Having spent a decent proportion of my adult life living and working in different countries, I’ve seen quite a few changes in how we travel internationally and how we live abroad long-term. I’m specifically talking about the 15-year period between 2002 and 2017. During this time, I’ve gone from being a 20-year-old university student to a winter season addict to a multilingual corporate manager, and finally to an action sports travel blogger.
2001/2002 I was living and working in Austria on my year abroad teaching English.
2003/2004 I spent a year in Whistler, Canada working my first ever snowboard season.
2007 to 2010 I chased snow from New Zealand to France to the USA and back again for 6 consecutive winters.
2017 I began my new travel blogging adventure.
So whether you’re old enough to remember travel back in the day or you just fancy a giggle at life in the dark ages, let’s a take a gander:
1: Getting from A to B
Exploring New Zealand in my trusty Daihatsu, 2006
- 2002: I can’t even remember how I booked my flights to Austria back then, but I’m pretty sure it involved a travel agent and not the painfully slow dial-up internet we had at home. The tickets would then have been posted by snail-mail to my home address and guarded with my life up until the point of check-in at the airport; because if you lost those printed tickets then more than likely you weren’t getting on that flight, even if your name was in the airline’s system.
- 2017: These days booking flights is easier than ordering a take-away. With sites like Skyscanner and Kayak all the grunt work is done for you, and if you remain flexible about your destination you can get to some pretty exotic locations by booking a super-cheap last-minute deal. No need to worry about printed tickets either, these days you just hand your passport over and it’s all integrated, thanks technology.
Quaint little hostel in Te Aroha, New Zealand, 2006
- 2003: The internet was just about fast enough to do some online research into hostels, but it was still early days in terms of trustworthy (and functioning) online payment systems. Booking a hostel invariably meant making an international call from my parent’s landline, sending an email in the hope that the hostel actually monitored their email account, or just winging it and turning up unannounced.
- 2017: Where do I start? Every hotel and hostel is online in 2017, and if they’re not then they’re not going to last long. Trip Advisor will tell you where’s good and where’s not with reviews written by real people (mostly). The biggest change is obviously AirBnB, from top quality apartments to a basic room in some random person’s house; I love how this platform lets regular people connect across cultural and linguistic borders, allowing them to share their homes and meet new people. Folks in low-income countries can earn good money from charging travellers much less than they would pay for a hotel, and in my experience, offering you a relatively cheap place to stay where there are literally no other alternatives.
3: Writing home
- 2003: Pre-season in Whistler used to be a pretty boring place when there was no snow, and since laptops were still pretty clunky (and pricey) in 2003 the best place to use the internet was in an internet café. Keeping in contact with friends and family meant serious commitment to go the café, wait your turn for a free PC, then sit down and write a small novella of emails in the hour or two of internet time you’d paid for. Skype had only just launched and dial-up internet speeds made for terrible call quality, assuming you knew people that had heard of Skype obviously. I will say one thing for the internet café era though, it was a great place to hang out and meet fellow travellers.
- 2017: Nowadays you can buy a tiny 7-inch internet-ready netbook for as little as £60 GBP, or just use your incredibly powerful smartphone. The Apple iPhone X is set to be released in late 2017 and comes with facial recognition technology…I mean, seriously!? You know the rest…Facebook Messenger, Viber, then WhatsApp and Snapchat…and all for free, what a crazy communication explosion; keeping in touch with loved ones has never been so easy, or so fun!
4: Learning the local language
- 2002: The very reason I went to Austria in the first place was as part of my German and Spanish degree, but I still took a huge 2kg German dictionary to help with my year abroad project, no joke. But if I was out and about and I didn’t know a German word I needed, then I just had to use my imagination and come up with another way of describing it, or in some extreme cases just abandon the whole plan until next time.
- 2017: Two words; Google Translate. Is it even worth doing a languages degree with all the translation tech coming online these days!? Whilst Google Translate still has a-ways to go before it’s a truly effective translation tool, it still gets the message across and can even get you out of a tricky situation here and there. Then consider new tech like the Bragi Dash Pros, wireless earbuds which translate words being spoken to you in real time; those planning a career in translation should take note.
5: Work visas
Coronet Peak, New Zealand, 2006
- 2002: Being from the UK I’ve always had the luxury of being able to work in Europe. In addition to this, most countries outside of Europe that had major ski resorts (and thus which I wanted to visit) were pretty relaxed about giving work visas to young blokes from England, provided all the correct forms were filled out.
