The web is ruining travel

Flashpacker

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/

Comments (4)

  1. WHAT AN INCREDIBLE IDEA!

    Zeke, that was fantastic! Hilarious!
    Such an awesome experiment.

    I love the randomness of travel and much prefer to go off now with little information as you learn SO MUCH there. It's easy to get information if you want to. I do often prefer to get the info from friends, bloggers, and tweeters- it's real! Guidebooks I find are too clean and crisp and shiny and they don't give a real sense of the place.

    I like to read guide books only as inspiration, and more often then not, prefer the auto biographies or fiction books about a destination which give a real feel for it. ie. Shantaram - Mumbai, or Holy Cow, india General, or Bill Bryson's - down Under, Australia.

    HAHAH Still laughing about that video though! Great social experiment!

    Emma Lovelly 6th April 2010

  2. The web is ruining travel? No. But the way people use it is. (You could ruin it almost as easily by poring over a stack of guidebooks and travelogues, but that involves a visit to the library.)

    Maybe there are more people travelling nowadays, since they can easily get dosed up to the eyeballs with information without which they'd never have the courage to leave town at all. There will still be travellers who choose to travel unblinded, without preconceptions disguised as knowledge. But they're becoming increasingly difficult to find.

    Tom Allen 6th April 2010

  3. @Emma Lovelly, Glad you enjoyed Zeke's antics, hopefully we'll be publishing the follow up video soon if we can twist Zeke's arm enough to edit the beast. I still don't know where he went.
    @Tom Allen. You are right, guidebook, internet, etc. it is all the same. I must admit the main reason I tend to skip the planning stage and figure it out on the road is through a lack of organisation and a strong tendency to leave things to the last minute. However I am glad I do. Still there is no doubt that the internet makes it easier for travellers to get glut on information. Thanks for the comments!

    Ben 6th April 2010

  4. @Emma: Glad you enjoyed it! I think the trick is balancing it right - as Ben mentions in the article, it's easy to stifle any kind of adventure-forming spontaneity with too much information. Problem with my trip is that I missed so much because I didn't know it was there - apparently the city has some amazing art galleries and underground music venues (literally underground, in most cases) but I was none the wiser til I got home to the 'net.

    @Ben: Exactly the same. I think it pertains to our gender. I'm too lazy to think about details, especially when travelling, and it always feels like a massive chore to iron them out before embarking. Wouldn't change it for the world, though.

    Zeke Iddon 19th April 2010