Travelling in the 90s – A bit of background

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!)?


16 thoughts on “Travelling in the 90s – A bit of background

  1. The ’90s WEREN’T all that long ago, Ellen, and you make a great point about how much has changed since then. Over the weekend, my fifteen year old went to an outdoor music festival downtown, and we must have exchanged 30 text messages over the course of the day. I cannot imagine sending her across the globe with a paper notebook and the occasional pay phone. Of course, traveling by the seat of your pants like that teaches you so much, and I have to wonder how kids growing up these days will learn those same skills.


    1. I wonder too. I think back to those days and consider how daunting it must have been as a parent — even though we were in our twenties, not 15. I was much slacker than my companion at phoning home too. Must get my mum to provide some feedback on this!


  2. Your trip sounds like it was so much fun and adventurous! Your exhibits are real treasures πŸ™‚

    I do think we have lost something with the technology. I remember when I first started driving, getting lost on back roads and finding my way, then I knew a back way for next time. It’s a bit of fear mixed with wonder and adrenaline, finding your way. With gps and whatnot, we’ve lost some of that adventure.

    I went on a trip to New Orleans one year ~ it was supposed to last a week, but I wasn’t used to the humidity and the lack of deodorant used in the area drove me out. When we left the city, we just headed straight east because we would eventually hit the ocean. Long story short, we stopped in places we wouldn’t have otherwise visited and it was the best trip I have ever been on. Had we a GPS, we may have just headed home and missed all of the fun!


    1. “It’s a bit of fear mixed with wonder and adrenaline, finding your way.” ~ I couldn’t have said it better myself!

      I had an experience four years ago near Bonn in Germany, when my mother and I (visiting my sister, who was then living there) embarked upon an exploratory walking tour among the villages along the Rhine. We discovered a flyer about a ruined Abbey, and nothing would do for us, other than to find it. We asked locals, took local footpaths, wondered where the hell we were… until we emerged at the Abbey triumphant! (And much enjoyed the cake and coffee we found there!)

      That is one of my most memorable recent travelling experiences. With GPS and Google maps on a smart phone, it wouldn’t have been nearly so much fun.


  3. Technology can be pretty cool while traveling. Every time I went to Norway, I tweeted with pics and stuff so my family and friends always knew I was okay. Although, sometimes I’d take a picture from the top of a mountain or something, and I’d get a message that would be like, “What are you doing? You’re too close to the edge!”

    But I think Twitter made people feel better about me going to another country by myself. It was also cool because it gave me a little travel record, but I just checked that account and none of the links to my pictures work anymore 😦


    1. Absolutely! These days we take it for granted we can Tweet and post to Facebook. Ever since I got a smart phone that is one of my favourite functions — quick photo and share. (Owing to high roaming costs in Australia, though, we all have to switch our mobile data off when we travel, or else incur mega-bills. Hence my emphasis on WiFi.)

      Back in 1993, we were taking photos on rolls of film… we got a whole bunch of them processed in London to make sure they were working.

      And I completely agree about having a travel record — that’s why I have focused on blogging in recent years, which provides a more permanent and contained record. (And why I diligently kept my inaugural travel diary — still in existence 20 years later!)

      Do you think, though, you wouldn’t have gone to Norway by yourself, had Twitter (or Facebook) not existed? Somehow I doubt it. I’m sure you’re more than capable. πŸ˜›

      I think it’s our expectations that have changed so much as the result of technology. What was once completely normal (disconnectedness) is now an alien concept.

      Having said that, I have vivid memories of being at Mount St Helen (in Washington state?) a few years later with a couple of random people I met backpacking. No-one in the world knew where I was on that day. Had the mountain exploded, my family and friends would never have known what became of me. I found that a very soboring thought…


      1. Oh, yeah…film. I remember that stuff πŸ™‚

        I’m certain I still would’ve gone to Norway if there were no such thing as Twitter–I wasn’t on Facebook at the time. Once the idea popped into my head that I was going to go, nothing was going to stop me from doing it.