- 2017: What the hell happened people? This element of international travel seems to have gotten worse as the years pass, not better! 2009/2010 was the last season I could have worked in the USA even if I hadn’t chosen to return to the UK; they suddenly got super strict about allowing foreign workers in on H2B visas and that was that, whole swathes of Kiwi, Aussie, South African and South American snowsports instructors found themselves without a job for future USA winters. You’ll also find that most working holiday visas tend to set an upper age limit of 30, so that sucks…and don’t even get me started on Brexit!
6: How many gadgets?
- Camera: I bought my first ever digital camera in Canada; the cube-like Pentax Optio had a whopping 4-megapixel resolution, recorded videos and was even water resistant! I also had to buy a massive 512-megabyte memory card (*scoffs quietly*)
- Music: 2004 was when I saw my first iPod, a generation one no less, and I remember it totally blowing my mind that this thing had scores of albums on it stored as MP3s, what the hell was an MP3!? I was still stoked about my recent purchase of a Sony Minidisc player.
- Telephone/Games: The cheap Nokia 3310 I picked up with my Canadian SIM card had Snake on it, but that was about it for portable gaming, I didn’t have a Game Boy and the PSP wasn’t released until December 2004.
- Books: Were made of paper, I only had room for a couple in my bag and the Kindle wasn’t released until 2007.
- 2017: I have a Samsung smartphone. It does everything on the above list and it does them 100 times better. It’s a 12-megapixel camera. It’s an MP3 player. It’s a Kindle. I can play games on it. I can access a map of the whole planet on it for goodness sake! You get the picture; but check out 40 Things the iPhone has Replaced just in case you’ve forgotten how easy travel is these days thanks to this bit of tech.
7: Meeting new people
Two Aussies, Two Brits and Two Kiwis, Las Vegas, 2010
- 2002: Staying in touch with people you met travelling generally meant swapping email addresses, but if your new friend was a bit anti-tech then postal addresses were still your best bet. In terms of actually being sociable, well yeah, obviously you still had to smile, be polite and try not to offend people…the basics really.
- 2017: Again, where do I start? You’ve probably already thought of 5 ways to stay in contact with new people via social media in the time it took you to read this sentence. Even in professional business environments you can connect on LinkedIn; the options to stay in contact with people in 2017 are almost limitless.
Fresh Red Snapper in Mexico
- 2004: I think I had my first Subway in Canada, those little places definitely kept me going when I was living on a serious budget. But who am I kidding, globalisation was already well under way by the time I started my travels, with the golden arches, processed meat and sugary drinks polluting much of the world’s authentic cuisine. I’m told that being a vegetarian world traveller was tough, whilst being vegan was nigh on impossible.
- 2017: Things have definitely improved in some of the richer countries; vegetarians, vegans and gluten-intolerant folks are now catered for in the majority of restaurants and supermarkets. Taking my current location in Mexico as another example however, in some areas there isn’t the luxury of being picky about what you eat because there just isn’t much available; even in affluent areas the vegetarian choices can be limited and the vegan options non-existent.
9: Tourist clichés
- 2002: I was awestruck the first time I visited Salzburg in Austria, such an amazing place, so much history, such intricate streets filled with culture. But again, the place was a well-known tourist mecca by the time I got there and I was just another punter who wanted a piece of the pie; thankfully it didn’t detract from my enjoyment too much though. The same can be said for many of the places I’ve visited since.
- 2017: Nowadays there are even more clichéd destinations to choose from besides your standard tourist meccas such as the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Taj Mahal and Christ the Redeemer to name just a few. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go and see these things for yourself however. And thanks to us bloomin’ travel bloggers penning articles with names like ‘7 amazing locations the locals want to keep hidden’; it’s no wonder nowhere is safe from the tourist hordes.
10: Travel safety
- 2004: I’d been working in travel insurance emergency assistance for all of about 5 minutes when the 2004 tsunami caused absolute chaos in countries surrounding the Indian Ocean. Colombia was only just emerging from a long and brutal war with home-grown drug cartels, and as such was a kidnap hotspot that most governments warned their citizens not to visit. Venezuela had recently ousted Hugo Chavez only to immediately re-instate him, so whilst governments warned that travel there could be risky, it was deemed safer than Colombia.
- 2017: Fast forward to 2017 and we all seem to face the same safety issues, now just in different places. Colombia has been politically and economically stable for a number of years now and as such is experiencing a huge boost in tourism. Unfortunately for Venezuela however the opposite is true, political turmoil has worsened in recent years leading to large scale social collapse. As for natural disasters, I’ve been in Mexico for just over 4 months now and only last week the country experienced its biggest earthquake in 100 years, so you never know when planet Earth will kick off.