When I look back on my life of travel, I can’t help but marvel how things have changed.
When I first started off travelling on my own in 1974, I was 17 and there wasn’t very much information for people who wanted to get off the beaten track. I left Australia all those years ago with Lonely Planet’s second book, Across Asia on the Cheap and an old early version of BIT Travel’s Overland to India and Australia, which was about 10 or so pages stapled together with very brief bits of information and an encouragement to visit travellers in prisons along the way.
Even though 1974 seems a long time ago and people often ask me what Asia was like before everyone else found out about it and spoilt it. Truth be told, I felt as though I’d come too late and “missed it”, because it seemed like it was overrun with people just like myself (just not quite so young).
Nowadays there are a plethora of guides and maps aiming at every part of the market.
Lonely Planet has become a monster that is producing so many travel guides that you’d need an extra suitcase to carry all their guides to Europe and a fair bit more money as the guides have become quite expensive. I still think that the Lonely planet guides are the best general purpose guides on the market but the trouble is, so does just about everyone else. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into the trap of following the well worn rut made by other people who have bought the same guide by the thousands.
Now it’s the 21st century we don’t need guides made from dead trees anymore because most of us (especially you who are reading this) have computers.
Not only can you do your general research at home before you leave but I’d also recommend taking a laptop along with you on your trip for the following reasons:
1. Instead of trying completely organise your trip bookings before you go, which will lead to tears because the real world doesn’t work like a well oiled piece of clockwork, you can book as you go, online. We used Booking.com to make our bookings as we went. The great thing about Booking.com is that you can refine your search terms to find hotels in the area you are interested in that have free Wi Fi, parking, cooking facilities (look for “apartments), laundry or whatever else you are desiring. Another very good website is Trip Advisor which is excellent for checking reviews (we thought their reveiws were more reliable) of where you’re thinking about going or staying. In our experience, Booking.com was consistently cheaper than if we walked in off the street and we often only made our bookings the night before.
2. Having a computer and an internet connection gives access to Google Maps which will help you plan driving routes and calculate E.T.As.
3. It is possible to download the whole of the Wikipedia database (without pictures) and put in on your hard drive. We used this a lot in the car as I was driving. My wife would look up interesting things that we passed out in the middle of nowhere. It really is amazing how much stuff is in the Wikipedia database and we used it constantly.
4. You can keep abreast of what’s going on in the world if you’re in areas that don’t have T.V. in your language (in our case this came in handy in France, Italy and Spain). You can also find out what special events might be going on in the local area when you are there.
5. You can keep up with your E-mail and do your banking on-line without having to go into those grotty, and to my mind suspect, internet cafes.
6. You can download your image files from your digital camera as you go and make data discs to send home by post as insurance you don’t loose your images. I made two D.V.Ds for each batch of photos I took. One disc was mailed home and the other I kept hold of. The reason why I did this was so that if the computer played up or got stolen I’d have back up and if a disc was lost in the mail I’d still have back up. As it was, the computer worked fine and all the discs made it back home, but I know if I hadn’t have taken those precautions, the gods would’ve seen to it that I would’ve been punished for my hubris.
Smaller laptops are better for travelling, not just because they are easier to pack, but because a laptop that is about the size of a book will fit in a glove compartment of a car or in a hotel room safe. I’d also recommend taking one of those adapters that enables one to use the power from a cigarette lighter in a car. If you forget to take one with you, don’t worry because you can buy them over in Europe, and the same goes for the electrical plug adapters.
We usually ended our days in Europe sorting out where we wanted to go next, what route to take and where we were going to sleep by getting a rough idea from maps and various guides we had. Then Engogirl (my lovely wife) checked it all out on the computer and made the necessary reservations (I did all the driving, Engogirl did all the planning and booking).
Without a doubt, I’d say taking the computer with us was one of the main reasons why we had such a great time so free of hassles and complications.