8 things we don’t do anymore when traveling: Thanks, technology
Times have changed a lot over the years, especially when it comes to travel, travel preparation, and things we don’t do anymore when traveling: Postcards? How quaint. Paper lists of addressees? Ah, adorable and clumsy. Paper maps? Why, when we have Google?
I recently thought about that list of mandatory things we used to do in preparing for travel that are no longer important. And the things we used to do while traveling that technology has made as good as obsolete. Thanks to technology, some of the things we used to have to do when traveling are as antiquated as that beeep-booop-hmmm sound of a modem. Most are good changes. But others, I am not so sure. Are you old enough to remember? Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
Preparing a paper list of addresses and telephone numbers of family and friends: Stashing prepared paper lists of addresses and phone numbers was a must to do when traveling. For one, you wanted to be able to have addresses and phone numbers easily accessible in case of an emergency, but more importantly because you needed to address all those mandatory postcards. I had a permanent paper list that got pretty crumpled and was mostly updated by hand, but it went the distance, never crashed, never had a dead battery, and was always synced! And of COURSE, you had to have a couple of key emergency numbers memorized just in case too! Heck, these days many people don’t even know their own mobile number!
Sending postcards: I see postcards on racks in tourist centers but wonder who buys them. For me, it’s something I don’t do anymore when traveling – unless it’s a joke of some sort. Back in the day, I would buy a stack of 15 or 20 (remember, I’m a writer), and then sit down over a cup of coffee and scrawl off notes to close friends and family. Of course, you had to do it on your first day or two since otherwise they would not get to recipients until after you returned! I admit that I kind of miss picking out cards with scenes I thought were right for each person. And then you were also required to sit somewhere quietly and pen notes for an hour. That’s one thing I really miss doing … and technology really isn’t to blame for this lack. Hm, maybe I’ll start sending them again….
Note: After my mother passed away, I found a stash in a drawer of likely EVERY LETTER AND POSTCARD I had ever written my parents. I was shocked, but also kind of delighted. They tell a story of my life and travels in a way that emails and blogs cannot.
Packing pre-addressed address labels: To make life simpler once you were traveling, part of travel preparation we don’t do anymore was printing out a sheet of pre-typed labels to pack along. Then, in the name of efficiency, you’d slap one of them on each of those mandatory postcards. This was high-tech!!
Buying stamps: One word required to learn in any country was the one for “stamps.” That was before you found a post office, figured out the right line, then counted out the right change in foreign currency. One of my favorite stories about language-gone-wrong is in a post office in Paris where I wanted, yes, stamps. My French was still pretty basic so I said I wanted “tom-bra” and nobody had any idea what I meant, so I kept repeating, “tom-bra,” “tom-bra,” getting louder and louder, and thinking, how hard can this be? Finally, another customer said, “OOOOHH, TAM-bra!” Seems I had the wrong “nasal” sound, and I remember thinking, oh com’ on, you are just yanking my chain. No need for stamps when you can simply send a text or a WhatsApp message. Then again, postcards were so nice to send — and receive.
Carry small change for phone booths: I recall my European travel in the early days when you had to have a pocketful of small coins to keep feeding the phone otherwise it would cut you off. Certainly something we don’t do anymore when traveling with those ubiquitous smartphones that keep you connected with everyone, all the time — maybe too connected. In college, traveling in Madrid, my friend and I had heard that a lot of the phones were broken, and you could dial out for free so – being cheap university students — every time we saw a phone booth, I’d pop in and dial my parents. It connected just long enough for me to say, “HI!” and then it would cut off. To this day, I cannot fathom the panic my mother must have felt about all of these repeated one-word calls! I don’t miss carrying the small change, but I do miss those moments of being disconnected. But that’s another topic.
Buy and pack maps: Online maps are always at hand. Convenient, yes, but they just don’t have the worn edges and lovingly tattered folds that say, “I am a traveler.” And they don’t get unfurled to show friends all the circles and lines of where you’ve been. I LOVE my paper maps, and I still have a collection in a cabinet. Back then, I saved maps of places I returned to since I’d mark favorite restaurants and friends’ houses to find them easily. Sure, I just “drop a pin” now on a digital map, but the paper just feels so nice in your hand and is such a nice souvenir. I miss paper maps!
Packing film and X-ray protection bags: It was always a challenge to determine how much film you might need on a trip and then packing it with you. Then there was the return trip with exposed, undeveloped canisters of film you’d stash in protective bags and have to ask security personnel to hand inspect. Oh that sounds so funny today. Sure, you have instant gratification now with digital, and the ability to re-shoot photos for just the right look, but gosh the excitement of getting back your photos after a trip was edge-of-your-seat! Schedule the photo-sharing party!
Using phone books & phone booths: Ducking into a phone booth to peruse a well-worn and usually very thick phone book were a traveler’s life blood for finding restaurants and services, and heck for even finding hotels once you got somewhere! I recall arriving by train in a small town in Italy at dusk and having no idea where I was staying. Out came the phone book in the phone booth outside the station. I ran my finger down lists of phone numbers under hotels, picked one that seemed right, dropped in that change, and hoped for the best. And about those phone books: There was something really satisfying about pulling up the book hanging below the phone and opening its protective case with a thud to start flipping pages. Being able to search for anything you need on a smartphone, almost anywhere you are, is so much easier, but I do miss that bit of adventure in seeking a phone booth and then playing what amounted to Russian Roulette for hotels and restaurants.
That’s my short list for things we just don’t do anymore when traveling. Do you have others I haven’t mentioned? Let us know.
More travel essays by Therese Iknoian
If you liked this travel essay by Therese, you may enjoy reading some of her other essays inspired by travel. Do you think you’re prepared for an emergency when traveling? Read “When travel goes wrong: Sidelined by injury on the road.” Find out how travel can be transformative if you open yourself up to opportunity. Read “Transformative travel: Learning while traveling.” Learn about the importance of war memorials with “Poignant Korean War Memorials: Honoring Uncle Ara.” Feeling a bit lonely on your travels? Then read “Remembering Christmas in Germany…far from home.”