8 things we don’t do anymore when traveling: Thanks, technology

by Dec 29, 2019Essays

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.

Postcards Of The World Therese

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.

Maps Of The World Therese

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!

Camera Film Cannisters

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.

Things We Don't Do Anymore When Traveling Phone Booths

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.

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  1. Wildish Wander

    Most of these are before our time for traveling! lol However, postcards should never die. I absolutely love sending and receiving them!

  2. Punita Malhotra

    Though technology has made them redundant, we still like to use the paper maps. Folding and unfolding the map, trying to locate it when we miss a bend and turning it around to the right direction is so much fun!

  3. HI Travel Tales

    You know, we don’t seem to journal for fun anymore either! good call. seem to be journaling for notes and research, but maybe those ways should be changed. that is really cool about sending somebody a postcard!

  4. Playful

    Booking lodging in the past was a bit of a gamble. The best option for travelers was AAA (Auto Club in southern California) Tour Books. Hotel/motel options were listed in small print and had ratings for price and quality. You could read a brief description and get the phone number to make a reservation. There was no way to visually evaluate the location unless the hotel had placed an ad with a picture, which was of limited use. There was no TripAdvisor to read detailed, recent reviews about pitfalls such as remodeling disturbances or unhelpful hotel staff. After you narrowed down your choices, you made long distance toll calls to check availability, book your room and wait to be surprised upon arrival.

  5. Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions

    What a fun read! I still try to send postcards when I can, although I will admit that having to go buy stamps (often at a different location than the souvenir shop selling the postcards) is kind of a hassle. To be honest, phone books and phone booths are before my time (at least as a solo traveler). It sounds like it was much more adventurous to try a place without reviews on Google Maps and Yelp!

  6. Jasmine Chen

    So many of these are true and it’s amazing to see how technology has enhanced and helped make travelling easier. I personally still buy postcards every now and then though. I’m not really one to buy souvenirs, but when I do, I like to do it in the form of collecting postcards.

  7. samantha hint

    As a young traveler I’ve only ever known traveling with technology, so its really interesting to read how it was before the digital age!

    • HI Travel Tales

      Ah, yes, I’m sure it sounds kind of archaic and cute and REALLY!!?!? but so it was!

  8. Daniels Beitss

    Oh wow…and I mean that. Looking at this list, its amazing what I use to do when I first started out traveling and comparing it to now. I never used phone booths in other countries before (as when I first started out, cellphones were starting to slip into the market) and x-ray protection bags. However I still send a lot of postcards to friends around the world. I am also a lover of map reading etc but despite the fact I can read maps and use them with ease, Goggle Maps has totally change the ball game for me and probably use it 99% of the time now unless I go hiking in the wilderness.

    • HI Travel Tales

      Even when I had a cell phone it was at first too expensive to use internationally so you still searched for phone booths — thing is, they were already disappearing! I recall circling for an hour through downtown Munich trying to find a phone booth to call a German friend! and admittedly I still do mark up some paper maps, but I just don’t use them on the street because they scream TOURIST and can make you a mark.

  9. Shutterbug Sage

    Largely true, but I *do* still buy and send postcards. I have a friend who loved to travel the world (and is now terminally ill with ALS, the absolute worst way a person can know they’re going to die). I try to purchase and mail her postcards as often as I can.

  10. Explore with Ecokats

    I love this post because it is so true! However I still write the addresses and phone numbers of hotels on a piece of paper, and carry print outs of reservation. Also I prefer using a paper map handed out at airports rather than GPS. I have had bad experiences with GPS so the good old technique is better for me.

  11. Patricia - Ze Wandering Frogs

    I still try to send a few cards here and there because of some of more senior family members don’t have emails, but yeah, way less than before. The struggle was always, and still is, to find stamps. We will carry small change, not for phone booths but because most of the places we travel to don’t take credit cards so having small money is a must for buses and even food. Ah the joy – not – of carrying films! Especially for long trips, they almost required their own bags! That, and books as far as I am concerned. I read so much I always had a few with me but now, it’s Kindly all the way!

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About The Author

Therese Iknoian

Passionate traveler, wordsmith, photographer, and observer of people and place, Therese lives a life full of all the above. Trained as a newspaper journalist and a member of a Pulitzer Prize-winning news team, she now applies those skills to feed her globe-trotting curiosity – and hopes her storytelling in photos and words encourages others to do the same. Winner of multiple awards for photos and stories, Therese loves to get outdoors, be personally immersed in adventurous experiences, and have a front-row spot with her camera and notebook to document stories that offer authentic insights about a place or its people. And she’s never met a cheesecake she doesn’t have to taste, a ghost town that doesn't demand exploration, or a trail that doesn't beckon.