We’re now about 20 years into the age of the internet, and there’s probably no sector that has been more impacted by the arrival of the web than travel. Whether it’s the rise of travel sites like the one you’re reading at this very moment, or the rise of crowd-sourced guides and budget booking sites, pretty much nothing is the same. Here are 5 ways technology has fundamentally changed travel.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
A few months ago, I had a free Saturday so I hopped into my car and drove to Princeton in New Jersey. It’s a beautiful campus, but I know very little about its history. So I pulled out my phone and checked Google Maps. The building I was admiring, it said, had been part of a battle in the Revolutionary War. If I looked at a specific spot at the front, I could still see holes in the bricks made by cannon fire.
In what previous world would I have learned this on my own? Sure, I could’ve joined a tour group, but I’d made this trip as a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type thing. I would’ve enjoyed Princeton in a pre-smartphone era, for sure, but I would’ve learned a little less.
The augmented reality the internet has transposed over our actual reality is amazing. And it isn’t limited to Google Maps: The Pokémon Go craze has gotten people out of their houses and exploring their cities.
360 technology allow us to see new places without actually being there; IHG is leading the way with completely immersive hotel room galleries:
Media organizations like The New York Times and National Geographic are also using virtual reality to show just how incredible the world is:
We can also find old friends in the city we’re visiting through Facebook, or new friends with common interests through apps like travelstoke. The digital world doesn’t exist separately from the real world; it lies over it, and it allows us to have a richer experience of the real world than we otherwise would have.
Crowdsourcing travel tips
Internet blogs and forums have made it so no one has to be reliant on the suggestions of a single guidebook anymore. Vonnegut said “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God,” and now you can get those lessons from anyone, not just the one friend who’s been there, but from an entire world of travelers.
The web has also made it easier to avoid bad situations, thanks to previous reviews on other sites. Not sure if a tourist site is going to be tacky or cool? Check out TripAdvisor. You no longer need to rely on a brochure (frequently made by the tour company you’re using itself) or on the recommendation of someone who might have a vested interest. The internet has leveled the playing field.
Phones = convenience
Apps have basically fixed everything that was terrible about travel — crying baby on the plane? Put on iTunes or Spotify. Can’t find a cab? Uber that. Can’t understand a language and don’t have an interpreter? An app will translate that for you in real-time. Need to find a hotel? Check out the IHG app.
On top of this, we’re able to a) take better travel photos (thanks to apps like Instagram) and b) share those photos with the entire world. No longer do we have to force our neighbors to sit through a slide show: we can just post our pics or videos on Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram and then let our friends check them out at their own leisure.
Having a tiny computer in your pocket at all times is a money saver, a time saver, and a life saver, all at the same time.
Easy to travel cheaper
Remember back when you had to go out in a foreign city and buy international calling cards? They were expensive, they were sold by sketchy dudes who would frequently be scammers, and they gave you a limited amount of time to talk with your family.
Now, if you have an internet connection, you can talk to your family for as long as you like, totally free. Just download Skype. When my sister got married in El Salvador, I couldn’t be there. So I watched it over Skype. When I was in a long-distance, international relationship with the woman who is now my wife, we stayed in contact through WhatsApp.
If you’re a budget traveler, this is your golden age. Entire sites are dedicated towards helping you rack up credit card points, towards finding absurdly cheap deals, towards “hacking” travel to the point of it basically being free.
Reading material takes less space
I remember the first vacation I went on with a Kindle. My mom had lent it to me, and it was one of those old models — still too early in the eReader revolution to fit easily into my pocket. I thought it was silly — I didn’t see the point, outside of maybe saving trees — until I was about halfway through the trip.
“Man,” I thought, “I’ve read like three books and my back doesn’t hurt at all.
See, on previous trips, knowing I’d be spending entire days in transit, I would bring a selection of five or more books, knowing that I’d plow through at least three of them, and that I’d want a selection if I got tired of one of the books I’d brought. But anyone who has ever moved apartments knows that the heaviest box is the one full of books. Kindles — or Nooks or Kobos — have made traveling infinitely better for readers.
Author: Matt Hershberger is a writer and blogger based in Asbury Park, New Jersey, who has lived in London, Buenos Aires, DC, and Beijing.