Chanel Cartell and Stevo Dirnberger, founders of travel site and social media brand ‘How Far From Home’ are well into their fourth year of travelling the globe courtesy of Instagram. Having sold their belongings and packed their bags in 2015, they ventured off into the great abyss, ready to explore the world and all it had to offer – with their devices, chargers and adaptors in tow, of course. Their experiences – while taking place in the most remote, isolated corners of the world – are virtually experienced by hundreds of thousands of online viewers almost instantaneously, bridging the distance between countries and cultures with the click of a button.
Chanel and Stevo are but one of many similar couples, gallivanting around the world, helping to make it a smaller place courtesy of the world wide interweb. Flick open Instagram or Facebook and you will no doubt stumble across countless other ‘no name’ wanderers, made famous for their ability to look good on the back of a motorbike or in a bikini on an exotic beach somewhere. Many a young millennial today dreams of becoming a ‘promogirl’ on Instagram; of being paid to stay in stylish resorts while flaunting extravagant labels. Admittedly, the vast majority of these social-media-made-famous travel couples are the real deal: they’ve got the camera skills and gear to back themselves and live off a combination of selling travel writing, producing art inspired their travels, selling photos and are no doubt hired as motivational speakers later in life. But they are also partly responsible for the changing nature of travel; of the growing tendency to see the world not as it truly is but from behind a lens.
Think about it, when was the last time you stood at one of the world’s iconic destinations – heck, when was the last time you ate in a restaurant and did not find yourself surrounded by people snapping pictures of their food or the surrounds as their first priority? The lawns that pave the way to the Eiffel Tower, though once the setting for proposals, walks with parasols and cheese-fuelled picnics, have now more or less become a grand outdoor photo studio. Selfie-sticks, tripods and the latest gear trip up those trying to get a glimpse of the infamous architectural feat. Each person questions why they haven’t ‘nailed’ the shot to quite the same extent of their neighbour.
Have we lost the ability to simply see and appreciate? Or are we afraid that by missing that opportunity to snap a permanent memory, we are also jeopardizing our opportunity to attract a couple of hundred likes on our social media profiles? But in so many other ways even beyond this newfound obsession to see the world through our camera (well, let’s be realistic, our smartphone) lens, technology is truly changing the way we travel.
Only 10 years ago, landing in a foreign country with zero understanding of the best place to stay, cheapest mode of transport, or where to do one’s laundry wouldn’t have been too far fetched at all. Today, even before stepping on the plane, one is able to have booked their accommodation (having traipsed through hundreds of reviews covering everything from the noise levels to thickness of the hotel’s bed linen), ordered a private car for airport pickup and no doubt chosen the restaurant they will eat at that first night – courtesy of TripAdvisors’ users’ suggestions, of course. And remembering when calling cards were a thing? When, upon fare-welling your family at the airport gates you knew you realistically would only be contacting them a handful of times over the coming weeks or months, due to the cost of international calls and the likely lack of internet cafes at your destination?
Nowadays, you kiss your folks goodbye and then text them from inside the airport lounge. Before boarding the flight alone you’ll probably have had another video call with them, and there is absolutely no doubt that upon your arrival at your destination you will have received a bombardment of messages from friends and family who assume that despite the physical distance between you your barrage of daily communications shall not be impacted.
Remember when guidebooks were all you had to guide you through a new and exciting city? Now that was a magical time. When Google maps were not an option and hitting ‘Explore’ to find cafes and restaurants nearby was even less of an option? Or how about when travellers cheques had to be ordered months in advance of a trip – since credit cards weren’t there to fall back on in case of disaster. Admittedly, what tech has done for travel is not a bad thing in every case. There’s nothing worse than being stuck at a desolate border of a dodgy country, unable to get in because you didn’t print proof of your ongoing flight. The internet is wonderful in this respect, allowing you to organise visas, flights and difficult transfers under time pressure. Travelling to America and getting your ESTA, for example, is no longer the burden it first was thanks to a plethora of websites catering to travellers seeking this valuable slip of paper. And with the vast number of apps specifically designed to ease the burden of coordinating various bodies across different continents, it’s no wonder people are opting to take the easy road rather than the “old-school”, somewhat more difficult one.
Indeed, technology is changing everything we do, from how we hire new talent, to how we buy our groceries, to how we find our soulmates. But in the travel department, many a wandering soul would concur that technology’s impact is not bettering our experiences – rather it is taking away from the pure, simple magic of new, life altering experiences.