Top 10 endangered travel traditions

Penny Walker takes a look at the travel traditions to be put on the endangered list as technology takes over

Penny Walker
29 December 2012

It used to be that when you fled the country for some much-needed time out, you could completely and blissfully dislocate yourself from reality. Not any more. Now you have to contact people. Because they know that you can. Facebook, Skype, work emails, phone calls and SMS follow you around in the form of your smart phone. People just don’t care that you’re in Timbuktu. They want their question answered, and usually, they want it done now.

Our reliance on technology is increasing. Some travellers are reduced to a panic-stricken state of frenzy when their most beloved gadget ceases to function. While their environmental benefits are undeniable, you can’t help but feel that we are losing the authenticity of travel, and with it, some of our most time-honoured traditions.

1. Maps

Mapping technology is reminiscent of an episode of Friends: the one where Joey steps into the map. For those of you who haven’t seen it, he places the map on the floor and stands on it in an attempt to work out where he is…

The GPS system on your phone can pinpoint your exact location, even when you can’t, and quite literally put you on the map. Gone are the days of standing obliviously in the street, turning a ragged bit of beer-stained paper around and around in your hands as you try to get your bearings.

Some people no longer appreciate how amazing getting lost can be. They panic, switch on their maps app and run-up a massive data bill. Take a breath and enjoy what you can discover while you’re trying to find yourself.

2. Postcards

There’s an app for that now too. Simply take a picture on your smart phone and send a digital postcard. Gone are the days of travel-style Pooh-sticks where you send a postcard home and see if you can beat it; knowing that you will inevitably win the race only to be berated by family and friends for not having sent them a card.

A card that will inexorably appear in their post a week later embossed with franking stamps from around the world, representing so much more than a quick digital snap sent via SMS ever could.

3. Hitchhiking

Technology can’t be blamed for this one. Hitchhiking poses a potential danger for the uninformed. More roads are accessible and with cheaper bus and train fares and more budget flights, it is much easier to get around using public transport than it used to be.

Recent horror film releases have also put a dent in the tradition of hitchhiking. Wolf Creek, based on the true story of backpackers stranded in the Australian outback, succeeded in sending shivers down the spines of travellers across the world.

Most would now rather run the risk of death by exposure than put themselves at the mercy of a potentially psychotic stranger who could hack them up into little pieces in a remote part of the world.

4. Guidebooks

Although the advantage of the tablet is that you can fit several guidebooks on to one device, there’s something odd about pulling out your padded tablet, rather than rifling around in the bottom of your backpack for the battered book that you have been relying on to get you around.

Each, of course, has drawbacks. A physical guidebook will add weight to your pack and you can’t update it with a good wi-fi connection. But you can’t doodle all over a tablet in disgust or delight either, and if you accidentally leave the charger in a hostel room in the middle of Siberia, it could prove to be completely redundant for the rest of your trip.

5. Scrapbooks

Most tickets are now digital. If you want a copy, you have to run it off the printer. It’s just not the same as having that scrap of card in a language that you can’t read to remind you of the places that you’ve been and the great things that you did there.

A lot of people also now keep a digital travel diary, rather than hand-writing one, meaning that they miss out on all of the joyfully obscene comments and bizarre doodles that other travellers graffiti all over their treasured memories.

6. Music and book swapping

Before the time of the tablet, the MP3 and the iPod, travellers used to carry around books, CDs and cassette tapes. This led to inevitable boredom and the rereading of books – even if you didn’t really like it the first time round.

The most simple solution was to either buy more on the black market in places like Bali or along the Khao San Road in Bangkok, or to swap with your fellow traveller.

Now if you get bored, you turn on the wi-fi and simply download a new book or album. It’s not quite the same, is it?

7. Photographs

Printed photographs are a thing of the past. Gone is the anticipation of taking your film in to be developed and the anxious wait to see if you got some cracking shots, or just a bunch of photos of other people’s feet.

You can now edit your journey as you go along, so that the pictures you are left with are all almost cringingly perfect. Do try to resist the temptation to delete those embarrassing shots though – they may turn out to be some of your most treasured memories.

8. Internet cafés

Even the things that you would associate with a more modern form of travel are disappearing, with reports in the US suggesting a decline in the number of internet cafés.

Free wi-fi is now available in restaurants, stores and hostels. In Singapore, the whole island is covered. You no longer need to hunt down the nearest internet café to communicate with loved ones, you just turn on the wi-fi.

9. Thorntree café

Before the days of mobile phones and internet access, the Thorntree café was a legendary travel institution where travellers posted messages on the tree for which the café was named. They stopped here on their way through Nairobi while exploring Africa to communicate with the friends that they had made on the road.

While the original tree no longer stands, a third generation tree can still be found in the Sarova Stanley, the site of the original Throntree café. However, the food has become overpriced and the messages are now those of praise for the Stanley, rather than abstract messages or fond farewells from traveller to traveller.

10. Poste Restante

Poste Restante is a way of collecting your mail while on the road. If you have no permanent or fixed address, you can ask your friends and family to send it to the local post office marked ‘Poste Restante’ for you to collect on your way through. You can also leave messages for fellow travellers if you know they will be passing by.

With an abundance of cheap and widely available methods of contacting home, heading down to the local post office to see if you have any mail is growing to be a thing of the past.

Do you revel in the ways that technology is revolutionising travel, or do you still love clinging to these time-honoured traditions and shun your mobile phone while away? Let us know what you think below.

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