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The impact of technology on travel

28th April 2012

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It’s no surprise that many believe the world is becoming smaller. In an age of constant connection, today nowhere is too far. Great, right? I’m not denying that the magic of an adventure will be lost by emailing your boss from the back of an elephant, or trying to understand your parents down a crackly line at the top of a mountain won’t take away from the wonder, but generally, the introduction of technology into travelling is nothing but positive.

The world isn’t becoming smaller; it’s growing bigger. It’s more accessible, and yes, some of the adventure may have been lost in getting from A to B, but the world has never been more open to us.

The benefits have particularly manifested themselves in the details. Before you even leave home you’re able to research the most exotic locations, suitable hotels and the most exciting hidden gems out there. Obscure blogs and well-experienced forum contributors provide some great tips and utilising these tips makes the most of the time you have. When I went to Rome, weeks of research before led me to a little known gem of a pizzeria, which was hidden away from tourists and regarded by all those in the know as a ‘can't-miss’.

For those who travel regularly, isolation can be overwhelming. There’s a sharp distinction between choosing to alienate yourself from the world while you’re away, and having loneliness thrust upon you. At the click of a button, Skype, phone calls, online messengers and texts have allowed us to share our experiences with friends and family. Whilst getting daily phone calls from your mum isn’t ideal and uploading photos to Facebook before you’re even home can make coming back feel like you never left, being able to connect with the ones you’ve missed can make a great travelling experience better.

Crucial is the difference between being cut off from the world and being able to get help if needed. Getting news from home, particularly during natural disasters or times of political unrest is invaluable. Friends of mine were exceptionally grateful for the BBC and contact with home during the turbulent political times in Tunisia last January. Those travellers who have been stuck away from home in a dangerous situation would welcome anything that makes it avoidable.

Gone are the days of cramming your bag full of disposable cameras to take home. Now a 2cm memory card can hold those precious views, videos and memories. In the age of online connection sending photos home waves goodbye to the days of blurred prints, lost cameras, hefty prices of printing, only some of the ritual disasters we’ve all experienced from travel.

We also can’t forget that while we complain about the technology in what were previously isolated areas, the inhabitants are enjoying the benefits. Areas cannot stay disconnected for the peace of those who visit for a break and perhaps more attention should be paid to those on the other side.

Adventure lovers crave the ‘golden days’ of backpacking and investing time getting to distant locations, while cheap air fares and countless airports have made what would be months trekking a few days on a plane. And perhaps there is no remedy to this. Technological advances won’t slow down and we have no way of telling what more will be added. Shockingly, Sheremetyevo International Airport has launched a new service for passengers flying from the Moscow airport, where they are now able to check in for their flight using the Skype app on their mobiles – convenient for the time-lacking amongst us, but even I find this strangely saddening.

What it boils down to is choice. Just because our smartphones allow us to email anywhere anytime, or because Skype is available round the globe, doesn’t mean we have to use it. Shared memories of your travel before you’ve even touched down onto British soil, or constant tweets, of course, take away that completely peaceful feeling of being shut away from everything you left behind. But these are choices made by those who want to do so; it’s very much a choice. Just because the technology is there it doesn’t have to be utilised. You’re still more than welcome to disconnect from the world, get your backpack and get trekking. Whilst the age of online connection has benefitted the majority, seasoned adventurers will probably never appreciate the encroaching virus to their natural treks.

If you still don’t agree, that’s fine. And if you’re reading this, angrily wanting to be disconnected from the world, may I start by suggesting that instead of complaining, you close that laptop screen, switch off that Blackberry, and do it the way you want to. The magic of pre-technology travel is still there; it’s just a choice to experience it.

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