The world of independent travel is not the same. So says every generation, looking back at technological changes that brought new behavior. This holds true for the travel junkies who enjoy road trips and rail trips today, twenty years ago and fifty years ago. Today many rely completely on digital communities for finding locations and people to meet during their travels. “Online” is the new way of being. Pretty much all of us are, all the time. When those push messages make our mobile phones go ping and vibrate, we all reach for the phone like a cowboy would his Colt, in the 19th century. Internet and the mobile technologies have opened up an entirely new world where we can greet and meet people digitally as we travel around.
Let’s consider a road trip from UK to France two decades ago.
Imagine a road trip in 1997
Imagine getting in your car in UK, driving south into France. Beforehand you find out which local events are on in the cities you will be passing through, using Couchsurfing and Meetup – Nah, not really. You have a printed travel guide. You have heard of something called “Internet”. Pshaw. Some technological fad. No thank you! Bless the old printed travel guide from the 1980s. Your parents used it and you sure will as well!
Unless you’re travelling from very far up north, you will cross the channel in a few hours. You enter France at Calais. Voilà, you’re in Normandy. The feeling of being on vacation has finally taken over and work, chores and boring stuff is now deeply buried in your mind for the next week or so. Friendly banter ensues. Laughter and jokes echo in your car as you make your way south. Maybe you’ll do a pit stop somewhere for something to eat.
If you’re in a travel company that enjoys meeting people, you are probably talking about the resort or destination you’re heading to. Since you don’t know anyone, the prospects of meeting someone to connect with is rather slim. Unless people with the same interests and compatible personalities happen to stay in the same area. Maybe you or your companions are really social and strike up conversations with people everywhere. Maybe not.
Maybe you have a planned overnight stop somewhere on the way, a perfect place to interact with some people. If you’re keen on trying to chat up strangers. Yeah, I thought so..
Finally there! Let’s hang out.. with each other
Then, 1-2 days later you have finally settled in your travel destination. You saunter to restaurants day and night, visit museums, take photos of the sights, have brunch outside by the sea. You’re doing the lot. Everything that a tourist is expected to do. I’m guessing you’re by the sea, or at least a lake. Don’t we all yurn for a pond of water come holiday season.
But people then? Yeah. It just so happens that your friend is shy and shuns making contact with new people. So you entertain each other and the trip becomes your private fun adventure.
But let’s say your friend was social. He or she would talk with everyone in cafes, restaurants and the hotel staff as well. Accidentally bumping into someone at the restaurant would turn into an hour long conversation, exchanging phone numbers and meeting up to go for a museum visit together the next day.
It’s all a very physical and an in real life affair. You meet people. Maybe you talk with them. Maybe. How do you know if you have something in common in the first place? Why bother, eh?
Back to the future, it’s 2017
Now let’s consider the present reality. You go by car, just like back then. But beforehand, you have decided that you really want to go dancing somewhere. You also want to attend a cooking workshop in a small city, as well go to an all night party somewhere. Your friend, who’s an avid painter, really wants to meet some like-minded people on the way. You’re into tennis and would like to play with some locals in France.
There we go. You both download the mobile apps for Meetup, Couchsurfing and TripAdvisor. You also open up Facebook and search for groups in the different cities that you’re going to. You both spend the next couple of days researching Meetup events, Couchsurfing hosts that want to meet up and hang out, and of course you publish some questions as posts in selected Facebook groups. This way you soon know where what is happening, and when. Some people are friendlier than others and offer to meet up for a coffee or to show you around! When you arrive in a city you already know where to go to meet people. They will meet you in the context of a fun activity or maybe dinner out. And you can rest assured that you won’t sit alone in a bar. This is one way the digital world is enriching the physical world.
Before you have even left the comfort of your home you are already on first name basis with several people that are willing to meet up during your vacation. This is the reality of the connected world. We socialize online. But not just online. We use Internet to find people to meet in real life. And with that being said, I’m off to a Meetup.
Writer and photographer.
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