Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 11, 2014

Travel technology

In our slightly more than a quarter of a century together, husband Art and I have collected a lot of things. I decided recently that it was time to weed some of them out. One candidate involved a bunch of maps, all of which had remained at home during our recent trip to France, yet consume a considerable amount of space on one bookshelf.

As I looked at them, I started thinking about how much technology has altered our travel since we've been married. Those changes have influenced everything from the initial planning stage to the return home.

Our first trip was to the United Kingdom in 1988. Overseas phone calls were expensive and hotels were reluctant to make reservations because many people who called were "no-shows." So we departed with no definite place to stay, relying entirely on the information office in whatever town we stopped in or the bed and breakfast signs along the way to locate lodging. Today, the Internet makes finding appropriate shelter a snap, although the sheer number of choices available can be a bit intimidating.

And if a place looks interesting and the description is in another language, an on-line translation is usually an option.

In days gone by, paper tickets had to be obtained from a travel agent or airline. Today, we leave the house for the airport with little more than a flight confirmation number. Even the boarding passes can be downloaded onto our smartphones as can reservations for our rental car and places to stay. The only things we need to physically carry with us - other than the phone - are our passports.

If during that first trip we had wanted to see a London show, we would have had to write to learn what was playing. After waiting days or weeks for a response, we could make a selection. But that date might be sold out by the time our return letter arrived. We could let the theater select the date and seats, but then we'd have to arrange our other travel plans around the theater's choice. Once more, the Internet now allows us to see what is playing, available dates, and once we've made a selection, to book instantly from the comfort of our home.

Back then, we had to decide ahead of time what to do for money. So we took along a combination of travelers' checks and currency of the countries we intended to visit. The latter involved a significant charge at the local bank, so we would stop several months before the trip at one of the banks in Kansas City where the charge was far less. The travelers' checks provided flexibility, but also involved a service fee at the foreign bank. We also had credit cards, but many places overseas did not accept them for any charge less than $50. Today, we just pull out our debit cards and use them at one of the numerous ATM machines available in almost any country. Within seconds, we have cash in the local currency.

Transportation involved figuring out how to get from one place to another after our arrival, writing months in advance for information or renting a car. We usually opted for the latter as it provided the greatest flexibility. But this choice required that we have maps. So we either had to purchase them ahead of time at one of the few local bookstores that chose to carry them or we had to get directions to a local bookstore once we got off the plane.

This last item was the main reason I began thinking about how times have changed. In recent years, our paper maps have been replaced by a Global Positioning System device that fits in the palm of Art's hand. As a backup, he loaded maps into his GPS-equipped cell phone. I happily relinquished my job as navigator - a responsibility I always dreaded.

We have always relied heavily on public transportation in larger cities. This used to involve purchasing paper tickets for each trip. While this is still an option for the person who rarely uses public transport, most places now offer a "card" that has electronics in it. It can be loaded with whatever amount a person desires and using it involves touching it to a reader at the starting station and another at the ending station.

We no longer carry brochures about local sights. Instead, we connect to the Internet and put in the name of the local place and some other search item such as "tourism." Not only do we get a list of anything and everything the locals think is interesting, but we obtain detailed descriptions that provide open times, entrance fees and how to get there. Reviews by other travelers are available, not just for sights and restaurants, but places to stay as well.

Even our dictionaries remained closed this past trip. The language translation program on Art's smartphone not only converted words from English to French and back, but did it for whole sentences as well. If requested, it would even speak what we had entered.

This year, Art and I traveled earlier than our daughters and two of Art�s cousin�s children. The airport was 45 minutes away and several delays occurred in their flights. The Internet allowed us to both communicate with them and monitor the progress of their flights. Despite three of them arriving almost 12 hours after the scheduled time, Art didn�t leave for the airport until an hour before the actual touchdown.

On our return flight to the United States, our airplane was on its maiden voyage. Instead of the one movie everyone had to watch on our first flight overseas together, each of us had an individual display that offered many choices that we could start and stop whenever we desired. In the drama grouping, there were over 100 movies to select from.

I have always said that I don't need to buy tourist trinkets because the photos I take on our trips are my souvenirs. But even photography has changed since we first began traveling. Whereas I used to buy 10 to 12 rolls of film, now I just load an empty SD card into my digital camera and shoot away with no need to worry about whether I have enough film or changing rolls. And if the picture is not to my liking, I just delete it and take another.

Rather than scribbling notes to myself on what we had done, I used my netbook to write a daily journal. On a rainy day or before going to sleep, I read books on the Kindle our daughters bought for me for Mother's Day.

We used to send dozens of postcards to family and friends. Not any more! Instead, we just sent mass emails. Our more tech-savvy daughters posted images to Facebook or other social media sites for friends and family who might be interested in their travel adventures.

Still, part of me clings to the old ways and so I haven't thrown those maps out yet. Daughter Mariya said maybe we should frame them as mementos of past trips.

And I did buy postcards at a few places and send them off. When I was growing up, a postcard with a stamp from a place far away seemed "exotic" - a feeling no e-mail has ever created in me.

Doing so this trip also gave me cause to smile. When I walked into the office after our return, our secretary was holding my postcard in her hand. It had arrived that very day and she had just finished reading it and so was somewhat startled to then see me standing there.

"And here's Gloria right now!" she said as she threw her arms around me and smiled.

So I guess the "old-fashioned" way still has some things going for it!

Left: Katie keeping in touch with boyfriend Matt on her smartphone while miles apart in Europe; middle: In Metz, Art's cousin's son Ryan fills in his journal the old-fashioned way while modern technology provides music; right: Katie and Mariya make their lunch selections on the touch-screen panel - and also "mug" for the camera - at the McDonald's restaurant in Le Havre.

Comments? [email protected].
Earlier columns from 2014 may be found at: 2014 Index.
Links to previous years are on the home page: Home