The Digitization of Travel: Part 9 – Documenting the Journey

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The digital age has completely reshaped not only how we travel but the way we document and share our journey with others. Not so long ago travelers relied on sending postcards, writing home and stopping by General Post Offices to pick up mail on longer journeys. Today those are virtually things of the past. Some suggest that the actual journey is only a part of travel today as writing, blogging, posting photos and updates online is a part of the experience that many travelers live for perhaps more than the journey itself. While some argue this electronic connectedness has negatively changed the nature of travel others feel it’s life, travel will change, but continue to be exciting, rich and fulfilling.

I’m very nostalgic; when I traveled between 1990-95, I lived on Post Restante, picking up mail in all the cities I went from the General Post Office,” remembers Talisman Media founder and former Lonely Planet Vietnam writer Mason Florence. “They would hold the letter for as long as needed until you came. It was almost like a WWII movie where you really looked forward to going to the post office to see if there was anything there for you.”

While Florence uses modern travel tools daily with his work, he embraces the past and in some ways feels many travelers are missing the essence of hitting the road. “The sad thing about travel now is that in the old days you took a trip, took some pictures and wrote a diary. You waited until you got home to put the photos together and show them to your friends and family. Then digital photography came along, you downloaded them and shared them. Now people are sharing while they’re on their trip: here’s the noodle soup I just ate, here’s the temple I just went to, and it’s like people are traveling to instantly sharing their experiences with people at home and they’re not experiencing travel and living in the moment. They’re living to share – kind of like everyone has become a citizen journalist. There’s just too much sharing – it’s kind of sad – there’s not enough soaking up what it means to travel.”

Earth Cubed founder Greg Michaels agrees that many people are traveling just to broadcast, but doesn’t feel it’s all negative, “A huge motivator for people’s travel is to let others know what they are doing.” “The ability to communicate this will become much more sophisticated than today’s travelogue sites. Instead it will be more like how much is communicated through social media sites like Facebook. Technology like Foursquare will document and map peoples’ journeys, they will be able to meet and communicate with other travelers through social media sites while traveling, connecting people even more effectively.”

Photographer Lester Ledesma uses technology heavily with his job but also worries that for many travelers it’s taking over and clouding the experience. “People can tell everyone about their travels in seconds, a far cry from the time we waited weeks for postcards to arrive. It’s easy to be there but ‘not there’ in a way. You can be 10,000 miles away, but still be connected to your job, your friends, family and everything else in your home country instead of interacting with the one you are visiting.”

Ledesma goes even deeper with technology’s connection to travel and its partial disconnect from the experience. “Sometimes I even think that the actual trip itself is just one of the stages of the travel experience. Technology has given people such easy access to information a place that they can know everything about it before they even arrive. As such, ‘being there’ often simply confirms what you’ve already known and seen on the internet.”

While the ability to stay in touch with friends and family at home is a wonderful and powerful tool according to Come and Go founder Tim Russell, he agrees with Ledesma’s comment on it taking some of the magic out of the overall travel experience. “It’s becoming increasingly impossible to really get away from it all and that it’s taken the surprise element out of a lot of traveling. When you already know everything about the hotel you’ve booked, which restaurants you’re going to eat in and where you’re going for a drink afterwards, you lose some of the spontaneity of travel.”

Absolute Travel’s Leslie Overton is frank with her feelings of connectedness and travel. “I hate that technology means that everyone is linked in all the time. In the olden times, maybe 10 whole years ago, when you traveled to destinations like SE Asia you expected to be out of contact, from your office, from your friends, from your life at home. It was really lovely to step away from all of that and be able to focus on the experiences you were having and the world around you, and to feel totally removed from your life and in a different place. Now everyone has their Blackberry or iPhone in-hand and as they sit on the bus they are getting texts and emails from work, finding out in live time what is happening back home, responding to questions – it totally takes away that feeling that you are far, far from home and keeps you in the daily grind.”

While being a fan of trolling online for travel info prior to travel, Westcoast Connection’s Mitch Lerner is much in-line with Overton about his use of documenting travel and connectedness while exploring. “I, for one, make use of technology extensively before my travels and attempt to limit, to the best of my ability, my use of it while actually traveling. The difficulty in the state of the world now, is the expectation of always being plugged in and accessible, and with that accessibility comes a loss of personal and private space.”

Others like travel writer and blogger Greg Jorgensen see technology’s influence on travel as a natural, something that shouldn’t be compared to ‘the good old days’ and will ultimately enrich the experience. “A rather large information net has been laid across the world in the past five-or-so-years. The advent of tiny cameras, smart phones, GPS technology and satellite communication, which all would have been highly classified military technology even 20 years ago, has meant that you’re never out of touch for long, and certainly rarely without a device that can’t record and transmit something of the area that you’re in. Sure, some of the mystery and fun has been taken out of it of course, but it’s just a natural evolution. Lots of people squawk that “travel isn’t an adventure anymore” because of all the gadgets we have. I bet someone said the same thing when they invented the sextant.”

Whether the ability to comment on a trip in real-time is a plus or minus, there’s little doubt we’re only beginning the journey that technology will play on documenting our travels. One thing’s for sure, no one’s forcing anyone to carry a smart-phone, sit at an internet café or read other’s musings about their holiday.

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