This isn't pure rose-coloured nostalgia. I don't pine for the old days of travel like someone bemoaning the state of modern music, or modern festivals, or technology, or any of the trappings of contemporary life.
I think the travel experience has improved – since I began doing it, at least – in many ways. It's cheaper now. It's easier. A good experience is far more likely than it once was.
But you can accept those improvements and still look back fondly at some of the elements of travel that have disappeared forever. These are the things I miss most about the travel experience. And they're never coming back.
Being disconnected ...?from Wi-Fi?
I'm starting off with a little series centred around the idea of "disconnection", and the fact we don't have it anymore. First up: Wi-Fi. It used to be that regardless of the prevalence of internet access throughout pretty much the entire globe, you could always rely on being cut off on a plane. You always knew you'd have anywhere up to 15 or 16 hours where no one could contact you, and you weren't expected to contact anyone else. Now, however, onboard?Wi-Fi is a thing, and it's spreading. Pretty soon there will be no downtime whatsoever. So where's that spreadsheet you were supposed to be sending in?
Being disconnected ... from friends
I love my friends, but I also didn't mind the idea of them not knowing where I was or what I was up to for a while. I was pretty fine with leaving them for a few months and then just popping back up again with some new stories to tell. Whether those stories were true or not ... Who knew? But you don't really get to do that now. Social media means we're all connected, all the time. Even if you're not actively posting, people are tagging you, you're making new contacts, connecting with new friends. Everyone can see where you are and what you're doing if they really want to.
Being disconnected ... from the world
Paper maps: A thing of the past. Photo: Alamy
This is a big one – so big, in fact, that tour companies have started offering "digital detox" tours to force travellers to take themselves off the grid. Used to be that you didn't have to make any effort. Step away from your home and you were automatically off the grid. You'd have to try to read foreign newspapers to see what was going on in the world. You'd rely on the odd letter from home for news. You'd just catch up with everything when you got back there. Now, however, you're always in the know about everything. And that's a little sad.
Everyone books in advance now. They book accommodation in advance, they book attractions in advance, they even book meals in advance. That's understandable, too, given how easy online bookings now make everything, and how reviews and popularity give you such a clear sense of what's good and what's not, and no one wants to be stuck with the latter. But I do miss, in some ways, the spontaneity of travel of old, of deciding destinations at the last minute, of rolling up to the train station and looking for a ticket, of striding around and picking a restaurant or even a hotel at random. There was such a sense of achievement when it all went right (and a what-are-you-gonna-do shrug of the shoulders when it didn't).
'In the Tubing' at Vang Vieng. Photo: iStock
I don't miss tubing, in Vang Vieng in Laos, the way it ended up. I don't miss the insane drunkenness, the drownings, the police scams, the general feeling of ill-will between locals and tourists. I do, however, miss the innocent fun of the way tubing began, of just floating down a beautiful river in the middle of nowhere with a few beers in a bag tied to your inner-tube. Does that sort of thing still happen? My feeling is that with the inter-connectedness of the travel world now, with the fact we're all so swift to pounce on anything new and cool, that these hidden dreamscapes don't stay that way for long.
Not posing for photos; not dodging selfie-sticks
If you travel you take photos. It's just a thing now. You don't even have to consider yourself a passionate or even interested photographer. You have a phone in your pocket and a Facebook or Instagram feed to fill: you're going to take photos. And that takes time. It takes concentration. It takes thought. It's a privilege to be able to catalogue and share our adventures, but I do miss the times when you didn't even have to think about photos.
Not a cellphone in sight: just people living in the moment. You hate to be that guy bemoaning the social cost of phones and internet and social media, but it really has changed the hostel experience. In some ways everyone is far more connected now – but in others they're just sitting there in the hostel social area, staring at their screen and not talking to anyone.
Just kidding. No one misses slide nights.
Unapologetically boozy bus tours
Bus tours of Europe have changed, by all accounts. They've changed since I worked on them, and they've definitely changed since I was first a passenger, more than 20 years ago. These classic journeys used to be unashamed booze-fests: you'd just get drunk and have a good time for a few weeks, with little idea of where you were and what you were doing. It was great. These days, however, things are different. Passengers care about culture. They respect the destinations. They're there to learn. That's all, obviously, excellent. But I still miss the party buses of old.
The thrill of the unknown
The thrill of the unknown is gone. Photo: iStock
This is the big one. There's very little out there that's still unknown. Not when everything has already been seen and done, where every sight has been photographed by an influencer, every restaurant visited by a blogger, every journey covered by a writer, and everything in between has been rated and reviewed by every other traveller. In some ways that makes travel safer, it makes it more predictable, it makes it easier to curate, it makes it better. But I still miss the thrill of the unknown.
What do you miss about travel? Is the experience better now, or when you first started? Is there anything you'd like to change about modern travel?
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