Travel in the Dark Ages–ie, When the World Was Lower-Tech

Rotary phone by Clemson @Flickr

Imagine this. You’re traveling somewhere (a developing country, perhaps) and have just done something incredible or had an intense experience–and you want to share it with someone back home…a friend, a significant other, a sibling or a parent.

Port-10photo © 2006 Victor Bezrukov | more info (via: Wylio)

But you can’t.

You can’t relive recent memories by viewing photos on your digital camera, either. You don’t have one. Nor can you send a text on your smart phone. Very few people even have a dumb phone at this point.

Want to listen to music? Sorry, but, there’s no lightweight iPod (there is, of course, a bulky Sony Walkman). How about changing your status or sharing photos on Facebook? Tweeting? Sending a basic e-mail? Nope…not possible either.

And as for a blog? Fuhgeddaboudit. They won’t be around for a while.

Sure, you can make a phone call (funny how this sounds like a prison joke), but you’ll first have to find a…4- or 5- start hotel or a call center. And then you’ll pay through the nose for a connection that’s likely to be shaky (Can you hear me?).

How could this be? And when the heck could it have been? The mid-50s?

How about the mid-90s? Just 15 or so years ago. I traveled and lived as an ex-pat (in Ecuador) this way and survived it. And guess what?

I live to tell you the story.

As hard as it is for many of us to believe–including those who lived through it–there was a time when travelers functioned just fine with the technology we had. It was cutting edge at the time and seemed that way to us. Besides, we didn’t know anything different or what was coming.

Now, in retrospect, that era of limited technology might be seen as some sort of Dark Age equivalent (well, not quite the same as the actual Dark Ages, but a good title, I think) to us contemporary and higher-tech travelers.

But was it really?

Let’s talk about it

First, let’s take a look at the lower-tech times in 3 parts: pre- , during and post-travel. Then let’s discuss (using the questions at the end) how technology affects our travel experiences and whether it adds to or detracts from the moment and the amount of true cultural immersion.

Pre-Travel

Searching for Flights

Travel agents were the ones who searched for flights. Or you called an airline directly. Phone systems were not very automated, either. Humans often answered. And you sometimes got a busy signal when the phone was busy. Trippy, no?

Learning About a Country

There were no websites or blogs yet, so people got a lot of their information from travel agents and the brochures they had. Perhaps they even took a peek at an encyclopedia. Imagine that! Back in the Dark Ages, people also bought books and magazines and went to libraries to learn about a place.
A bookphoto © 2008 Honou | more info (via: Wylio)


Making/Confirming Reservations

Plans were made via telephone and fax machines for the most part. The same for confirmations. No e-mail.

During Travel

Calling Home

If you wanted to call home, you paid an astronomical amount of money at a hotel or paid a small fortune at a call center. The phones were mostly ‘rotary.’ There was also something you could do known as a “collect call,” in which the person on the other end paid. Imagine that!
Rotary Phone in Ti Couzphoto © 2007 Clemson | more info (via: Wylio)


Taking Photos….Using Film

You had to buy enough film to last you the entire trip. If you ran out, you might find it where you were traveling, but it was a bit of a quest. And it was expensive. And one roll could cost $8 or so. And usually, it wasn’t the brand you wanted.

Postcards/Letter Writing

Postcards and letters were other ways of sharing what you were doing at a specific time with people back home–and it was a slow as molasses vs. today’s instantaneous e-mail and right-now social networks. Sometimes people sometimes got the postcard or letter the day before you got home. (Still true, I think.)

Post-Travel

Photo Printing/Organization

One of the first things a traveler did when they got home was to drop off their film at the supermarket, drugstore or camera shop (if you were super serious). Some even mailed it out to a lab.

Then, there was the waiting (a few days to week) for that envelope to arrive (a very exciting moment, I must say) to see how well the photos turned out. Most people would then put them into albums or scrap books to share with others.

Dad's album


Sharing via Storytelling

People would get their friends and family together to share travel tales. These were exciting conversations in which the traveler would feel like a story teller, reminiscient of some ancient oral tradition. People sat and listened and engaged. No one said, “Oh yeah….I already read that on your blog” or “I saw that photo on Facebook.”

Disadvantages?

I’m sure you can see the disadvantages of what I’ve described–namely, the inconvenience due to the lack of instantaneous data transmission. Of course, it didn’t feel that way to me and those who traveled back then. What we had–eg, a camera with autofocus lenses–felt cutting edge.

As for the logistics and finding your way, you used a paper map. And if you went somewhere and got stuck, it wasn’t so easy to get out of it. This was not good. You couldn’t just reach for your phone and make a call. Or get on the Internet and quickly find a new place.

Advantages?

Everything I’ve described, however, was positive on some level, too. I think I was more in the moment when I traveled. I had to be…where I was. It was too inconvenient and expensive to connect with people at home. And so, I felt like I was really far away and truly immersed in another culture. Getting away from home meant exactly that.

What do you think?

Newer to Travel?

When did you begin to travel? Was the world already high-tech? Did you grow up using cellphones, digital cameras and computers? If so, is what I’ve written hard to imagine? Does it sound too disconnected and downright awful? Or does it hold just a tiny bit of appeal for some reason?

Started traveling in the 1990s?

Did you, like me, begin to travel back during the lower-tech times? Do you remember being more in the moment or feeling more immersed in a culture? Did you like it? Do you ever wish you could do it again? Or are you thrilled with what we have now and wouldn’t want that previous level of disconnection?

Questions for everyone

Does lower-tech travel sound a little more adventurous? One didn’t have access to as much information, so it meant speaking to people more, relying on your gut, etc. Or was that too little connection?

