I recently read the Forbes article “Did The Internet Kill The ‘Romance’ Of Travel?”, and for the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to answer this question. The Romance of Travel? I never really considered travel as romance but more as adventure, which are two completely different things.
I’ve been traveling internationally since I was six years old. We lived in Munich, Germany, when I was elementary school, and that was the early 1980s. (Do the math, I’m 43 and about to be 44.) I have vague memories of map-navigation, horrible hotels, getting lost, eating both delicious and disgusting food. None of it was romance. All pre-Internet of course.
Fast forward to college, where I traveled to Germany again when my parents lived in Mainz. By then (the late 90s) we had email and some businesses had websites, maybe, and I think I booked my tickets on the phone with an airline customer service representative. Nothing about those trips seemed romantic or even really adventurous.
In this particular article, the author talks about how, with the Internet, very little is unexpected when we travel. We know the route, the expected time of arrival, the view from our room, and what the meal looks like. With all due respect, I’m not sure what vacations this writer took. Having traveled extensively in the past 10 years, I am here to tell you there is a lot of unexpected shit that happens when you travel, even when you have the Internet. Trains break down, hotel rooms can still suck, and food can be horrible. And the opposite is also true: through the Internet, we have found amazing places to stay, off-the-beaten path sights, and short cuts that provided us time to see and do more interesting stuff.
Everyone’s travel experiences are different so I’m not going to refute each of her arguments. Rather, I thought I would look at the merits of Internet-supported travel.
Book Easily: Everything and Everywhere.
Traveling with a family is a financial investment whether it’s to Europe, Disneyland, or the Grand Canyon. And traveling with toddlers is an entirely different game than traveling with teenagers. No one, not even a travel agent, knows my family like I do—our sleeping habits, eating preferences, and touring style. The Internet puts me in control of my vacation and helps ensure all the money and time off work is worth it. We may only have one chance to see the Grand Canyon. It sure as hell better be good!
Those who travel frequently know that a horrible hotel, offensive tour guide, or even just over-planning can leave a vacation limp. Websites like Booking.com and TripAdvisor allow me to easily plan an itinerary to balance everyone’s wish list. Still, nothing replaces good ole’ fashioned travel guides. Even with the Internet, I still love to bring along Rick Steves and Lonely Planet travel books along because it’s fun to see it all laid out in one location.
Reviews: Yelp It First
We are that family who Yelps or Googles just about everything before we go—museums, restaurants, and sights. Less romance? No, I think of it as more strategy. As another TravelTeening mom once told me: On vacation in a new city we only have so many meals, and we want them to be good.
When kids are toddlers, and they are shoving in kid food like chicken tenders it’s one thing. But once you have teenagers who are eating steak and escargot, the price tag on meals can be double or triple. If we’re spending €80 on a dinner, I want it to be good. Online review sites allow us to do a quick check on places we visit to check if it’s worth the time and investment. It’s just like the Zagat’s book from 20 years ago but now online.
I will admit our family may get a little too caught up on checking out restaurant reviews, and it sometimes takes the spontaneity out of a meal. However, we are doing a better job of wandering around and once we find a place doing a quick check to see what reviews say.
In addition to reading reviews, I do my best to leave reviews when I can.
Timing: Double Check Opening Hours
In European cities, hours for museums, restaurants, or shops can vary greatly. In fact, in Spain, I sometimes didn’t even see posted opening hours and sometimes when things were advertised open, they weren’t. (No Internet anything can help at that point.) In Germany, in case you missed it, many things are closed on Sundays and tourist attractions may be closed on Mondays.
In Paris, I needed some allergy medicine, pronto! And quickly found a pharmacy that was open, which was not the nearest one, and the name of Zyrtec in French within a mater of seconds. Guess what? It’s Zyrtec. How did I find out? The Internet, of course.
Navigation: How Can I Get To….?
I realize online navigation has its pros and cons. Every once in a while, I turn off my navigation so I remember how to use that part of my brain. It’s extremely important for everyone to learn to read a map, have a sense of direction, and figure out the trains without the Internet. I hate being the family walking down the street looking at our phone to find the museum or a restaurant. However, it’s not much different than walking around with a map. Even with a phone, I promise we still get lost and have to figure out our way.
As a side note, our family always has a map with us because sometimes I want to see the big picture on where we are and where we are headed. My favorite maps are the Crumpled City maps. They are easy to throw into a backpack, purse, or pocket just in case.
Delays: Developing the Plan B
On our last two trips, we’ve had transportation issues. In Barcelona we had planned to take a trip to Montserrat. Upon arriving at the train station, we were told the workers were on strike and no trains were going out to Montserrat that day. Within a few minutes with our phone, we located the nearest car rental place with available cars. Using our trusty Google map, we walked to the nearby location. They found us a car and using our Google maps once again, we drove off.
In a somewhat similar train situation on the way to Paris, the train broke down. Leaving us with no options for how to get to Paris, we did a quick search for the next connection to Paris. We found a commuter train to another city, which would then take us to Paris. I sent our HomeAway host a quick text to let him know we’d be four hours delayed.
All of these minor uncalculated mishaps added flavor to our journey and we felt it was an adventure. The solutions were a mix of Internet research and conversations with people at various train stations. But in the end, the Internet helped us devise a plan B much quicker.
Translation: How Do You Say____?
Google Translate is the greatest invention for a traveler in a foreign country. I cannot get by without it on a daily basis in Germany. Need to ask someone something? Translate it. Even if you butcher the pronunciation, I can hand them my phone so they can see it. Signs in the local language have often been tricky, and it’s nice to type it in or take a photo to realize what you should or shouldn’t be doing.
It’s Not Romance. But What the Internet Has Killed in Travel.
The Internet has transformed travel: made it easier, more affordable . . . and more crowded. Places without the crowds are few and far between. To the author’s point in the article, traveling used to be a process. And now with the click of a button and some money, it’s easy to book a trip to almost any country in the world. And that has made everything more touristy than even five years ago. Between Booking.com, Google Maps, and even Google Translate everyone can be everywhere even if you can’t speak a lick of the language.
While it’s great to book a plane, train, car, hotel, taxi, and even a scooter online, it also means I can book tickets to every single major tourist attraction. Me and thousands of my closest friends. That means if seeing the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is part of the plan, you better book it weeks in advance because everyone else already did, too. Only a few years ago, our family would wake up in the morning on a vacation and plan our day based on the weather and how we feel. We can still do that to some degree, but if we want to see some of the bigger attractions without spending all day in a queue, we have to plan ahead. It’s not a big issue, but has required some readjusting of expectations on our trips.
Social media has changed my relationship with photography. I love to take pictures, and each time I shoot I think, “here’s another food pic” or “wow, this looks like every other person’s Eiffel Tower picture.” The Internet provides images of whatever you need or want at every possible angle. I’ve stopped taking pictures intended for Facebook or Instagram. Now I want to take pictures that I would want on my walls. Surprisingly, I have quite a lot of those pictures hanging in my living room. They aren’t necessarily unique, but they are mine.
Technology is Here. Embrace it.
The truth is technology will only improve and continue finding its way into more of our travel experiences. New apps are released daily that can make traveling easier. In many countries, cash isn’t even exchanged and transactions can be done from a mobile phone. Wi-Fi can be found in parks. Electric scooters can be rented via an app. The possibilities are endless and the Internet provides a tool to be strategic in travel planning. We can easily move beyond a city such as Paris and book a ticket to a remote area of France. What I love about travel is the tools are in place to make travel easy and affordable. But I get to choose when to disconnect and unplug.