Do we let technology define the way we travel?

Just how much has technology changed travel?
Here in the Workaway office we were recently discussing how it was to travel back in the “old” days ( by old days we mean early 90s ). About how we used fold out maps and chunky Lonely Planet guidebooks,  someone mentioned a Sony walkman and carrying around CASSETTES in their backpack! Communication was once a month from a phone box, social networking was sending a postcard, and letters from home were picked up from different post offices along the way. Nothing could be googled or planned in quite the same way… we know this is probably something not all of you could relate to, especially those of you who are still in your 20s or even younger!

We decided to ask our friend / workawayer  Sarah, representing the Millennial generation, to take a look at how technology has changed her travels:


WIFI on the beach

It’s been 5 years since I came to Bali, time has gone fast. Real fast. I didn’t quite realise it until I got back here. Memories I thought had faded had come back thick and fast. And there was one particular memory that I couldn’t budge.

I remember having to search for an internet cafe to get online to email my dad. I had been away from home for a month and had hardly been able to contact him. I walked through the streets of Kuta eventually finding a room with a few computers and what looked like an internet connection. I managed to access my emails after about 20 minutes of trying and quickly typed out an ‘I am alive and having the time of my life’ message. Time was money, so I didn’t check anything else, Facebook and Instagram wasn’t a priority back then and I was barely interested in the news after being so wrapped up in my travelling bubble.


Beautiful Bali

Fast forward 5 years and Bali still holds a lot of similarities, the slow pace, the surfers, hippies, the mango smoothies. But they all now come with a compulsory extra. FREE WIFI. Ok, we all knew this, it didn’t come as a surprise to me, I too had evolved like time had and was a complete slave to the internet. However, as I sat and observed travellers I couldn’t help but feel travelling wasn’t what it used to be. I know I am only talking 5 years ago.. and I can hardly imagine what it was like 15 years ago! But time seems to be going so fast, everything is changing around us and I wonder if the true essence of travel is still alive?

Do we still know what it is like to travel without our mobile devices? To stumble across hidden gems that weren’t found on Google Maps or TripAdvisor? To experience something breathtaking and not have to get a selfie and post it on Instagram?

So I spoke to some travellers to see what they thought about travelling now compared to travelling a few years ago when we had little internet access or online resources:

smartphone travel

Travel in the digital age

‘I studied abroad in Germany before smart phones, without a laptop and took pics on disposable cameras – ha! The sad part of this story is I managed to lose all of the pictures that were developed/ Ah well.. life before technology to document everything! We got around by using an actual map and managed to get lost a lot as well!’ -Andrea Leblang

map travel

A map without GPS

‘My first overseas trip was in 2003, so not before the internet but still in early days. Most hostels didn’t have websites, you had to phone to book, so to book my first stay in Rome I made my first ever international phone call and tried to speak in Italian. Someone also recommended to me to check Ryanair for flights, but I thought they said “Rheinair” or “Rhineair” and Google back then wasn’t intelligent enough to suggest the correction!’ -Shandos Cleaver

Speaking more I started to realise maybe we were programmed to think ‘the grass is always greener’ that maybe in our stubbornness we liked to think times were better before the machine took over, but I couldn’t help but notice all the advantages as well.

Technology makes travel more accessible and to more people. Before the internet only a limited number of adventurers would take on the unknown. Now dreamers from all walks of life can hop on a plane and do as little or as much research as wanted.

‘Apart from being more isolated I remember the difficulty of planning travel before the internet. Having to carry around a guide book the size of a baby elephant.’ -Sarah Martin, London


Let’s go on a roadtrip.

‘I was road tripping from North Carolina to Ohio. The one bit of technology we did have, our GPS, was on the fritz and took us the wrong direction. We didn’t realize this until we saw a sign that said “Welcome to Tennessee”, when we were expecting to enter West Virginia. Oops. What ensued was an 18 hour overnight drive through the foggy mountains, following a paper map that we bought from a gas station. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been so sure that I was going to drive off a cliff.’ -Jessi Honard, Texas

So maybe technology helps us more than we know. We can travel lighter and with less stress. Surely this heightens the experience and helps us to continue doing what we love?