Or maybe, as we see now, can there be too much connection? Ever find yourself over-using Facebook and Twitter while somewhere else? Over-connecting and losing the moment? If so, what do you do about it?


11 February 2009photo © 2009 Doug Belshaw | more info (via: Wylio)

Advice for Me About My Next Trip?

After writing this, I wonder a bit about that last question. I think about my upcoming to trip (probably to Indonesia) and feel slightly concerned that I’ll be carrying an iPad or MacBook Air, tweeting, updating my status and blogging too much.

I love to be in the moment when I travel and now I fear that I spend too much time connecting. How will I be able to balance this? Any ideas/advice? Please share. Thank you.

Related Links

Do you like being feeling truly immersed in another culture and disconnected from this one? Ever use Poste Restante, that unique  post office scenario in which mail and packages are held for you. In either case, you might consider checking out a post on the DigiDrift site re: Post Restante and the Death of Modern Communication. It’s an interesting look at the way it was, back in those times, and how things have changed. Jason, the writer, poses some questions that are along the lines of mine, but with a twist.

75 Responses to Travel in the Dark Ages–ie, When the World Was Lower-Tech
  1. Shutterbuk (Michelle)
    February 8, 2011 | 9:58 am

    I remember the days of having to pack enough film and even worse having to pay through the nose when I didn’t. Very thoughtful post….I like how “connected” we are in this digital age (I’d never have “met” you without Twitter), but I still feel we have lost the art of connecting in person.

    • CB Driver
      February 8, 2011 | 10:30 am

      Hi, Michelle. Remember film? How about when it was 800 ISO and you had to hand it to the TSI agents so the X-ray scanner wouldn’t damage it? Seems like a lifetime ago now.

      I like how connected we are too (despite some of the cool stuff about the past). It’s cool to know you on Twitter. Imagine, though, if we could meet for coffee. Better, right? :)

      • Shutterbuk (Michelle)
        February 9, 2011 | 9:06 am

        And how bad was it when they acted like you were an idiot for not wanting your film to pass through xray!
        Coffee would be better, yes!

        • CB Driver
          February 9, 2011 | 9:32 am

          I totally remember that. They would say, “It’s OK…nothing will happen.” I said, “Oh yeah? It’s 800 and 1600 ISO…and it’s super sensitive to light. That’s the point!!”

          I sometimes wanted to slap them!

          Coffee would be nice. We’d have to find a halfway point, though. Virginia? Or Twitter?

  2. Dalene
    February 8, 2011 | 10:23 am

    There are times when we’ve totally disconnected (like a 3 day hike in the middle of nowhere), and when I’ve gotten back in front the computer, I hesitate to turn it on. It feels so good to be away from it. And then, there was one other time when we turned it on after three day to discover (via FB) that hubby’s brother had gotten engaged. That pissed me off to find out that, but I suppose it was our own fault for being disconnected, and we couldn’t expect them to wait to tell their good news.

    All this to say that there is good and bad to both ways of traveling, and there are times when I wish I was doing the opposite. When you’re traveling I am sure you will find that balance – and you will need your rest days in between activities that will allow you to get caught up! And if you do have a few days off from the computer in order to do explore, you can be sure that your fans will wait patiently for your next story. =)
    Dalene recently posted..I Am TeacherMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 8, 2011 | 10:33 am

      Thanks for sharing that, Dalene. Quite interesting. It really does feel good to be disconnected, doesn’t it? But I think I know what you mean about times when you wish you were doing the opposite. I remember when I first arrived in Damascus last summer. I settled in, got some food and then immediately went looking for an Internet cafe. Felt good to connect with people back home, but… Of course, there are times where it really does feel good to be in contact with those you care about.

      I think your advice makes sense. I should have certain days of ‘rest’ and non-connection perhaps. I may need to compartmentalize a bit. Thanks for the kind words re: my next story, etc. Appreciate that very much! :)

  3. Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World
    February 8, 2011 | 10:54 am

    Ugh, that’s my biggest fear too on our upcoming trip. It’s a good thing that I don’t have a cellphone so the only internet-ing and Tweeting and what not will have to wait until the end of the day with my laptop.

    I remember the film days as well and trying to decide which ISO would be best to buy. Gosh, just saying that makes me feel old :)
    Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World recently posted..The Parts About Planning A RTW Trip That SuckMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 8, 2011 | 1:10 pm

      Hi, Jill. You, too, huh? It’s a really valid concern when you think about it. It’s very easy to get caught up in connecting and sharing. Too much of it and you lose the moment. Not having a cellphone will help, I’m sure. Remember film? What an ordeal. And I hear you re: feeling old. LOL :)

  4. Skott
    February 8, 2011 | 10:57 am

    Undecided as to what I should “do with my life”, I left university to head to Australia for a year in 96-97. Never mind FB and Twitter…there really was no email to speak of. I think I still have the address book I took with me to collect the mailing addresses and phone numbers of fellow travellers. Collect calls every two weeks home to mom and dad (for about $1/min) and writing postcards to friends. I remember taking a roll of film, processing it so that I could write all my new friends names on the back, and then sending them home.

    It was only two years later I had returned, and suddenly mailing addresses and postcards were no more, and every hostel had a computer where you could check you email (for about $10/hour). Not a lot of digital cameras, and I still don’t think I saw a cell phone, but it was changing.

    11 years later, I think I will have to be careful not to be “over-connected”, on this next journey. I don’t think it is right to be travelling around the world, only to spend most of your time online. However, I can see how it is easy to do, especially now that everyone and their dog has to update a travel blog daily.

    It will be very easy to fall in this trap as well, and so I will be needing to be very certain to make the conscious decision to unplug.

