As I sit here pigging out on leftover stuffing and mashed potatoes, I reflect on how much I have to be grateful for. I was glad to be home for Thanksgiving this year- it’s one of those holidays that you enjoy more if you have your own kitchen. Of course I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to travel. And also I’m grateful for how frigging easy travel is these days. Though I don’t really consider myself ancient enough to be one of those old farts who says, “Back in my day, we had to walk four hours up hill in the snow both ways…,” the speed at which the ease of traveling has progressed causes me to think that you young ones might not realize just how easy you have it.
Therefore, please consider the following five reasons to be grateful your traveling now:
1) The Internet – Yes folks, there was a time, not so very long ago, when oodles of free information was not at your fingertips. Want to book a flight? Call a travel agent. Need to know what hotels cost in that quaint little city? Look it up in a book and rest assured that the information you have is out of date. (And yes, hard as it is to imagine, there was even a time before guidebooks…)
2) The beautiful, blessed, and benevolent cash machine. Back in the day, one had to carry these strange little notes called Traveler’s Checks. You had to arrange to get them (sometimes for a fee) in advance. Then you had to sign them all. Then carry them with you. Then sign them again and pay a commission to get actual cash. No handy little plastic card. (And no handy little plastic card that also awarded you free air miles just for spending money).
3) Communicating with folks back home used to be a complete pain in the ass (and pain in the wallet). When I went to Europe at the ripe old age of 21, I carried a small notebook with the ATT USA direct phone numbers for each country carefully copied on the back cover. Even with those life-saving numbers, calling could still be a challenge. You had to find a phone, have the right coins (no Euros- different money for every country) and figure out just exactly which digits to dial. But if you got lucky, you’d find yourself chatting with an English speaking operator who would connect your call and reverse the charges. And what charges they were! Bopping along on my Eurorail pass, I called my parents faithfully every three days. When I was staying with a friend in Rome and didn’t call for a week, my mother freaked out and scolded me. Then I went to Israel and called to tell my parents that I’d taken a job and would be there for a couple of months. But I promised that I’d call every few days. There was silence at the other end of the line. Then my father suggested that I call only when I was about start traveling again. Apparently they’d gotten the bill.
4) Gear absolutely sucked. I remember my family’s first tent. It was made of heavy (I’m talking weight more than durability) green canvas and you needed an engineering degree to assemble it. And you would be amazed how long it took before it occurred to anyone to put wheels on a suitcase. No quick-dry fabric. Cameras used film, which limited the number of shots you could take and would get screwed up in the airport x-ray machine. The traveler’s multi-use gadget was a Swiss Army Knife, which is still a great thing to have (you can’t open a bottle of wine with a smartphone). But even that could not take the place of the multitude of devices covered by today’s mobile miracles. Just having music to listen to required carrying a apparatus several times larger than the most oversized MP3 players. And that was just the device to play the music. You also had to carry the music itself, which was recorded on cassette tapes which were easily and often chewed up. Just thinking of those days makes me appreciate my iThing so much I could write a poem to it:
Ipod Touch, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee for thy depth, breadth and height so slight
My fingers can reach your processing might
For the multitude of other Travel Devices you replace.
I love thee for thy email, thy Google Maps, and thy translator,
I love thee for thy notes, thy contact list and thy currency calculator,
I love thee for thy clock which tracks time in zones far and near,
For thy Skype which makes free calls, perfectly clear
I love thy calendar, thy flashlight, thy weather app
I love thee for letting me have all this and carry less crap
For music, audio-books, language lessons and
If my upgrade goes right,
I shall soon love thy video-recording camera iSight
5) All that being said, I think the modern miracle which has done the most to make travel accessible is actually over a 100 years old now – the air plane. Even if you hate every minute of it, you must admit, without them, you wouldn’t have traveled so far.