30 Days of Indie Travel Project: Technology

Technology is the topic for Day 23 of the 30 Days of Indie Travel Project.*

Where would today’s travelers be without smartphones, GPS, iPods, iPads, or even the internet? Share one item of tech you can’t live without or tell us how technology has changed the way you travel.

I am not a big techie.

I haven’t fallen in love with the iPad or iPhone or even my iPod. I have a Blackberry but the only apps I have installed are UberSocial (for tweeting), Facebook and the xe.com currency conversion application (which I highly recommend!).

I don’t think technology has necessarily changed a lot about the way I travel, but it has significantly impacted how I stay connected during and after my travels – and how I am able to connect with others before the fact.

Phones

2001: My first trip abroad. I have just purchased my first cell phone. The idea of using my phone overseas doesn’t even cross my mind – it stays in my suitcase the entire trip. When I want to call home after the September 11 attacks, I use a calling card and the phone in my hotel room. Or, in one case, a pay phone in the hotel lobby.

2011: My first long-term trip. I have had a Blackberry for years. I buy a new SIM card in each country I visit so I can make local calls and send text messages.  I talk to my parents and friends back home using Skype for free. When I lose my ATM card and need to call my bank, I also use Skype, paying just two cents per minute.

Internet

2001: Words like “smartphone” and “iPhone” and “app” are years away from common usage. When I want to go online, I have to seek out an internet cafe. Internet access in hotels is not commonplace and wi-fi doesn’t even exist. I probably don’t send more than a dozen emails during the whole three weeks I am out of the country.

2011: I can access the internet via my Blackberry or laptop wherever I can find free wi-fi, which seems to be almost everywhere. In Tallinn, Estonia, I can get online in the middle of a park! With the use of 3G on my Kindle, my capabilities to connect go even further – as far as an island in a lake in the middle of Siberia.

I only send a handful of emails to friends and family in three months on the road because the other options to keep in touch are so easy: Facebook status updates, comments, Tweets and instant messages, just to name a few. And of course, this blog.

Pre-Trip Connections

2001: Before my first Contiki tour, I use their message boards to connect with a few other travelers in the same group. We exchange emails and manage to meet up in London the day before the tour begins.

2011: I exchange messages with a follower on Twitter and we meet up in Moscow. I send out a message on Facebook about my trip and find out that a former co-worker’s babysitter is from Tajikistan and we meet up for coffee in Chicago before I leave. I tweet about going to a football match in Helsinki and someone sends me the link to buy tickets. A reader of my blog introduces me to her daughter who used to live in Russia. Another blog reader sends an email introduction for me to her contacts in Georgia.

Post-Trip Connections

2001: At the end of our tour, we write out our addresses (as in our actual home addresses – like to send letters or something!), phone numbers (landlines, not cells) and email addresses. I stay in touch with a few people but gradually lose touch until we reconnect again on Facebook about seven years later.

2011: I meet fellow travelers in a hostel in St. Petersburg and we’re friends on Facebook within days. I meet more travelers in Moscow and again, we connect on Facebook. My host in Moscow follows me on Twitter and reads my blog. I fully expect that, as I continue to travel, this trend will continue – easily maintaining connections with everyone who crosses my path through Facebook, Twitter, email, my blog, or some combination thereof.

So while technology hasn’t necessarily changed how I travel, it has made travel seem so much easier and the world so much smaller. 

Leaving home for months isn’t as scary as it was ten years ago because technology allows me to stay as connected as I want to be.

Meeting people along the way is more meaningful because it is so much easier to keep in touch.

And the ability to meet people ahead of time adds an extra layer of depth to the travel experience.

*Throughout the month of November, BootsnAll is inviting bloggers from around the world to join them in a daily blogging effort – the 30 Days of Indie Travel Project –  designed to reflect on how our travel experiences over the last year – or whenever – have shaped us and our view of the world. Bloggers can follow the prompts as strictly or loosely as they like, interpreting them in various ways and responding via text, photos or video posted on their own blogs.

 Photo: West McGowan

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