And then there’s the fact that we are never more than a Skype call or a WhatsApp away from home. That now we are able to talk to the ones we love like they were right beside us:

‘Last time I was in Thailand I had to go to a sweaty internet cafe where there was only 1 computer fast enough to hold a Skype conversation to chat to my family. Now they’re in my pocket.’ -Hayley Griffiths, UK

It seems we have done more than a full 360 with communication! 5 years ago I worried that my family would think something had happened to me, I went out of my way to search for that internet cafe in Bali. Today I haven’t even called home for weeks.

london phonebooth

Pay phone?

They know I’m safe, no sign is a good sign now. And maybe if they did wonder, they know that I am just a phone call away and, therefore, that thought alone is enough to not contact. Maybe that is my wrong; my independence on the road leaves me slack with communication. But I also would be naive to say it isn’t because I know that my phone is always by my side. That after I finish my days exploring I can contact them. If I want to.

‘It is incredible the technology we have! I remember the days when all you had to contact home was a postcard and a pay phone! Then we moved to internet cafes where you were charged by the minute. I also recall a computer in Milan that had sticky keys….so I wrote a note without certain letters. It was a little like writing with autocorrect fighting you at every turn. Fun memories.’ -Natalie Tanner, Oklahoma

Has technology taken away the innocence of travel? The adventures? The isolation and the stories? Are we forgetting times we discovered places by getting lost rather than googling the best place to go? Or are we discovering more by learning from those before us?

travel connection

Making memories and connections.

Just like WIFI in South East Asia, I love losing connection as much as I do reconnecting. I love knowing the route to travel yet letting myself get lost in the journey. I love that technology helps us reach more of this incredible world we live in and I love our independence as humans let us switch it off when we need. My trip back to Bali has taught me a lot; the world is moving fast, and we have no one to keep up with but ourselves.

However fast technology is evolving, we are the ones that make the memories. Technology neither has to ruin or improve your experience. Travel is what YOU make it.

9 replies
  1. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Brilliant piece Alicia! I am so grateful to have gotten in some travelling in my 20s without a smartphone (India) and at a time when Facebook was still relatively new and not a worldwide addiction. Now that I’m a digital nomad I actually need to travel with technology but some time in the future I’d like to take two weeks off and really go off the beaten track, no internet, no phone, just a paper map! That would be awesome. People in the 90s were really lucky they got to experience the true feeling of travel. The only thing I will say is that it makes long distance communication with family members, a little bit easier. My dad moved to Australia when I was a kid and if we had had Skype and Facebook I would have missed him a lot less. So I guess we do need tech for some things! But in terms of travel, we get it way too easy these days 🙂

  2. Lora
    Lora says:

    Great theme and article! It was interesting for me to read it and I felt very happy and fortunate – my boyfriend and I started to travel around the world and none of us own a smartphone neither intend to own one.
    It is true that technology is giving a lot of advantages and makes everything easier for the people, but also isolate people from the real life. If I had to choose, I would like to live in the time when smartphones does not exist – when everything is much more real and all your life is not a piece of device.
    At least for me the word “travel” is associated with a map and a guide book and I hope it will be for most people.

  3. Ayako Cleavin
    Ayako Cleavin says:

    Before Internet…. Some people had “pen-pals ” ! Newspapers, magazines had small corner ” pen pal wanted” and finding a pen- pal to exchange / shares letters / photos, experiences , opinions, even everyday accounts with someone far aways, and someone in overseas, also. Through pen- pals , some people collected many things , friends in strange land, Photos of pen-pals and their families and friend, seasonal gifts on strange land and its customs ! Many things had exchanged not just written letters ( a letter had very long time, days to arrive in those days !

  4. Carina White
    Carina White says:

    The Internet is very useful but i also hate it when i sit in the bar and everybody is using the Smartphone, even the guys behind the bar. I remember when everybody was sitting around playing guitar and singing.. I have no Smartphone, travel since 1,5 years just with a tablet what i only use in my room.

  5. Tom Roelke
    Tom Roelke says:

    I think the most important thing the internet has provided is to the vendors, hoteliers, hostels, restaurants, etc. I am currently in a hostel I honestly would not have found except they were on the google map on my phone right where it said. Their only sign is a typewriter on a board above their door down a dead end alley.


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