How Digital is Changing Travel, Notes from the Field

How Digital is Changing Travel, Notes from the Field

My travelling days are forever changed and there’s no going back.  As a tech-aholic that’s gotten used to living with a connected device within arms reach at all times, I’ve come to realize how much I rely on web access for nearly every aspect of life.  And given this dependence, why should I expect it (want it?) to change while travelling for vacation.

At this moment, I’m in Sydney, Australia with friends, attending the wedding of another friend. All three of us traveling together are at the same level of technology dependency, which means that the sights are photographed, destinations are checked-in to, and experiences are shared with the world before they’re even over.

Between us, we have the following devices: three iPhones, two MacBooks, two SLR cameras, two digital cameras, one Droid phone, one iPad, one old-school phone, three external hard drives, and one extra battery source; not to mention all of the chargers and cords that go with them.  All of these electronics have led to a plethora of commenting, tagging, mayorship battling, and instagramming.

Now, some may stop me here and chide me for not getting the “full experience” of a destination as I’m busy capturing and posting, and I agree that there must be a balance, but I would like to argue that being digitally connected during my travels has actually bettered the experience.  For example:

Planning flights →

Flights to Australia are serious business and require attention to detail.  If you’re not one to think about seats, the prospect of a 20+ hour flight will change your outlook.  Using seatguru.com was critical in selecting the most appropriate airplane seat for each flight.  Once en route, having access to flight status updates from a phone helped ensure that each leg of the journey was on time.

Getting around town →

A rather obvious one, but having access to GPS-enabled Google Maps has reduced my stress level and enabled me to spend less time on navigating foreign worlds, and more time on enjoying them.  Some cities even offer apps for traversing public transportation.

Sightseeing →

These days, plenty of traditional guide books offer an on-the-go version for a smartphone.  I like holding on to a paper copy for scribbling notes and for proudly displaying on a bookshelf after the trip is over, however, access to digital versions of New York Times write-ups (I love the “36 Hours in…” column) while abroad have been handy.

Enjoying local cuisine →

Foursquare has been extremely helpful in assessing which local eateries to frequent, and tips left by others that are accompanied by photographs aid in the selection of what dish to order.  Urbanspoon is great for this purpose as well.

Hanging with the locals →

You try coordinating meet ups or drinks with local friends without access to a cell phone or SMS!  Enough said.

Speaking the language →

While language isn’t a major issue in Australia, Google Translate has been essential for sticky moments in places where I don’t speak the native tongue.  Even in Australia though, a quick Google search of “Bob’Your Uncle!” led me to understand the meaning of a newly picked up expression.

Checking in at Home →

Every now and then an update for the parents, family, or significant other is needed.  Thank goodness for the World Clock on the iPhone.  Keeping track of time zones from Sydney is nearly impossible.  And when the timing is right, Skype has been the perfect way to connect.

Documenting →

In the “old days” I would keep a travel journal, which, truth-be-told, would start out strong the first few days and then wind down in repeated “sorry for not writing” entries.  The journals would undoubtedly never see the light of day and remain tucked away in some box or bookshelf.  Similarly, submitting film to be processed after a trip was always exciting, but when handed back hundreds of print photos, the task of sorting them and placing them into an album didn’t always happen.  I still have boxes of old photos in their original sleeves from trips past.

One of the best things about traveling in the digital age is the ability to easily document, photograph, and share; and that’s one area where the crew I’m traveling with has become experts.  The three of us use a range of sites and apps, including:

– Facebook (for posting, tagging, and commenting, while on the go)

– Twitter (for live reporting and making friends jealous)

– Tumblr (for sharing moments, like Mimi’s documentation of her cupping experience)

– Foursquare (for leaving feedback for future visitors)

– Instagram (for posting cute photos of koalas)

– Hipstamatic (for turning snapshots into art)

– And so many more…

Travel purists may disagree with my methods, but for me, a relaxing vacation means staying connected.  My advice to travelers:  spend a little more money on a data-connected device when traveling, don’t forget a charger, and Bob’s your uncle!

Photo credit: Mimi Banks

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