When I used to travel with my parents back in the day (hell only in the early 2000’s), things were much different than they are today. The internet was definitely gaining a lot of momentum, but people were still very wary of paying for things online, and especially booking their hard earned vacations. I even remember my dad refusing to let me have his credit card to order a CD on the web because he thought everyone was going to steal his identity (fart noise).
This was the golden era of the travel agent. One who utilized the web to make their bookings and do a little research, but still had the masses at their mercy who knew no other way of planning a vacation. I remember my parents, who were definitely pretty savvy travelers, still going to the travel agent to book our trips not so long ago.
This was just before my times of solo travel as well, and definitely before the age of travel blogging too, so I’m a bit envious of the truly raw and authentic experiences Backpackers must have gotten to enjoy 10 years ago, but at the same time, I don’t even think I could take a trip so “liberating” without the web to fall back on for recommendations, a medium for communication, platform to plan and book flights/hotels, etc.
I remember one trip I took back in 2008 where I really felt things were changing. Instead of heading to Cancun for spring break, I opted to go to Spain with my mom (she payed so that helped make the decision for me pretty damn easily) and we decided to do a road trip. She flew from Philly and myself from Miami and we reconnected at Madrid-Barajas airport. We rented a car (a big ass Chevy) when in retrospect, a little Euro, Smart fortwo would have been ideal which we found out the hard way when trying to park our tank on little medieval streets. Before leaving the car rental place, the attendant asked us, “Quieren navegación?”. My mom and I looked at each other, made weird faces and noises and then i blurted out, “ehhh yea”. Neither of us had ever used a GPS before, but for a couple bucks extra, we said, “why not?”.
Thank the Lord, little baby Jesus, because if we didn’t have that little omniscient black box, we would have probably been belly up in a ditch somewhere between Toledo and Segovia. Because we were a bit uncomfortable using it, as I’m sure you’re aware, plugging addresses into old school GPS units was a nightmare. We still bought a big road map to cross reference with the little unit. After testing its true capabilities and seeing our success, we were spitting our gum into the paper map before long and completely relying on the GPS to get us from place to place, without fail. It especially came in handy when we hit rush hour traffic in the zig-zagging city streets of Salamanca in which no road map would have ever sufficed.
Thinking about this story makes me laugh as it was only 5 years ago, and to see how far things have come since then is nuts. Now, everyone has a much more powerful and efficient GPS device in their pockets at all times with the rise of smart phones. Not to mention an iPhone or Android can handle their photos with perfect clarity, communication needs, translations, trip itinerary, etc. all with the advent of apps. I can book all my hotels, flights, find people to hang out with in random ass places like Sofia, Bulgaria (via Couchsurfing), and do all the research I could ever desire with the flick of my thumb. It’s mind-blowing when you really thing about that the world can literally rest in the palm of your hand. Pair smart phones with 100 times more information about everything online with the popularity of internet communities like Trip Adviser, Lonely Planet and Wiki Travel, and you’ll never have a shit vacation again.
I can’t even imagine what things will be like in 10 years if stuff has come this far in the past decade, but, hopefully I’ll still be traveling (and alive) to find out!
What do you think the biggest innovation in traveling has been within the last ten years?