Travel in 1997: remember when…

Has the internet killed independent travel? It's a question Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum has been debating recently. Now that everyone can have access to the same information, is it making travellers less adventurous? Or are they using this new knowledge to seek out even more adventurous paths?

There can be a tendency for travellers of times past to feel that they were perhaps  'better' or 'more real' than the internet-happy travellers of today, because they had different, or fewer, resources at their disposal (although many did have a Lonely Planet guidebook with them!). But there's a risk inherent in this kind of nostalgia-mongering – we can forget what it was actually like to travel 20, or even 10, years ago, which is why we loved forum member Cecilia's unromantic look at travel times past. She reflects:

Travel sure was very different a decade ago. The internet existed but hardly any of my friends and family used email yet. Getting information took more effort, and reading 'forum'-like books with written tips by travellers in hotels and hostels. It also meant you missed out on a lot of information that is now easy to find on the internet; things that might have saved us travel time, or taken us to cool places.

All of it had a bit of charm, just like old-fashioned photography and not knowing if the picture had turned out OK until you picked it up from the printer shop. But you can't deny that the ease of internet, mp3 players, digital photography  etc, is also nice and convenient and creates other new social connections.

Travel in 1997 meant:

  • carrying 36 rolls of film in my backpack in various ISO values, black and white, and colour, in a lead bag, for a 12-month trip
  • having to change film in a darkroom or dark bag if I want to change from 100 ISO to 1600 ISO (or just rewind and waste half the film)
  • waiting to see how my pictures turned out, only to discover (back home) I made a small mistake in the settings and they failed, but I can't go back to retake them now
  • discovering that that group picture someone else took of you, had no heads on it
  • carrying music on bulky cassette tapes
  • carrying a year's worth of travellers cheques and cash because ATMs did not exist
  • reading letters with information from a month ago
  • not receiving letters because the mail made them go missing
  • writing letters by hand
  • discovering afterwards that there was a really cool waterfall, landscape or whatever and you could easily have stopped by if only you'd known
  • paying way too much for a crappy hotel with no hot water because I wasn't able to find a few other ideas
  • finding out about important world news only days or weeks later because you can't read the local papers
  • hoping to meet up again with that really nice person you met on your travels and who's probably going to be in the same place you're going next week... but you don't have a way of contacting them
  • spending 10 days in a dark carpark to sell a car (travel van) waiting for buyers while the sun was shining outside

Would I want to go back to it? Despite the charm some of these things had, especially in hindsight... No! Then again, some things remain constant. A decade ago, it was the unexpected encounters or even the breakdowns of transportation that often took us to the most interesting places, and I must say, they still do.

What do you think? Have travel changed that much for you? Join the discussion!