This post is actually also in the Travelfish newsletter, which I'm about to send out in around 4.8 seconds, but thought others may have some opinions... so please opine away!
Despite the dour economic scene worldwide, it seems barely a week passes without a press release landing in my in-tray proclaiming yet another internet travel site destined to be the best thing since padded moneybelts. The higher-tech sites promise things like localising content depending on where you are (via your laptop or mobile phone) and telling you how far down the road the guesthouse is -- but if you pass another guesthouse while walking down Khao San Road in Bangkok you might get a text from them telling you they are offering a 50% off deal if you check-in during the next hour. Is that really as absurd as it sounds?
Obviously running a website like Travelfish, we hope to help travellers plan and enjoy their trip, but has travel become too wired?
It's a sign of the times that it is considered normal to walk into a guesthouse and see it full of travellers gazing into their laptops, checking their Facebook page, updating their travel blog, uploading their photos to Flickr, Twittering, ranting on Lonely Planet's Thorntree or, yes, cruising Travelfish. Just a few years ago, walking into a scene like that would have been decidedly odd.
How is this changing travel? People's sources of travel intelligence are morphing.
Largely gone are the days of guesthouse comment books, once immensely valuable tomes full of snippets and travel advice. Instead people search travel websites for up-to-date info.
Why ask a stranger in the common room where a good cafe is when you can simultaneously ask a million people through Twitter on your laptop?
Why use a guidebook when a savvy website will localise content to your iPhone and recommend the best guesthouse within 100 metres of where you are standing based on your past reservation preferences?
Why swap addresses when you can just swap phone numbers or email addresses on your Blackberry? When was the last time on the road you actually exchanged postal addresses with another traveller?
What happens when you leave your laptop, iPhone and Blackberry at home? Remember Poste Restante?
All these new ways of collecting travel intelligence can be great, but when it comes to up-to-date information they are rarely a substitute for sitting down with a complete stranger and swapping notes.
So try it: Switch off your laptop, walk across the room and introduce yourself to another traveller -- you'll be surprised just how much untapped information is sitting right there in the guesthouse common room with you.
And, of course, once you're done chatting, be sure to get the laptop back on and post the information on Travelfish quicksmart -- or at least throw in your two cents about wired travel below.
Also, if you like to share your opinion even further, you'll find a similar thread over of Travellerspoint -- it was that thread that initially got me thinking on this.
It is true, travel is "supposed" to allow us to see and feel the world first hand, but I see a lot of people who seem like their entire experience is all about building more content for their blog. Myself included too. At one point during my current trip I decided to stop taking pictures, stop checking e-mail (and Travelfish), stop living in the virtual world altogether... and just enjoy the trip moment to moment.
I was glad I did. It was liberating to go to an outdoor market and try some exotic food without feeling like I needed to take a picture, or write about it, or capture it in some way. I smelled the spices, saw the smile on the cook's face, tasted the food, and moved on without becoming preoccupied. The past is constantly piling up behind us, the future's coming at us non-stop. How nice for that present moment to be just for me.
Well, there's obviously plenty of room for 'wired' input and it all adds to the fun. I enjoy the pleasure of a bit of a cyber-dabble when on the road and use it to glean some information, but I'm not addicted.
Another side is that there is a long history of recording travel experiences and some travel books make excellent reading. The democratisation of travel and burgeoning cyberspace have unfortunately produced many many many completely worthless travel blogs.
I'm nostalgic for the day when a travel diary was private.
The opening post has been republished over at the online travel community website, Matador -- give it a look for some more opinions -- lot's of great content over there.