As often happens, the morning after publishing the first post in the Travelling in the 90s series (and thanks for the positive feedback, everyone) I thought of a heap more things I should have said by way of introduction.
It’s been on my mind all day, so at the risk of overdoing it for week 1, I thought I’d take several steps back and provide a little more background.
The trip in question took place between end-November 1993 and February 1994 (which is the long summer break in Australia). My friend and I spent pretty much the whole year planning it during our final year as engineering undergraduates, and it was quite the most exciting thing I’d ever done in my life.
My travel journal was a cheap spiral-bound notebook (Exhibit A), to which I had taped a print-out of Hamlet’s soliloquy from Act Two-Scene Two: I have of late, wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth… This was for me to recite in all the Greek and Roman theatres, you understand. (This speech being a favourite of mine following Richard E Grant’s memorable rendition in the film, Withnail and I.)
Inside this soon-to-be-battered travel journal I taped every ticket, pamphlet etc I picked up along the way. One of the covers ripped off in time and I stitched it on again with my emergency needle and thread — which, of course, all good backpackers carry ~ heh.
In short, this travel journal was probably my single most treasured possession during my travels. Every spare moment (waiting for trains/buses… idyllic lunch stops… evenings in youth hostels…) was spent writing in it by hand (Exhibit B).
This is such a stark contrast to my most recent big trip in 2010-2011, when I travelled with a small computer and spent just about evening blogging in bed with free WiFi, including digital photos snatched from my SD card (I didn’t even have a smart phone then).
When I recently came across a printed-out version of that first travel journal — which had been written with an audience in mind (admittedly parents and grandparents) — I started reading through it and was instantly struck by how different it was back then.
Journalling aside, this was a time when we were pretty much completely cut off from friends and family on the other side of the world.
We did not have mobile phones. There were no text messages to our families to advise of our safe arrival. There were no facebook or other social media to help us keep track of what was going on at home — nor any means of us instantly letting everyone know what a fabulous time we were having.
Instead, we wrote postcards, copious numbers of them. I remember having a long list of people I needed to send a postcard to — and pages of handwritten addresses. This was the only way our friends and relatives heard about our adventures. Occasionally — very occasionally — we would find a public telephone and call our parents.
If our families needed to get information to us… they couldn’t. At least not in the early stages.
Embarking on an adventure like this was huge. We were completely on our own, fending for ourselves in the big wide world. And boy was it thrilling.
Figuring out where to go and how to get around was different back then too. Our Lonely Planet guide book was our bible. We also came to rely upon scouts at train stations for basic accommodation.
These days, it’s a matter of jumping on a web site and booking ahead online.
These days, you have the option of GPS and Google Maps to help identify where you might happen to be, or where you need to go — so long as you can find free WiFi.
On that first day in Athens, we procured a tourist map (Exhibit C) as mentioned in yesterday’s post. That map — and others like it for different cities — showed us our path. (If you look closely at the photo of the Athens map you can see the pink line, drawn on by me, marking our walking route around that wonderful old city.)
At least that’s one thing that hasn’t changed. I still like procuring tourist maps in new cities and taking myself on a self-guided walking tour. Until mobile data is cheaper for roaming, I guess a paper map is the only practical option.
So that’s what has prompted me to revisit my old travel journal and share the thrilling adventures from 20 years ago. I find the contrast in perspectives — born of many factors — fascinating. And the 1990s really don’t seem all that long ago!
Can you remember a time when travelling was a complete escape? Do you think we’ve lost something important in this modern era of connectedness? Should we travel and leave our smart phones and computers at home (eek!)?