    Great post – it brought back awesome memories!

    • CB Driver
      February 8, 2011 | 1:13 pm

      Hi, Skott. Thanks for sharing that. So you remember it well….the time of address books and collect calls. Remember film? The anticipation killed me. But the feeling of opening up that envelope is now almost indescribable. Those were the days! Different days, anyway. And then, it all changed.

      Now, one must be careful not to over-connect. Good point re: traveling around the world and spending too much time online. The real experience of losing yourself in the culture can go out the window.

      Let’s hope that you and I, on our respective trips, find a way to strike a balance. Meanwhile, I’m glad this post brought back memories. :)

  5. Gray
    February 8, 2011 | 1:12 pm

    Ah, the memories! I started traveling in the 1990s, too. I remember having to buy phone cards and using them at pay phones. I had to book flights through travel agents. Yup, this all sounds familiar. When you think about how much technology has changed travel in just the past 10 years, it’s really mind-blowing.
    Gray recently posted..My Travel Regret- EgyptMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 8, 2011 | 1:18 pm

      Hi, Gray and thanks for joining me on this stroll down memory lane. I remember the phone cards and the phone booths. Actually, when I was in Turkey two years ago, I was using both of them (had no cellphone that worked on their system). Remember the travel agents? They played a major role in planning. So different now, isn’t it. And as you said, mind-blowing. I often wonder what’s next. A chip in one’s brain that will allow for instant sharing by merely thinking about it? Not complaining, mind you. I do enjoy the convenience of the technology we have now. :)

      • Gray
        February 8, 2011 | 5:31 pm

        Dear God, let’s hope they don’t invent such chips! Can you imagine the glitches in that kind of software? I don’t want anyone seeing my thoughts. :-)
        Gray recently posted..My Travel Regret- EgyptMy Profile

        • CB Driver
          February 8, 2011 | 9:52 pm

          I can imagine those chips and it scares the hell out of me, especially those glitches. I think one would have to wait for the 2nd generation…the 1st gen. probably wouldn’t allow you to take back a thought you’d changed your mind about. :)

  6. Amanda
    February 8, 2011 | 7:59 pm

    I think lower-tech travel definitely has both advantages and disadvantages, like you said. The lack of communication would have been annoying if you really needed to get through to someone. But back then, nobody had ever used a smart phone or Facebook or Twitter… so they wouldn’t exactly have missed them, right?

    Low-tech travel is definitely the way to go if you truly want to unwind and get to know a place. Spending hours working on a blog won’t help you truly discover a city or country – only getting out there and doing it will.

    But, that being said, it’s really tough to completely unplug sometimes! I love being able to Tweet and post things on Facebook while I’m traveling. It adds that element of instant feedback and conversation that I think is really fun. But I do have to be careful that it doesn’t detract from the travel itself.

    Bottom line: there has to be balance.
    Amanda recently posted..Sunset at Hawaii’s Waikiki BeachMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 8, 2011 | 9:56 pm

      Hi, Amanda. True–back then one could not miss what one didn’t have. And now, I think that while we feel we’re super high-tech, in 50 years, people will think we were technologically limited. Seems crazy, I know, but I’m sure that’s how they’ll see it. Of course, we think we’ve got so much…

      I agree with what you’ve said, especially the bottom line/need for balance. It’s going to be hard for me on my next trip (will be the first one I’ve taken as a tweeting traveler), but I’ll do my best.

      Thank you for joining the chat!

  7. Sally
    February 9, 2011 | 12:42 am

    I do think I’m a wee bit “too connected” these days (I’ve actually found myself thinking “I can’t wait to tweet this” while doing something cool). But, at the same time, I appreciate how technology has made it possible for me to stay connected with people back home while living & traveling abroad… and allowed me to connect with people who are traveling. I would hate to travel without my Twitter & Facebook & blogging… but I do think I need to start incorporating a few “tech free” hours per day.
    Although, I will say I was offline all weekend while visiting my sister in the mountains — where she has absolutely no cell phone service (the horror!). And while I was off-the-grid (okay, so she still has electricity & running water…but STILL), my blog was hacked. So maybe technology was mad at me for neglecting it?

    • CB Driver
      February 9, 2011 | 9:10 am

      Hi, Sally, and I think I can relate to what you’re saying. I’ve been having those “can’t wait to tweet” thoughts lately. Of course, it is awesome to connect with people from wherever you are in various ways, but I like the idea of incorporating ‘tech-free’ time into one’s day. I’m considering setting aside one or two days a week when I don’t tweet. Not sure if I can do that yet. Maybe I’ll just begin with a few hours–LOL.

      Sorry to hear about the blog hacking–yikes–but funny re: the possibility of technology getting mad. Perhaps yours is possessive and jealous? Technology does seem to sort of know things and to have feelings. When you want to make copies, a copier acts out. Slows down. Maybe it doesn’t like being rushed. And when a cache gets full, maybe it’s your computer’s way of being your friend and saying, “Hey…you’ve been surfing too much. You’re giving me a headache.” Remember Eliza, the computer therapist? ‘She’ wasn’t half bad. Where is she now, btw? Perhaps she can help us figure out a way to cut back, disconnect and compartmentalize…. :)

  8. Dyanne @TravelnLass
    February 9, 2011 | 1:31 am

    Well I can surely relate to the “Dark Ages” – all the way back to backpacking in Mexico in the… late 70’s! And yes, packing a boatload of film canisters, and never knowing if you got the shot – ugh!

