Can the myriad travel apps available at our fingertips always compensate for what we might lose? Amber answers, “No,” and gives us all something to think about
I stand at a pay phone and drop in a couple coins. I’m calling a hostel on the recommendation of a fellow traveler. I dial the number scribbled on a scrap of paper and make my reservation. I heave on my backpack and head to the train station. Because I didn’t check the timetables, I have to wait an hour for the train. When I arrive at my destination, I hunt for a map with a big red dot that will tell me: “You are here.” I want to plot my way to the hostel, but the scrap of paper has sunk to the bottom of my bag and gotten lost amidst other bits and scraps. Anyway, the street I need isn’t on the map. I ask for directions. I get lost in the foreign streets. I ask for more directions until I arrive, exhausted.
The above scene — me, nearly ten years ago — has already become archaic. Pay phones? Scraps of paper? Maps with big red dots? Almost every minor detail of traveling has been replaced by electronic devices that boast a super-human efficiency in basically everything. A hostel reservation is made in a flash after consulting reviews ahead of time; timetables are online or have their own apps; as for maps, there are so many electronic options. The paragraph becomes: I take the train, walk to the hostel, check in, then start to explore the city.
The thousands of travel apps available can lend a hand to travelers in a myriad situations. They include but aren’t limited to: packing lists, maps, travel itineraries, updated flight information, airport maps, postcard creation and delivery, city guides, historical tours, language help, hotel recommendations and the answer to the burning question, “Where should we eat?”
Many of these apps save time and worry, organizing the details of a trip that are often chaotic. As a friend and frequent business traveler was telling me recently, there’s an app that informs him about delays of connecting flights before they are announced over the airport loudspeaker. Apps save the weary traveler valuable time that is better spent enjoying a well-deserved vacation or, as in the case of my friend, they attempt to diminish the hassles of travel.
As for me, I am an app bystander. I am amazed at their variety but continue to clutch at a stubborn nostalgia for scraps of paper. I will use the computer as much as I need to prepare for a trip — making reservations, researching some sights that interest me — but once I’m there it’s only for emails, Skype, blog posts (if the trip is long), and maps. Traveling allows me the indulgence of disconnection, which is something I never take for granted. And here I mean more than the disconnection from electronics, but that wonderful experience of being thrown into a place that forces me to test the limits of myself; to disconnect from the ordinary and step, hands free, into the extraordinary. ( I should post-script this paragraph with the fact that I don’t have a cell phone. I know, pretty strange.)
My bystander penchant encourages me to often wonder if the advantage of apps compensates for what we lose. (Isn’t that always the question with technology?) An aimless search for a hostel that lasts hours is not a pleasant way to spend time, but it is an interesting way to begin a relationship with a new city. It’s a toss up.
One thing I greatly admire about travel apps is their element of choice.
What do you think?
* Top photo property of The Travel Belles ©
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