Travel Then and Now

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The many ways travel has changed in the last 30 to 40 years

While sorting through old boxes, I discovered postcards friends had sent me years ago. That find made me think about all the ways travel has changed in the last thirty to forty years.

Remember travellers cheques? They used to be the recommended method for currency on your travels. There are places in the world where that is still the case. They were my best option on my 2012 visit to Antigua. But in much of the world, credit cards, debit cards, and ATMs have made them almost obsolete. If you do take travellers cheques, you generally need to get to a bank to convert them into usable cash. I remember the days when you could pay for restaurant meals, hotel bills, and even souvenir buys with travellers cheques.

Planning your trip has changed. Travel brochures, travel guide books, and recommendations from friends or your travel agent were the source of information for sites to visit and places to stay. Although these options still exist, the Internet is likely your primary research tool now. The amount of information available at your fingertips is astounding. Official tourism web sites, hotel and attraction web sites, advice from locals, and travel magazine articles and blogs. Not to mention the sites where travellers post reviews. Sometimes it may seem like too much information. I admit to being tempted to stay home after reading through rafts of hotel reviews. Someone is always dissatisfied.

The way the Internet has changed planning a trip extends into the booking process. Chances are you book online or use online information to contact directly and book via telephone. Travel agents are turned to less frequently, often in unique circumstances.

Remember heading into souvenir stores to buy more film for your camera? The way we capture and record memories has changed. You used to take a shot and hope it turned out. You didn’t have a digital display to let you know immediately you made a mess of it. Because of the cost of both film and development, you may have been reluctant to take a number of shots to increase your odds of a good one. I remember returning from a trip where I’d taken a record number of photos (record for me, not a world record). I had them developed in batches to spread the cost across a couple of pay periods. 

Sharing out photographs has also changed. We no longer wait to ask friends over to share our trip memories and photos, after the development is complete and pictures are organized. Often there is no need to plan an evening to share our memories. We’ve often posted to Facebook and Instagram while on our travels. Friends and family know about our trip before we return home.

I still like to have paper maps with me. They orient me. But GPS. online maps, and smart phone directions make them less and less necessary. 

Remember playing road games with your children or as children on long car drives? Versions of I Spy, Twenty Questions, or licence plate spotting. Now, children are likely to be playing video games or watching movies on their tablets.

I’m reluctant to bring up the ordeal of airport security, but that has certainly changed. Increased restrictions on what can be brought on board, stripping off clothing, body searches, and long lines. Gone are the days of taking a bottle of wine in your carry-on for a weekend visit with a friend.

I remember the first wheeled luggage I had. Tiny wheels on a clumsy suitcase I pulled with a leash. I think I spent more time setting it back upright than pulling it. 

Speaking of luggage, what is in it has changed. How much electronic equipment, cords, and chargers do you now pack?

And then there are the postcards I mentioned at the beginning. In days past, I hunted out souvenir shops on the first days of a trip. I browsed through their collection of postcards, carefully selecting the most appropriate card for each person on my mailing list. Today, status updates on social media sites have overshadowed postcards. 

Lastly, I must mention travel blogging. Thirty years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to post this for you to read on your computer, tablet, or smart phone. 

Because we weren’t digitally connected years ago, there was a greater sense of being far away and in another world when we travelled. I admit to a bit of nostalgia about that, but overall embrace the changes. I can’t imagine going back. What changes in travel have you most noticed?

Travel then and now - The many ways travel has changed in the last 30 to 40 years #travel #technology

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  1. Hi Donna. Excellent coverage on the many interesting changes in travel. For me, the biggest change since starting to travel is that I now tend to have a reasonably firm return date and at least a broad agenda, whereas in earlier times I was prone to just follow my nose.

    1. Interesting Paul. I think it is the reverse for me. I still have a broad agenda, but without the need to be back at a job on a particular date return dates are more open now.

  2. Ahhh Donna, you bring up a subject close to my heart. Don’t forget the poste restante where you would receive mail weeks after the news had occurred. You would reply and it would be weeks on the return trip. Travel, at least for me, meant falling off the face of the earth and re-appearing months later. Travel brought with a euphoric feeling of freedom. Freedom from everything. I still remember the sinking feeling I had in 1998 when traveling through South Africa where I opened my first email account. The instant realization that my world had changed. Now everything was instant. That’s the romantic part of travel, the mystery that has been eroded by technology and all the changes you speak of. I still love travel but now do it differently. I have to. My blog is an extension of all those thousands of postcards I have written over the years. I take a netbook and digital camera with me wherever I am and record the wonders of the world in a way that I could never before; sending my vantage point home and around the world in seconds. Sometimes at the same time I am viewing it. The world is a wonderful place and exploring it an exciting endeavor; in the past, now, or in the future.

    1. I agree that it is exciting to explore our world – used to be and still is. I love the way you describe the feeling of falling off the earth in pre-Internet travel times.