    Then in the 80’s and 90’s? Heck I started my own int’l tour company then – without email, nor guidebooks, no even fax machines in Belize and Costa Rica. Shoot, some of my vendors (deliberately small, locally owned hotels) didn’t even have a private TELEPHONE! Ah but somehow we all muddled through and got the job done – mainly by sheer TRUST!

    And now? I must admit I fear that some of the RTWers I meet in hostels are glued a bit too much to their laptops – while wildly exotic adventures lie waiting just outside their dorm door.

    But of course I ADORE my iPod Touch and can’t imagine traveling without it. And on my last trip (to Egypt) I (with great hesitation) dragged along a netbook for the first time, so I could blog to family and friends (and I must say, Skyping with friends in Amsterdam and Seattle whilst sailing down the Nile is quite a nifty feat!) 😉

    Then again… there were many times that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) connect ‘cuz I wanted to experience the MOMENT in full.

    Still… Would I want to go back to the Dark Ages of travel? No way. That would be like asking me if I wanted to go back to when there were no PLANES!

    Nope, I think it’s all just a matter of good ol’ “moderation”. I mean, the technos are great, but do you really need to share every blessed moment IMMEDIATELY with all 500 of your Facebook friends? Uh, I think not.
    Dyanne @TravelnLass recently posted..So You Wanna Be a Tour Operator- Huh Part IIMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 9, 2011 | 9:17 am

      Hi, Dyanne. Thanks so much for sharing what it was like for you back in the ‘Dark Ages.’ Great stuff! I can’t imagine what it was like to have your own tour company without the technology we have today. You didn’t even have fax machines or guidebooks, so it must have been super challenging. Fascinating that it worked out and I’m sure that trust was the key. You probably have excellent intuition as a result of having had to use it so much.

      Interesting that you’ve seen the RTWers glued to the laptops. I can see how that would happen. Last summer, I took a computer (netbook) with me on my trip to the Middle East. It was the first int’l trip I’d carried a computer on. And while it was necessary and I’m glad I had it, there were times where I used it too much (for Facebook). I didn’t have Twitter back then, either.

      Like you, I think it’s all about being in the moment. And I would not want to go back in time to that era of travel–only the feeling of more disconnection and the moments that were as real as they could be.

      Yes–moderation is the key. Thanks, Dyanne!

  9. Zablon
    February 9, 2011 | 1:36 am

    great post, its amazing after technology improvements we feel we cant live without it and we wonder how we got by without it

    • CB Driver
      February 9, 2011 | 9:19 am

      Thanks, Zablon. It is amazing….and we do often wonder. I also wonder what’s coming next? Imagine 20 years from now what people will think when they look back at us!

  10. Turkey's For Life
    February 9, 2011 | 1:43 am

    As 30-somethings, we remember those days all too well! Maybe I try to cling onto them a bit as I buy a postcard from each new place we visit just to stick in a scrapbook when we get home.
    We also still use guidebooks quite a lot. We’re book people. Much as we love blogs, there’s still something nice about flicking through books – or is that just because these two 30-somethings are old??! :)
    Having said all that, the laptop comes everywhere with us. Not been anywhere yet where we’re completely cut off…
    Julia
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..Camel Wrestling Comes To FethiyeMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 9, 2011 | 9:23 am

      Hi, Julia. Thanks for joining the chat. How cool that you still buy a postcard from each place you visit! I think it’s nice to combine the new and the old. Almost like shabby chic decorating. You end up with something really creative and interesting.

      I don’t know if flipping through books might be an age thing. It could be. I like doing that, too. But I don’t have an iPad, so…I haven’t the luxury of having books all on one device and just tapping and swiping to move through them. No matter what, I’ll always carry a small pad of some sort. When I traveled to the Middle East last summer, I had a netbook and a notebook!

  11. Scott
    February 9, 2011 | 3:55 am

    Great thoughts! Although I remember the Dark Ages well, I did not travel during them. I first hit the international travel world in 2006 with a digital camera and documented it all on a blog on my Myspace(lol) page.

    I think the best difference is in the ability to communicate instantly back home. While I do agree that technology makes the temptation to be less adventurous greater, the piece of mind that it gives family and frends back home is worth it! I honestly think my mom would die of a heart attack if she didn’t have my blog to follow and my gchat to hit me up on!

    That being said, I was honestly stressed out in Paris this last September because I “had to get blog done”, and that is not fun and not the way I will live on my RTW next year, I have vowed that already!
    Scott recently posted..Backpacker Would Hate to See Anything Happen to Nelson Mandela- But My Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 9, 2011 | 9:26 am

      Hi, Scott. So you recall those times but didn’t travel during them….very interesting. And when you got started, it was in the time of MySpace. Wild.

      Good point re: family wanting to know how you’re doing and how current technology makes it possible. My mom was so worried when I took my earlier trips because she didn’t hear for me for a couple of weeks. Can you imagine! As for being stressed out because of having to blog….that’s not good. And it’s something I worry about as far as my upcoming trip. I think it’s OK to blog after the fact (and even after the trip) vs the same night. I do believe that it could seriously and adversely affect one’s experience to blog too much during the trip. Let’s hope that both of our trips go well and that we find a way to strike a balance.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation!

      • Scott
        February 10, 2011 | 12:25 am

        I plan on working on a “two days offline, 1 day online” kind of mentality when I am traveling next. I personally would rather do posts right after they happened.

        The other thing I thought of today is just think how awesome it is that you are able to keep in touch with travel mates via FB & Twitter unlike back then.

        Also, now we get to pose over and over on our “self-pics” just to make sure we get it right, lol!
        Scott recently posted..Backpacker Would Hate to See Anything Happen to Nelson Mandela- But My Profile

        • CB Driver
          February 10, 2011 | 11:42 am

          Good idea, Scott. Makes a lot of sense. Maybe I’ll try that! You’re so right about how cool it is to keep in touch they way we do now. I remember how friendships fizzled and faded way back when.

