The web is ruining travel
There are 918 travel blogs on Technorati and hundreds of travel forums and social networking sites. There is a bewildering level of choice and information and it is spoiling the joy of independent travel.
The traditional vision of a fresh faced traveller waving goodbye at the airport gate with little more than an outbound ticket and a well thumbed guide book seem to be gone. Instead, after weeks spent poring over the excellent Matador Network and the exhaustive Lonely Planet Thorntree, they'll arrive at the airport porting a hybrid backpack stuffed with netbook, adapters and iphone. By the time they step of the plane in Calcutta they will have read up on the hassle they can expect from all and sundry in the streets and will have adopted the trademark aloof backpacker body language - "I know what I'm doing, don't try to take me for a ride!" - there is no way will they be falling foul of the hawkers! And in doing so, they miss something, they miss making their own mistakes and discovering with fresh eyes.
Surely, the joy of travel is serendipity, spontaneity and in saying yes to every offer however bizarre? Surely, it is about saying 'why not?' when a local claiming to be a university professor offers to guide you around the local museum. Yes I know, there are some fantastic resources that will inspire you to go places you would never have dreamed of, and others which will help you really get off the beaten track, but at what cost? Surely you can achieve the same by speaking to somebody on the road and asking a local?
I have to ask myself, would we have been escorted up Sigiriya in Sri Lanka by three policeman and then treated to a traditional Muslim family meal back at the Police Chief's modest home if I had followed Tripadvisor's things to do in Kandy. Similarly, would I have been asked by a couple of young Malay women to provide male company when they bought their daily fish supplies from the intimidating commercial fishing boats in the Pehrentians?
So, in our own crass unscientific way we decided to put our money where our mouth is. Zeke, a regular Tourdust writer, came up with a little experiment:
"Did you know you can book a flight on Ryannair without knowing which country you are visiting?"
Well, I didn't, but apparently it is true (I haven't checked), all he had to go by was an airport code with an unhealthy quantity of rarely used consonants. So before I could question his logic, Zeke had booked himself a ticket. Without knowing the destination it is tricky to buy a guidebook or to check out hotels on Tripadvisor.
The first part of Zeke's amusing journey is documented below - I've watched the video and still don't know the destination. Let me know if you can guess, because Zeke continues to refuse to let me in on the secret. He will be gracing these pages in the next week with the second part of the video.
If this subject interests you there have been some fascinating posts and discussions on the general theme of staying connected on the road. Rolf Potts opened a beehive by critiquing the use of twitter when travelling, Stephen Chapman wrote an excellent piece about travelling unplugged and perhaps my favourite, a recent post by David Page wondering whether we are seeing the twilight of the guidebook? If you enjoyed Zeke's video and you want to see more of his frankly unusual sense of humour I recommend you check out his sites, http://www.tittybiscuits.com/ and http://www.smashingworkshop.com/.