  3. Hi Donna you got me to thinking about past and present changes. For example now in addition to using credit or debit cards instead of traveler’s checks people can pay using their phones. and when we were kids you could actually get highway bingo cards with things like churches hospitals railroad signs etc and you would slide a little tab closed when you spotted that item. I also remember pez and chocolate milk with lance crackers on road trips but that was just us. πŸ™‚ and as much as people used to complain about going over to someone’s house to see their photos or watch their home movies I think we are missing a chance to interact in person because of this now being done through social media. and lastly when we used to have the carnival we used to sell people one time use cameras. Even the midway and boardwalk photo booths have now gone digital. thanks for sharing and take care, Max

  4. This post touches on so many evocative elements of how travel planning has changed. I used to abhor dealing with travelers checks when I worked in the Everglades in 98 and 99, but I’ve never used them myself. I’ve mostly switched to eBooks, but still stand by travel books in print. I love to flip through them and eBook formatting can’t quite compare as of yet. For the most part, we’ll still carry a topographic road map when we travel in the mountains, but as you mention, rely on it less and less. I really miss postcards πŸ™

  5. I’m not a traveler but technology has brought about so many changes in all areas of life. Everything is NOW and I’m not sure I like that totally. Yes, many things are great, but wasn’t it nice to watch and wait for that postcard from friends or that letter from a family member when they traveled. These were things to look forward to and so much appreciated when they came.

    1. You are right about the anticipation and excitement of a letter or postcard in the mail. I’m not sure how easy it would be for any of us, though, to give up our technology and go back to those days.

  6. Yes travelling has certainly changed now. I used to love the excitement of borrowing the travel books and planning my holidays but now every thing is done online. I still ask my kids to send me a postcard as I like collecting stamps.But lately even the stamps are often just franked on. One thing that hasn’t changed is the vaccinations you still need to take for certain countries.

    1. I never thought about the changes in stamps. I still sometimes get travel books when planning a trip, but now they are more background and support to online searching than primary input.

  7. I’ve been traveling pretty good since 2002. One of the main things your post reminded me about was taking your disposable camera to CVS or Walmart and getting the photos developed. I used to love doing that. Now I can’t even remember the last time I’ve seen a disposable camera.

    1. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a disposable camera too, There are lot of cheap digital cameras out there with quality better than the disposables had, so more people have their own small cameras.

  8. Hi Donna,
    Wow. Many nostalgic thoughts here. I used to have postcards from all over the world from a shortwave radio club. Back then I would only dream of traveling to exotic locales. Fortunately, we have now seen many places in the world. Speaking of travellers cheques. We had bought some, but they would not honor them in Costa Rica in many places, including most banks. With airport security, yes it’s inconvenient, but I just keep in mind that they have the task of protecting people, so I have learned to be patient. Another thing that comes to mind is that travel doctors can advise you of vaccinations you need before visiting certain countries.

    Kind Regards,

    1. I’m surprised you had trouble getting a bank to accept your travellers cheques. Shows how they are becoming obsolete. Did you keep your postcards from the shortwave radio club? They’d be interesting to go through now.

  9. Oh Donna this so touched me! I have such fond memories of past travels…oh those post cards! Now I dread the whole process. I was just telling a friend that I;d rather pay someone to drive me all over the country then board another flight! LOL I love to BE in other places…explore new worlds, but I’ve come to dread getting there:)

    1. It seems that a lot of people have fondness for postcards. It makes me think I will make a conscious effort to send them again from time to time. The whole process of flying has certainly changed. I used to love it., Now it is more of a love-hate relationship.

  10. Excellent post, this brought back so many memories for me. I have to say, the thing that has changed the most for me is what I wear to the airport. Travel used to be about getting all dressed up and looking my best. Now it’s more about being comfortable while I stand inline and making sure I’m not wearing any metal.

    1. You’re right – what we used to wear to the airport has changed. Dressing up was part of what made the experience special. Although I much prefer being comfortable, especially on long flights. I think we dress up less than we used in general.

  11. What a wonderful post! I have such fond memories of my travels as a child and young adult… I remember travelers cheques and loading my camera with film… I still enjoy board games and encourage my daughters to play them.. and luggage.. Yes I am sure what is in our luggage has changed a lot and the amount of stuff in our luggage… The biggest change for me is that I am now the mom and in charge of my little ones as opposed to just enjoying the entire adventure I have to make sure all the details are taken care of. πŸ™‚

    1. And I suspect the way you plan for travel with your little ones is quite a bit different from the way your mother planned travel with you. But it’s still a joy to be able to travel with your family.

  12. Yes travel has certainly changed over the years! I have vivid memories of trip planning with my mom and receiving visitor’s guides in the mail – or even going to the bookstore and buying a city-specific travel guide book. We did a lot of road trips in my youth and yes, we played the license plate game (and we STILL do!) as well as great game I learned somewhere along the way called the coffeepot game. But even with the advancement of social media, I still search out and buy postcards. Not only do I actually send some to close friends and family, but I will keep them as momentos of the places I have traveled. If I ever get around to actually scrapbooking all of the travel things I’ve saved, they’ll find their home there. In the meantime I have a little binder with sheet protectors that I slide my postcards into. I enjoyed reading your post as it brought back some wonderful memories!

    1. I too remember ordering visitor guides through the mail. I can’t fathom doing that too – visitor guides are all online, I looked up the coffeepot game – sounds like fun.

  13. Oh I remember all those things! And we could not get our photos back until weeks after the trip! Then came one hour photo processing and that seemed huge! There was something rally fun about looking at the atlases and Thomas Brother’s maps and playing those sight games in the car was priceless. My brother and I used to count VW bugs as a game. I could not go back either but I love your provacative look at what has changed. I certainly do not miss Travelers cheques or having to go order currency from the bank prior to travel.

    1. One hour photo processing seemed so revolutionary when it came out. It was more expensive, but it was nice to use when on vacation and actually see your photos before you returned home.