Thirty years ago, one of the joys of travelling – other than joy of travel itself – was going to a post restante to receive mail, not of the electronic variety. It was a real frisson. The thrill of receiving news from home. The dilemma of whether to open letters there and then or go and find a corner in a café in which to fully engross yourself in the world that you had left behind.
Communication has undoubtedly been a huge change in the way in which we travel. All too sadly it means that we rarely totally switch off and immerse ourselves in the now of travel, discovering, understanding and appreciating the country, culture or landscape in which we are in. I am as guilty of this as the next person and now always travel with my mobile phone.
In doing so, I now don’t travel with a camera. A phone is far less intrusive than a lens and allows for some more intimate and relaxed portraiture. It is also far less hassle – can you remember the uncertainty of film, not knowing whether the image you had so carefully strived to capture was quite right, the fear of airport security x-ray machines ruining your precious images and having to travel with rolls and rolls of film? I have always admired Wilfred Thesiger, not just for his travels and writings but the fact that he took one just one roll of film with him on his epic passage across the Empty Quarter and did so to great photographic effect.
There have been some advantages of the advances in the way that we communicate. Not least for us tour operators. The hassles of faxes and smudged photocopies are thankfully a thing of the past. We can now respond instantaneously to the needs of you, our clients. Whether this has been at the expense of a traveller’s patience and tolerance of things not quite going to plan is a whole different matter.
But improved communication has not been all plain sailing for us tour operators. Anyone can now be a self-proclaimed expert on a destination. Disintermediation is now a fact of life. Although in our defence, whilst the internet might have increased our access to information it has not improved our knowledge. Our expertise as a tour operator still remains key.
Communication has fuelled globalisation that in turn has undoubtedly made the world smaller, more homogenised. Yet that is not to say that it is all the same, that everywhere in the world has been ‘discovered’. Again, the importance of expertise.
Having said all of the above, arguably the biggest change has been in flying. Not in the experience of flights themselves – sadly much of the romance of flying has been lost to commercialisation and the need to maximise profits at the expense of customer service. Rather, the change has been in the access that flights have given us to even the most remote corners of the globe. Last year, I flew straight into the very north-east of India and was able to spend time with the headhunting Konyak tribe in Nagaland. A trip that years ago would have taken me weeks, time well beyond the threshold of my ever-understanding wife.
Whilst the romantic in me wants to bring back the air mail letter, I would not want to wind back the clock. Now is a golden era in the world of travel. Now, more than ever, is the time to sate your curiosity and travel.