          Oh yeah, the self pics..LOL! :)

  12. Matt
    February 9, 2011 | 9:22 pm

    I love this post so much! When I backpacked all info was from my Let’s Go book and I had to book hostels by using a rotary phone and calling ahead. My photos were in rolls that had to be developed and my blog was a hand written journal. But of course I loved every second of it.

    • CB Driver
      February 9, 2011 | 9:37 pm

      Thanks, Matt….really glad to hear that!! It was tricky writing it for some reason. I wanted to keep people interested and to organize the ideas just so. Spent a lot of time on it…

      So…you used Let’s Go and dialed on a rotary phone? And used rolls of film? Oh yeah….then you totally get it! I can understand why you loved it. There was something about it, wasn’t there? I have fond memories of ‘travel in the Dark Ages’ and it all comes back to me when I read my journals. They’re much more detailed than the ones I’ve kept since technology picked up. Different somehow, too.

  13. Cheryl Patterson
    February 9, 2011 | 10:17 pm

    Great post – really enjoyed it and took me back.
    Of course I remember the days when I used to hand write airline tickets – my kids shake their heads when I talk about that like I am a dinosaur!
    Digital cameras, awesome invention.
    I have to say I also love the instant results of electronic communications, be it by email, Facebook or any other method, & Skype is the best! What I hate is the fact that I am unable to switch off easily and disconnect myself from it all while on my own vacations.
    This post made me long wistfully for the old days, but I think if I could find the right balance most of the progress is good – with the exception of one – the automation that replaces humans – its too much.
    For quick simple things like choosing my seats, websites are great. For the more complex issues, put me straight through to the next available person without me having to yell half my info at a robot and when I do get through don’t charge me to answer a question about something to do with a product of yours you already sold me!
    At the end of the day we have to adapt or be left behind, we may as well embrace it I guess!

    • CB Driver
      February 10, 2011 | 12:03 am

      Hi, Cheryl. I almost remember the handwriting of plane tickets, but not quite. Was that when you had to fill them out very carefully with your key info and then rip the top page off, leaving behind some sort of copy?

      I think the problem is, as you say, the love of the current technology and the simultaneous desire to disconnect from it at times. I like your point re: automation replacing humans being too much. Definitely. And yes, we have to embrace it. it’s here to say and most of it is really good.

      Thanks for joining the conversation….nice to meet you here in this cyber space. 15 years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to! :)

  14. Katie
    February 10, 2011 | 8:29 am

    I love this – brings back some memories! My first trip ever abroad was in 2001. I took my pictures on a series of disposable cameras – 14 to be exact! Needless to say, when I eventually got home and got my pictures developed, I had A LOT of throw-aways! At the same time, I remember the excitement I had over finally getting home and dropping off the film to be developed, anxiously waiting to finally see all those pictures I had taken, and then slowly reliving the whole trip as I flipped through all of them. While digital cameras make for much better pictures, they also take away that post-trip excitement of getting your pictures developed. Heck, I can’t even remember the last time I had prints made of trip pictures.

    Keeping in touch back then was a big difference too. I was in Europe on 9/11 and it was such a struggle to connect back home. With no smart phones or laptops or wi-fi, we had to seek out internet cafes to check e-mail or read news online and often resorted to using pay phones to call back home.

    And of course keeping in touch with people I met while traveling was much different. On that first trip in 2001, I was in a tour group and at the end of the tour, the tour manager handed out a sheet of paper where we all filled in our addresses, emails and phone numbers and then he photo-copied it to share with everyone. I did another tour a couple years ago and just a few days into the tour, we had all friended each other on Facebook to keep in touch!
    Katie recently posted..Reflections on Egypt in a Time of TurmoilMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 10, 2011 | 11:46 am

      Hi, Katie…so glad you like the post. Cool! As for the memories…they sound great. Disposable cameras? Wow. But that anticipation was fun, wasn’t it? It really was like a reliving since some time had passed. Now, with the digital cameras, it’s different. Not like a reliving, but more like an instant reminder or something. And how about how we don’t print that many pics now. I can’t remember the last time I did, either.

      I remember the pay phones. What a pain in the neck. Back then, though, they were what they were and we didn’t know what was coming. How about the collect call option and speaking to a live operator? That was something….

      As for keeping in touch with people, it really is quite remarkable. I have friends from all over the world now whom I actually chat with. I also feel part of their lives and vice versa. A nice thing.

      Thanks for joining in and sharing! :)

  15. flip
    February 11, 2011 | 6:38 am

    i started travelling just last 2005 and the technology that we have today is already present during those times (except for a few upgrades of course)… i remember getting lost in sukothai and all i did was call a friend to help me find the right direction…

    sometimes i imagine how it was like to travel way before the tech era… back in the days were visa is not a requirement to go to distant lands… that may be the real adventure…
    flip recently posted..Cheap Travel Gears at Cash &amp CarryMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 11, 2011 | 10:47 pm

      Hi, Flip. So you’re a newer traveler…I see. So… a journey back in time to when I started traveling would be a real trip for you and would perhaps involve culture shock! :)

