I remember getting upset with my daughter who shot an entire roll of film with lizards around a villa where we stayed in Italy. A whole roll! Why would we need 24 or 36 pictures of lizards and didn’t she know how much that would cost? Now we should pictures of our dinner for no particularly good reason.
We sang camp songs on our long road trips and played car games like car bingo. My mother even sewed a seat cover with pockets to hold books, paper, colored pencils (never crayons as this was Summer and we didn’t have air conditioning in the car). We didn’t have iPods, iPads, portable DVD players or even a cassette deck. We did have a radio but the west has miles of roads with little or no radio signals. As far as I recall we never used the radio until I learned to drive.
Fortunately, I can read in the car… but air conditioning would have been nice. We did take a “swamp cooler” on some long car trips that you filled up with ice and water. It plugged into the cigarette lighter and blew cold or at least wet air at you… if you were able to sit in the front seat.
Last Summer when I made a 1,000-mile drive across Nevada and Utah I entertained myself with podcasts, audiobooks, Pandora radio, calls home, and perhaps a camp song or two.
Stephanie, how has technology changed travel? It changed it in ways you cannot even imagine.