Early March finds us in the picturesque city of San Cristobal De Las Casas, Mexico. Many of you may recall that we had planned to go to El Salvador and Nicaragua after Guatemala for about a month and then back up to Guatemala so that I could take a Permaculture Design Course on Lake Atitlan, and then on to Mexico for a month or so before heading to Europe this summer. Well, that was the plan, but our reality is shaping up differently, and that is what I truly love about this style of travel…nothing is set in stone until you actually do it (kinda).
For certain, we’d like to make it to El Salvador, Nicaragua and other parts of Latin America someday, but that will have to wait for another time as Mexico is calling us at the moment. We did visit the farm where the PDC takes place on Lake Atitlan, and it was a cool set-up with groovy people, but I felt it in my heart that it wasn’t the right step for me at this point in time.
A big part of our decision to head north rather than south was rooted in the many acquaintances we made with folks who had just been through Mexico and were raving about the many sweet spots in this country. Indeed word-of-mouth is a crucial reference source when traveling with an open ended schedule, as it gives us up-to-date insight that guidebooks can’t touch. Incidentally, we’re not using any guidebooks at this point in our travels, as the internet provides us with all of the info we need that direct contact with other travelers doesn’t cover.
To be sure, modern technology has been a major game changer in the scope of travel. The first time I did a long travel was in ’94 with my sister Ashley for 3 months in Europe. The Internet was barely even a concept at that point and most people, even in the first world were not yet connected, so we were making calls on pay phones, sending postcards by snail-mail, taking photos with film and definitely leaning hard on our guidebooks. In ’97 I did a 5 month travel by myself in Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. At that point most of the the developed world was clued in to the internet but it was entirely dial-up and in the developing nations of Asia, widespread internet cafes were still a few years away, so I was still reliant on post offices, pay phones and guidebooks. In 2000, Haruka and I traveled for 4 months in Malaysia, India and Nepal, and then 4 months in North America. At that point, technology was accelerating quickly and internet cafes were everywhere in Asia but they were still dial-up, so maximum patience was required but already post offices and pay phones were becoming obsolete for travelers. Small laptops and smartphones were still several years away, but when you don’t know what you’re missing, you’re happy with whatever resources are available in that day and age.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the world of travel is a completely different animal. We’re traveling with 2 tablets and a smartphone, and nearly every establishment that caters to travelers has a fairly decent internet connection. Seventeen years ago, nobody was blogging, facebook didn’t exist and online banking? No way. We were carrying around thousands of dollars of travellers checks and going through the clunky process of changing them in sketchy banks every few weeks. It was sometimes possible to make hotel reservations by phone, but mostly we would just show up in a town and feel things out until we could find accommodations to our liking.
Now every guesthouse and hotel has online booking and not only that…now there’s Airbnb, workaway, couch-surfing, woofing and probably a bunch of services I’m not yet aware of to achieve whatever sort of accommodation you’d like all over the world. While one certainly can’t argue the usefulness that modern technology gives today’s travelers, I can’t help but to feel that something precious has been lost. Haruka and I got into a light-hearted argument the other night when I realized that she had effectively booked every single day for the next 2 months in Airbnbs and Workaways. Don’t get me wrong…I super appreciate our newfound ability to book all the best places at the best prices, but it has effectively rendered the art of spontaneous traveling obsolete. And by the way, how do we know we’re getting the best places at the best prices? Because everybody reviews everything these days, and in most cases, if you want information about something, you can get it with that thing in your pocket.
Of course, it’s not lost on me that we could simply choose not to use our devices to make everything easier and just go back to old school traveling. However, Haruka is quick to point out that since everybody else has embraced modern technology, we would be at a major disadvantage by just showing up in a town and walking around looking for a place to stay, and we’d likely miss out on many great opportunities. And while I conceded that she is probably right, I struck a deal that in between bookings we leave 1 or 2 days open for spontaneous decision making, and certainly our day to day activities are still left up to improvisation. We’ll let you know how it goes…
Out of curiosity, how do you like to travel? With everything booked in advance using modern technology, or just winging it?