      Re: your comment re: visa….is it really difficult to get one? I had no idea…

  16. Andy Jarosz
    February 11, 2011 | 12:57 pm

    Great post and love the comments. I started my travelling life in the mid 1980s. Sony Walkman with carefully chosen selection of 8 cassettes (got repetitive after 2 months!), a whole stack of batteries and a bulky Russian camera. Sometimes I used slide film – the sense of excitement at turning down the lights and watching the slideshow for the first time!
    That said, on our recent 6 weeks in Central America, I didn’t update my blog or Facebook page and only managed a few tweets, and guess what? Everything was still there when I got back. I can honestly say that once I broke out of the perceived need to keep checking my email and other updates it made for a much better trip. There’s a lot to be said for the low-tech break!
    Andy Jarosz recently posted..Antigua- Guatemala- historic marvel or tourist trapMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 11, 2011 | 10:51 pm

      Hi, Andy. Thanks you commenting and for the positive feedback! So you started back then….back in the days of the bulky Walkman and the ‘carefully chosen cassettes.’ I totally hear you. What a decision that was, right? I remember thinking long and hard because the boredom set in really fast. When I got my first iPod, I thought I died and went to heaven. But then, guess what? I found myself getting the tiniest bit bored at certain point. Do we become desensitized to technological advances over time? Maybe.

      Re: the slideshow experience…wow–that sounds like fun. It was different back then, wasn’t it? The sharing was more of an event, almost a ritual in some sense.

      Good for you for not over-connecting while away. In fact, it sounds like you disconnected. And great point re: it still being there when you returned. It’s hard to remember that sometimes, but that really is the case. One does not have to communicate what’s happening in each moment. And if one does, then they will surely lose some of the actual moments….

  17. FearfulGirl
    February 12, 2011 | 9:56 pm

    You could try travel via sailboat! It’s very low tec. You have to ration everything from water to battery power.

    • CB Driver
      February 13, 2011 | 1:42 pm

      LOL…funny! Great idea… :)

  18. Andrew
    February 13, 2011 | 3:34 am

    I certainly remember low-tech travel. Mostly I remember the evolution of photography. I was extremely resistant to switching to digital and clung to my film camera longer than most. Now the most annoying part is that I have a number of trips that I don’t have any pictures from. Well I have pictures, but they are physical prints and across an ocean. I would like to find a way to “bring them into the modern” times.

    The advantage of more communication tech seems to be for everyone else but you. Your friends and family can hear from you more. Through the tech of blogs we can all enjoy each others travels more. This means you sacrifice some of the “in the moment”-ness. Like most things it should come down to a balance. Balance your connectedness to share with the world (even just the world of your own friends) and have time for yourself in an exotic land.

    I for one like the higher tech. I like being able to travel in my own bubble because I researched all the stuff ahead of time. I feel more social through the tech and not quite so fearful in going new places. Although I certainly traveled and enjoyed it before, I feel a bit more confidence knowing more about the places I am going.
    Andrew recently posted..Ode to the PretzelMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 13, 2011 | 1:46 pm

      Hi, Andrew. You, too? Cool. Me, too, re: resisting digital cameras. Just got one 4 years ago. So my older pics are prints and from negs. I did buy a scanner, however, and hope to set it up soon so I can share the older pics. If you need info about this, let me know. I did some homework and think that the one I bought is good.

      Great point re: the connectedness being for other people more than the traveler. And I hear you re: having more travel confidence now, thanks to technology/Internet. Things are definitely less of a mystery. And if we simply strive for balance, maybe we can have the best of both worlds!

  19. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_
    February 13, 2011 | 12:06 pm

    This totally blows my mind. I was obviously aware of it, but you don’t really think about it until someone points it out.
    Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ recently posted..My Entry for Travel Photography Roulette- UrbanMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 13, 2011 | 1:47 pm

      Hi, Lindsay….funny to hear that, but I get it. You’re in your mid-20s or so, right? You missed the Dark Ages… Must be odd to read about this other way of travel, I’m sure! :)

  20. Emily S.
    February 13, 2011 | 12:17 pm

    I am so glad that by the time I was old enough to take care of my own travel arrangements, I could do it all online. If I had to call travel agents or god forbid the airline itself, I would have given up entirely!
    Emily S. recently posted..10 Types of Travelers We All HateMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 13, 2011 | 1:48 pm

      Hey, Emily….I think you’re right. I never liked calling the travel agents….and I found the airlines to be super expensive. It was great once I could do it on my own.

  21. Dave and Deb
    February 13, 2011 | 3:42 pm

    thanks for the walk down memory lane. I remember going to the USO in Guam to stand in line at the International phone booth to call home. We would set a time to call and end up hearing an echoey voice on the other end of the line. And then a few years later I was in Japan and the international phone card came out. That was so amazing to me! I could go to a phone booth and use my card to connect to an operator and call home. Then our first trip to Thailand someone told us that they booked a flight back to Bangkok on the Internet and we were amazed. “You can do that?” we asked. Cut to a few short years later and we can’t travel without technology. We are glad that we travelled when there wasn’t a lot of connection with home though. We felt like we were on an adventure and true explorers. The world was filled with wonder and awe and we often wonder if people feel the same way today that we felt then during our early travels. Are they completely blown away by things or have they already seen it all online and on some travel show. We might as well have been on the moon with how far away from home we felt then. We never knew what to expect in each destination. And we loved every minute of it.

    • CB Driver
      February 13, 2011 | 4:20 pm

      Hi and thanks for joining me/us for the walk! I remember those echoey voices and shaky connections….and the price one paid for them was high. I also remember those calling cards and thinking…wow!

      Funny re: learning about booking flights on the Internet. I remember thinking the same thing when I heard it was possible, especially after having to call consolidators, who seemed to have a magical power in that they were the ones who had access to ‘special’ search engines.

