Big mistake we all make travelling
I WAS 21 and a year into a five-year constantly extending trip to London when the twin towers came down.
It was a grey afternoon in London when the news reached our small office, where I worked as a content editor, that some planes had gone into the World Trade Center in New York City.
My bestie and I were hungry for news, but didn't have a TV, so we agreed to meet up with my then boyfriend at a pub on Tottenham Court Road and watch what was happening to our world there.
We three got to the pub, to find the TV was playing the soccer. All our options were exhausted, so boyfriend and I went to Tower Records and listened to CDs until it closed.
I called my Dad from a red phone box with a phone card to tell him he'd been a good dad, in case the world ended.
How much would that entire scenario never, ever happen now? We hold all the information we need in the palm of our hand. We could go through days, weeks, maybe even years without ever having to ask someone a question in real life.
Which makes travelling a fundamentally different experience. Shall we wander now, way back, to a time when travelling meant complete freedom? When you had to plan, rely on your social skills and actually budget cold hard cash?
Here are some of ye olde things the ye olde traveller couldn't do without.
Buying your Lonely Planet guide book was usually the first step you'd make when planning your overseas trip. Once you had it, you could plan your itinerary, your flights and start to dream. These blue tomes would tell you where to eat, who to visit and where to stay, written by the most experienced travellers.
Of course, the Lonely Planet tick of approval was a bit like getting a tweet from Oprah, so you'd always want to get the most current version of the book before everyone else were made aware of their recommendations.
You needed to carry an actual camera with you and a bunch of film. Otherwise, how else would you remember the friends you met or the places you saw? Films usually had about 24-36 snaps, so you'd have one shot and you wouldn't know how it turned out until you had the film developed.
Opening a packet of photos to see what you and your friends actually all looked like trapped in film was one of the most exciting parts of travelling. Almost as exciting as putting these photos on slides and having the family over to watch your adventures on a big projector.
MAKING PLANS AND STICKING TO THEM
How did we do it? In 2018 I can barely arrange a coffee down the street with a friend and make it on time without texting a play by play story about why I'm seven minutes late.
And think about it, if your friend is 15 minutes late and you haven't heard from them, you start thinking they've had an accident, hey? Back in ye olden travel days, it wasn't unheard of to make plans with a friend months out, to meet in another city in a foreign country and be there.
You'd also have to make plans to reverse-charge call your parents at certain times, otherwise how would they know if you were still alive?
Without credit cards and banking apps, you had to be really organised with your money. If you were lucky and grown up enough, you'd travel with American Express Travellers Cheques, which you could exchange at your hotel or a nearby bank or money exchange. Most of us just had to carry around a load of cash in our money pouch, strapped to our body, and hope we weren't robbed. Without the option of a quick bank transfer from back home, you'd also need to be really careful with your money.
It wasn't until the early naughties that everyone started having their own mobile phone. Even then, calling back home was an outrageously extravagant purchase no one could really afford. For calls home, we had phone cards. You'd buy them at off license stores, market places, from relatively dodgy people at street corners. Each card would have a code, and you'd be able to speak with your family for a little longer than usual. They were a currency unto themselves. And, it always sounded like someone was listening in on your call.
ACTUAL PAPER MAPS
This is the biggest spin out for the modern traveller to grasp. A millennial friend of mine told me she missed the old days of 'downloading a map on her phone.' I breathed deeply, took a moment and told her about the maps of old. On actual paper. And, often half as big as you when you unfolded them out. Phone GPS has taken away the torturous pleasure of trying to figure out which way you should go and if you were standing in the right spot, or better yet, jumping from Page 2 to Page 47 to find your place from one part of a city to another.
If you're a sucker for security - easy access to money, to maps and to your networks, travelling now is the bomb. Yet, if there's something in you that really longs for independence from the daily life you live and the people around you, we need to find you a time machine to travel before the naughties.
Melanie Tait is a freelance journalist and playwright. Twitter @melanietait