The world is the same size it ever was. And yet it doesn't feel that way at all.
In many ways it feels like no matter where you are on the planet, everyone you know lives around the corner and you can go and chat with them anytime you please.
The travel experience has changed. And will change further. The culprit? Technology. The experience of backpacking through Europe today is simply a different experience than it was in 1980.
If there isn't a photo, did it even happen?
There are a number of reasons why travel has become more and more mainstream over the last few years. It could be attributed to cheaper air fares, the abundance of information or the increased ease of travelling.
But one reason stands above all others as the main catalyst for this influx of travellers:
Stand at any world famous tourist destination in 2018 and prepare to be swarmed with tourists from all over the world holding their selfie sticks up high taking photo after photo. Prepare to hear the buzzing of drones taking photos from above.
Whether it's the Likeworthy selfie in front of the Egyptian pyramids to prove how worldIy you've become or the perfect Instagram shot posing on the edge of the cliff to show everybody how adventurous you are.
It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that at least half of these tourists wouldn't show up at these places if they couldn't use them to collect social currency on their social media pages.
Oftentimes, the tourists are more fascinating than the monument itself.
A sea of hundreds of people at the worlds most amazing locations seemingly hypnotised by the small electronic rectangle in their hands.
Marshall Mcluhan once said that all technology is an extension of man.
The wheel is an extension of the legs. The telephone an extention of the voice.
Well the photograph is an extension of the human memory.
YOU ARE EFFECTIVELY OUTSOURCING THE TASK OF REMEMBERING THE SCENE TO YOUR CAMERA.
And so when you think back to the occasion, you might find yourself remembering the photograph rather than the experience you had through your own eyes.
The vivid, visceral memory of the all the emotions you felt in seeing the Niagra Falls for the first time is replaced instead by the photograph you took on your smartphone.
CONSTANT CONTACT WITH EVERYONE YOU KNOW
Facebook messenger, Whatsapp, Skype, Facetime. Everyone you know is within reach at all times.
It's easy to forget how much of an INSANE technology this is.
If you were to hop into a time machine and show a medival warrior from the 1500s a simple Skype call, they would think it was some kind of witchcraft or divine power.
Jump back to 1980, a traveller had the choice between an insanely expensive phone call or communicating via letters.
Sure having an ever present line of communication with home is USEFUL.
But, do you feel it?
Do you feel the mystery and the magic of travelling abroad fading away with every Skype call back home?
Isn't there just something so much more adventurous about only being able to receive a handwritten letter from home? Like Christopher Columbus receiving a loving letter from his wife once a month.
You finally go home after a year and you see your friend their at the airport and there are more or less no suprises.
Wow it's been so long! No wait we Facetimed last night before my flight...
IT ALMOST FEELS LIKE YOU'RE CHEATING
Like you're not REALLY travelling.
Like you're never truly leaving the nest. And you're never really ALONE in another country.
You don't get to imagine how things have changed back home. Because you saw them last night.
NEVER GET LOST - GOOGLE MAPS
Roadsigns are in a different language? Can't remember how to find your hotel? No worries.
Gmaps has got you covered.
Forget getting lost in an unknown city at night and accidentally discovering the most amazing hidden bar. Forget overcoming the challenge of making your way to your hotel using just your common sense and your wit.
JUST HAND THE CHALLENGE OVER TO THE APP.
You barely need to even look up from your phone. Just keep your eyes on the blue dot and you will end up in the right place. See exactly how long it will take to arrive. See alternative roots to your destination. Or, if you like, just put your headphones in and let Siri tell you whether to turn left or right.
Maps are an extension of the section of the brain responsible for positional awareness. And so when you outsource your navigational duties to Google Maps, this part of the brain becomes inactive.
In other words, you lose part of the experience of travelling to a new place.
It is thought that the humans that lived before the world was mapped out had a sensory experience like we could never imagine. An atunement to the placement of the sun and the stars that was necessary to keep direction. A need to be one with the enviroment in order to navigate.
Google Maps is the furthest step away from this kind of experience you can possibly get.
NO SURPRISES - TRIPADVISOR
No longer do you need to take a long journey to a waterfall, monument or ancient temple only for it to be disappointing. In fact, you will know EXACTLY what to expect IN DETAIL.
Who needs to ask the locals about the area they live in when you can just ask the internet.
Reviews that are often complete with photographs, so you can see what it looks like before you even arrive.
Wow, what an amazing temple. It looks just like the photos I saw BEFORE I came here.
No, sitting at home seeing the temple in pixelated form can't quite compare to seeing the real thing.
But the potential to be shocked in awe at arriving at the site is massively diminished. It simply isn't the same as heading to somewhere not knowing what to expect and then finding it was far better/worse than you could have imagined.
THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL TECHNOLOGY
Travel technology, like all technology, is going only in one direction. Forward. And fast.
It will become only more pervasive and invasive to the travel experience.
As the price of drones continue to drop, expect to see more and more of them at tourist sites.
Many airlines are just beginning to adopt VR headsets for the passengers on their flights. You can be sure that within no time at all, planes will be filled with people with VR headsets on their faces.
On the VR headsets you can expect to find advertisements for various bars, cafes and hotels at your destination using the immersive experience of VR to try to convince you to travel to their business.
The idea of Pre-Travel, "seeing it before you see it", will only increase. You won't just be seeing images of locations on Google images, you will be able to put on a VR headset and walk around Amazon Rainforest in 3D view without ever leaving your house.
Self-driving cars and self-driving tour buses will make travelling around cities to the next tourist site easier than ever before. Getting from the airport to the hostel will be done without an issue.
As the technology of "Smart Glasses" begins to emerge, you will be able to see directions to your hostel right in front of your eyes. You will be able to look up and down a row of hotels and see the prices for each of them displayed in front of you. You will be able to see information about historical sites displayed before you.
Adding to that, you will be able to use your voice to ask your device any questions about anywhere you go.
Yup. The future is going to be BATSHIT CRAZY.
As technology progresses, one fact about human beings is becoming more and more clear:
CONVENIENCE DOESN'T MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY
You can order almost anything you want on Amazon while lying in bed and have it delivered to your doorstep the next day. Music, films and TV are easier to consume than ever before in history. You can order food on UberEats and have it delivered to your door within 30 minutes.
And yet rates of anxiety, stress and depression are at an all time high in the western world.
It's not convenience that makes people happy. It's successfully overcoming challenges that does it.
Travel technology will never improve the experience of travel. It will only make it more convenient. In many cases, it will dampen the experience, leaving travellers with an underlying sense of emptiness as they hand over many of the travel related challenges over to technology.
And here's the thing.
TECHNOLOGY IS INCREDIBLY PERVASIVE
You can say that it is not the technology that's the problem.That it's us. And how we choose to use it.
But to say this would be underestimating the force of technology.
Sure, you could leave your smartphone at home. You could vow never to use Google Maps or not to have any communication with friends or family other than the written letter.
THE QUESTION IS: WOULD YOU?
99% of the time, the answer is no.
And that's because technology is powerful. Especially when it has successfully integrated itself into society and our social lives.
When technology makes things more convenient, it will be used. There is no going backwards.
Even if you do have the will power to drop all the conveniences of travel technology, you can be sure that everyone around you will be using it.
Will technology completely ruin travel? No.
Even if, one day, VR headsets allow you to see a full immersive digitised version of the country of Egypt, it can still never match up seeing the country with your own senses.
And although technology can make travelling far too easy at times, it will always pose a challenge.
But will technology continue to dampen the experience of travel? Yes. Or at the very least, change it.
Because already, travel is a different experience than it was 20 years ago.