      As for feeling a sense of adventure and that of being a true explorer, I hear you. It was different back then, due to the lack of technology. Being on the other side of the planet felt that way. I remember when I visited Egypt back in the early/mid-90s. It was so exciting to be going so far away. When I visited certain temples and spent time in the Great Pyramid chanting with some New Agey folks, we spent our time afterward sharing and reflecting–not posting on FB, tweeting on Twitter or calling home cheaply via Skype. All the sharing waited until later and was very exciting. As much as I love technology, I sometimes miss the far away feelings and the delayed sharing. Sounds like you do, too!

  22. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
    February 13, 2011 | 6:22 pm

    I have some fond memories of being abroad in the ’90s! Much like you, I spent some time living in Ecuador. I distinctly remember that we spent a couple of years in this suburb of Quito called Cumbaya (yes, really, but not spelled the same way as the song) and, while there, we didn’t have a telephone. In order to find one, we had to walk for half an hour to get into town (or drive, but walking was much more fun, passing by llama’s who roamed the pastures!) and use one of the call centers you mentioned!

    Receiving calls was even more interesting as we had to specifically schedule times in which we could be reached and then be sure we were at the call center when the phone rang!

    And remember having to carry around those obnoxious lead bags to protect camera film from the x-ray machines at the airport?
    Aaron @ Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures recently posted..Phallus Alert- Fertility Blessings in Bhutan!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 13, 2011 | 11:10 pm

      Hi, Aaron. I think it’s cool that we were both in Ecuador sort of around the same time.

      You had to walk that long to get to a phone? Wow. I had a landline in Tumbaco, but had nothing in Quito. A florist down the street agreed to ‘take messages’ for me. Not having a phone was hell for me! You had to schedule times when you’d receive calls? Wow, again…

      I do remember the lead bags…and the airport employees who would say, “It’s safe…don’t worry.” Yeah, right!

  23. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
    February 13, 2011 | 6:25 pm

    Oh and to answer the questions from your post… I think there are pluses and minuses to the how connected we are today. Without a doubt, spending so much time attached to your electronics detracts from experiencing where you are when you travel.

    On the other hand, there are so many ways to find out up-to-the-minute informations on places and current conditions (which isn’t necessarily a good thing…).

    Of course, without the internet I couldn’t have a travel blog and now what fun would that be?
    Aaron @ Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures recently posted..Phallus Alert- Fertility Blessings in Bhutan!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 13, 2011 | 11:12 pm

      Sounds as if, like many of us, you see the pros and cons of now and then. It is pretty incredible to have up-to-date info about where you’re going, but if you over-connect, you surely lose the moment.

      Without the Internet, we’d really suffer because….we wouldn’t be able to read your blog. Your latest post looks…very interesting! :)

  24. Jason Webb
    February 14, 2011 | 4:55 am

    Hey Lisa, a nice post and something I can really relate to. I used to post home all of my film undeveloped and it was five years until I returned home and actually got to see the images I had taken. I just didn’t trust the photo labs of Africa, South America and Asia etc….

    I also remember carrying a large bag of mixed tapes with me (about 20 or so), that would actually take up a fair amount of room in my pack. These days, I’ve got the IPad with me and It’s got everything you could possibly want whilst travelling.

    I wrote something similar on my blog some time ago, about an angle you discussed above. That’s how the Modern traveler is not fully immersed in their surroundings as they still have that constant link back to home. For me, the only link back was via ‘Poste Restante’ and this is the main focus of what I wrote about. I don’t want to pimp myself here, so I’ll send you the link on Twitter. You should have a read, I think you’re someone who’ll understand where I was coming from.

    • CB Driver
      February 14, 2011 | 8:39 am

      Thanks for sharing this, Jason. I think I can understand why you sent the photos home…makes sense. Were you ever concerned that they would get lost in the mail?

      How about those tapes–LOL? I remember trying to choose which ones very carefully and how many based on space (and boredom potential). Always a big decision. I don’t know about you, but when I got my first iPod (the Shuffle), I was completely blown away by it. You have an iPad? Wow…that must be really cool. Do you put your travel guides on it to avoid carrying books?

      Your post sounds really good… I do think that we lose the moment in over-connecting and it’s something I’m concerned with now that I’m hooked on Twitter. I will definitely check out what you wrote…thank you!

      • Jason
        February 14, 2011 | 11:09 pm

        Lisa, Yes I was always concerned and I would only send one or two rolls at a time. I would then wait for my next letter via Poste Restante to get word on them making it back before sending any others. I never lost a roll, but I think I had a few that were damaged by X-Ray machines.

        The iPad is cool, and I put alot of stuff on it and I have also tried some of the Lonely Planet apps and PDF’s. I think it’s the way of the future, with the GPS installed and offline maps for when you have no service.

        Thanks for writing an interesting post and for the link sharing as well.

        • CB Driver
          February 15, 2011 | 1:50 pm

          Wow….what a wild process! I think I would have handled it the same way… Nice that you’ve got the iPad. I love the idea of GPS and offline maps. Thank for sharing and for the positive feedback. Happy we were able to exchange links on this one, too! :)

  25. Nick Laborde
    February 14, 2011 | 8:11 pm

    What no Twitter, no internet and actual film… wow, that would be a tough one.
    Nick Laborde recently posted..Why time doesn’t freakin matter- hint results doMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 14, 2011 | 10:35 pm

      Definitely…tough…but we didn’t know it back then! :)

  26. Neal
    February 17, 2011 | 11:26 pm

    My nieces are now making the travel news in my family circle and I must admit I’m a little tired of seeing their pictures on Facebook with beverages in their hands and party moments. The terse mass emails and the incredible ability to make travel impersonal. I remember putting pen to paper and composing the world I was seeing into several reflective pages of wonder acknowledgment and growth. Sending them off and never again reading those letters and sometimes never knowing what impact they may have had.In retrospect I wish I had some more photos created so easily by phones and digi cameras but then again I would have a lot more explaining to do although some stories are better told.