        Traveling with a smartphone was really nice, though. I could easily let everyone know where I was and how I was doing, and they could see pictures of the things I saw. I also used TripIt to keep track of my itinerary on my phone with maps showing me how to get between the different hotels I stayed at and the places I needed to catch transportation to the next stop. That was really handy all by itself.

        Yeah, it’s probably not a bad idea if people to let people close to you know where you and and what you’re doing when you’re traveling. How was Mount St. Helen? I hear Washington state is beautiful.


        1. TripIt, huh? Sounds like something to check out. You see, now I’m completely converted to smartphone convenience. πŸ™‚

          Mount St Helen was beautiful, and humbling. Maybe I should go hunt through my travel journal for that trip and see what I wrote about it… Heh.


          1. Yep. The TripIt smartphone app is a companion to their website. You create an account and then you can set up itineraries for different trips and even share them with people, if you’re so inclined. You can also set up an email address so that you can forward airline and hotel confirmations, which will then get plugged into your itinerary so you don’t have to do it all manually.



  4. I’m so glad you provided some backstory to your previous post. As I mentioned before, I didn’t get to do much traveling abroad prior to the age of cell phones and social media. I will say I did like having my smart phone when I took my oldest to Morocco because it enabled us to switch our plans around as needed and gave me a little bit of comfort knowing I could make a phone call at anytime as needed. The exorbitant data charges, though, did keep me from using it very much other than to call home and send a few emails.

    The downside of technology is that it can keep you from being present in the moment and experience everything fully. Sometimes I’ll forgo taking a photo in a new place just so I don’t take myself out of being grounded in the moment. Inevitably I’ll snap a photo, not like how it turned out, take 8 more from different angles, chide myself for not learning more about photography and lighting, take 6 more photos, and then ultimately not like any of them enough to post to facebook or twitter. And poof! I forgot to enjoy the moment and now it’s gone.

    P.S. I love your travel journals. They’re so thorough and full of interesting bits of your travels. I tend not to do a very good job of journaling when I travel. I want to improve on that, especially now that I have a blog. πŸ™‚


    1. It would have been a whole lot more logical to start with this post, but, oh well! I think it helps put it all in context.

      I know exactly what you mean about being pulled out of the moment by technology. It’s like when you see something amazing, yet fleeting, and there’s this inner debate as to whether you just watch and enjoy, or whether you pull your phone/camera out to record it. It can all end in tears.

      Thanks for your comment re my travel journals. Since I haven’t (yet) posted much travel stuff on this blog, are you referring to those on the other blog? I think some of those posts from France and Spain a few years ago came out well — tends to happen when there’s such inspirational topics to write about. πŸ™‚

      It’s funny what you say about not journalling much when you travel. I noticed my urge to document everything diminished after the first big trip… to the point I didn’t journal at all on trips to Scotland and Nepal in the 2000s. And I wasn’t blogging yet. I tried to blog during my China trip, but blogger was blocked in China, so I wrote a few posts when I got home, but the magic had faded. I think it’s important to write travel journals when you’re in the moment, not afterwards… at least for me it is.

      For my France/Spain trip in 2010 I was blogging like a madwoman, dedicated and inspired. Not in as much detail as the handwritten journals, but most days, just the same. Thus my own journalling preference underwent a transition with the shift in technology. Fascinating.


  5. I was too poor to travel much as a fresh-out-of-college twenty-something (and then the kids came along…), but family vacations were so different back when I was kid (in the 90s). There were no GPSs, no cell phones with Google maps, no Internet. My father figured out our route by using a paper map. You had to call to do anything–reserve a hotel room, book a flight. Now we do everything over the Internet.

    It’s really changed.


    1. It sure has – I remember trying to make a call in Italy to reserve a room, only to be confronted with someone who didn’t speak any English… would have loved an Internet option then ~ heh.


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