I’ve just finished watching an old episode of Michael Palin’s Pole to Pole TV series, first broadcast in 1992. It’s made me feel terribly nostalgic.
I remember watching it the first time around. It was romantic, exotic and steeped with inspiration and possibilities. Those were the days when I’d respond to daytime TV competitions to try and win a paid-for holiday and travel writing opportunity.
It’s just under 25 years ago but feels as if it marked the end of an era. An era started and characterized by the wanderlust and zeal for the natural world that Victorian explorers possessed by the bucketload.
The Trials of Travel Past
A time when nobody knew exactly where you were at any given moment because there was no way of informing them. A time when you spent an entire day just getting to a locutorio/phone shop and finding a post office to send your postcards or completed travel journals.
Believe it or not, I’m a very progressive, forward-thinking person. For the most part. I know full well that the work I do now pivots almost exclusively on modern technology.
The digital age brings instant contact, potentially huge audiences, multiple outlets and the most liberating flexibility to work on-the-go. I’m thankful for that and the communication-age nomadism it affords.
The Double-Edged Digital Sword
So is it wrong that I occasionally get pangs of disappointment knowing that I’m never far from an internet connection, unless I’m accompanying explorer Levison Wood on his latest expedition as he attempts to cross Panama’s Darien Gap?
I’m not joining him, by the way. I told him that extreme walking wasn’t my thing.
The point is that I have a love/hate relationship with social media in particular, and the frenzy of skim-reading, click-baiting instant gratification that comes with it.
Turn on, tune in, drop out?
Travel niches such as immersion tourism and astrotourism are developing all the time, and they’re becoming popular because of what they encapsulate: an opportunity to taste an unfamiliar way of life; to absorb a new culture; to gaze at the stars and merge into the cosmos. To just be.
But sooner or later (within 24hrs max, probably), that modern itch of wanting to share a photo on Instagram will take over. When your mobile phone is so much more than just a phone, that itch is easily scratched.
Yin and Yang
Ultimately, while I rue some of what we’ve lost in the sense of mystique, I embrace what we’ve gained. The digital age has brought us more information than we can even process right now. Knowledge is a wonderful thing, and we have an unprecedented capacity to share and learn about the world and the people in it.
Which to me, when I think about it, is what travel has always been about.
Disclosure: Thanks to Esther Vargas, Wikipedia and Sakeeb Sabakka for supporting images.
“A double-edged sword”.
My thoughts exactly Sara. Yes, for me anyway, travel has always been about education. When you didn’t know fully what to expect each day.
Now though, all of that has changed. For the better – as far as self-education is concerned. But definitely for the worse, when it comes to blind adventure (where you learn SO much more – especially about yourself and how you interact with your surroundings and the people that you meet).
An example of why it’s not-so-good:
In 2013, I set out on a “round-the-world-by-train” adventure (encompassing all of the trains that I’d heard about previously – and some that I just discovered during the research). And it was the research-phase that kind of spoiled the romance of it all. I spent about 18 months prior to the trip, looking at maps, photographs, videos – to the extent that I had already made the entire trip virtually, so it was likely that some experiences would not live up to my preconceived ideas.
For my current walking trip in Spain, I deliberately left the planning as vague as is possible. Yes, I know roughly the exact route that I will follow, and yes, I know the major towns that I will visit along the way. But that’s it. A few nights ago I spent a wonderful evening in a town I had never heard of before this trip, eating tapas with an amazingly positive Spanish couple who I met through Couchsurfing, and their English-teacher (he is actually Scottish – we do tend to pop-up everywhere).
It was exactly because it was unplanned that it was so memorable.
Having said all that, the first sign that I always look for is the “wifi” sign.
Iain, thanks so much for sharing that – you get EXACTLY what I’m talking about!
It is indeed a modern problem – we rue the lost mystique of yesteryear, but don’t quite feel 100% at ease if we don’t have things at our fingertips. I wonder how things will pan out in the next few decades? I like to think we’ll find a way of reaching the right balance eventually.
For the time being, I mustn’t be too hard on humans and their (our!) instant-fix mentality. After all, we are still in the embryonic stages of learning how to adapt to new technology, and as long as we don’t entirely destroy ourselves (or our home world), there is still hope!
Again, a wonderful comment, thanks for taking the time to reply 🙂