    Last year while I was away a computer and ipod were purposely left at home as my eyes made the journey.
    The story is told around a table with friends refining the stories with every visitor to my home.

    But fair enough I do enjoy many of the mod cons of travel. Pre bookings by email, less strange misunderstandings in odd languages, getting your pass into the Vatican before your trip even begins.However my favourite part of modern travel is the Debit card and no more American Express travelers cheques!!

    • CB Driver
      February 18, 2011 | 9:07 pm

      Hi, Neal. Good for you for leaving some of the high-tech toys at home. I admire you for that. How cool to tell stories back at home, too!

      But yes, like you, I enjoy the modern conveniences. Remember those travelers cheques? What a pain in the neck (except when they were lost or stolen)! I do love the debit cards, etc.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts with me/us. Appreciate it!

  27. Post Restante is Now Dead, Due To Email and Facebook - DigiDrift.com
    February 27, 2011 | 5:04 am

    […] […]

  28. The Twitter 10: March 2011 | The Working Traveller
    March 2, 2011 | 5:30 pm

    […] Travel in the Dark Ages – ie, When the World Was Lower-Tech Film cameras, paying for phone calls and writing on pulped up trees! Lisa takes us back to the 1990s. […]

  29. janet
    April 2, 2011 | 8:31 am

    This was great. I think the most potent sentence was: “Getting away from home was just that.” You raise the real issue of having one foot in the local and the other back home due to all our modern technology, vs an immersion experience without it.
    janet recently posted..can light be brokenMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      April 2, 2011 | 9:04 am

      Thanks, Janet! It did feel like that…and sometimes I miss it. It’s hard to find it these days…

  30. The Travel Tart
    November 1, 2011 | 7:53 pm

    Ha ha, I’m from the Dark Ages too! I wrote a piece on this similar to yours called ‘Travel 2010 vs Travel in 1990’ – http://www.thetraveltart.com/travel-2010-versus-travel-in-1990/ Which is a tongue in cheek version!
    The Travel Tart recently posted..What To Do In Sydney, Australia? Eat Yourself to Death!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 2, 2011 | 12:06 am

      Hi, Anthony. You, too, huh? Film cameras? Sony Walkmen? :) I’ll definitely check out your post. Sounds like fun! :)

  31. Chad Claeyssen
    November 2, 2011 | 11:57 am

    Nice post, I enjoyed it, brought back alot of good memories. Forgot about anxiously waiting for brochures in the mail. Does anyone even carry a map anymore? Remember having talking to locals for information instead of looking it up on the internet. Anyway, Thanks.

    • CB Driver
      November 2, 2011 | 5:35 pm

      Hi, Chad. Glad you enjoyed it! I still carry maps–well, the ones that come with my Lonely Planet. But little by little, I’m moving away from them–thanks to all the new devices I have. Anyway, it’s a different travel world now, isn’t it…

  32. Angela
    December 5, 2011 | 6:55 am

    You explained the mixed feelings towards technology very well. Of course I’m very grateful I now have a digital camera, using films would be so expensive for me that I couldn’t afford developing the thousands of pictures I take everywhere I go. Also, having mobile phones is not only useful to connect to people back home, but also, and especially, when there is an emergency.
    This being said, last May I spent two weeks in the Indian Himalayas, getting around godforsaken villages, where barely mobiles captured the signal, let alone the internet. Seldom electricity, so total unreliability for my laptop battery, no hot water, sometimes not even cold one. I was assigned some articles by my editor, the only thing that reminded me which world I belonged to, and after days of research my friend found a local enterpreneur who had internet in his house and very kindly welcomed me and agreed to let me use it. I sent the articles and closed my connection with the world again. I was literally out of modern age and it felt fantastic. Of course I thought very often that I liked it so much because it was a small period, but I believe I need this sometimes..
    Angela recently posted..Getting lost in Granada’s Alhambra, in pursuit of the Moorish connectionMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 5, 2011 | 3:03 pm

      Thanks for sharing that, Angela. I’m sure the experience was challenging, but….there’s a certain something that so many travelers today miss out on. I think you truly feel “away” and in another world. I sometimes miss it and try to recreate it by choosing certain countries where I might find it. I do think that if it lasted too long, it would be super challenging. Of course, way back when–“back in the old days”–it was like that much of the time! :)

  33. Friday Digital Nomad Links
    March 16, 2012 | 11:25 am

    […] Travel in the Dark Ages – ie, When the World Was Lower-Tech (chickybus.com) […]

  34. budgetjan
    March 16, 2012 | 10:03 pm

    We travelled the Asia and Europe over thirty years ago, so we know what you are talking about!

    • CB Driver
      March 17, 2012 | 11:42 pm

      Wow…cool. You can definitely relate then. I must say–I do miss some aspects of that type of travel.

  35. Nick Smith
    July 12, 2012 | 7:48 am

    I definitely take for granted how easy it is to travel these days!

    I remember the days of being abroad and having to find a local payphone so I could call home and ask my friend to record (on a VCR) my favourite TV show!
    Nick Smith recently posted..Heathrow Aiport to Open Passport Fast Lanes for ‘Low-Risk’ TravellersMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 12, 2012 | 8:16 am

      Hi, Nick. I remember the VCR days. And the payphones. Incredible how far we’ve come technologically, right? But I do recall there being something super exciting about travel before we had Twitter, FB, etc., too–where it felt like you really were in another reality. Not so sure it’s like that now.

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