I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we are currently living in the golden age of travel. Normally I don’t like to make such bold statements, but I honestly think it’s never been as good a time to be a traveler than right now. There’s even reason to think that travel might not be as good in the future. But before I get into the reasons that this golden age might not last, I want to go over several reasons why it is just so good now.
It seems as if new devices are coming out all the time that make traveling a better experience. The internet makes traveling easier since you can look up weather patterns, hostel recommendations, where to go and what to see.
If you just compare how far technology has advanced from my first trip to Asia in 2003, you’ll see a much better world for travelers. At that time, there was no Skype and no Twitter. I remember using email mostly to communicate.
In my last trip I even had the chance to use GPS to guide me around Ireland. In addition, cell phones are everywhere. I just started noticing many people using iPads to take photos. Presumably they could instantly download them to Facebook. No more waiting to get home to do that.
The world is generally more safe than it has ever been right now. Of course, there are some obvious exceptions such as Afghanistan and Somalia, but they are few and far between. Even in some shaky parts of the world such as Egypt there is good reason to feel safe. One friend of mine was there several weeks ago and felt safe.
And if you’re one of those people who thinks that the world is a dangerous place, I ask you to put things into perspective. We no longer live in a world threatened by nuclear annihilation between the Soviet Union and the U.S. This threat was very real, but now is gone.
You can argue that terrorism has replaced that threat. But the mutually assured destruction between those two superpowers during the Cold War would have been widespread, whereas the threat of terrorism is isolated and extremely unlikely to affect you. It’s been estimated that you have more of a chance of being involved in a shark attack than a terrorist attack.
3. Cheap Travel
Without a doubt, travel is cheaper than it has ever been. Your largest expense is your plane ticket, but even that is cheaper than you might expect. In the 1950s, airlines were becoming a much more preferred way of traveling, but it was only in 1971 when Southwest Airlines, the first low-cost carrier, started.
Since then, the deregulation of the airline industry around the 1980s drastically reduced ticket prices. More people could purchase plane tickets and that directly led to higher volumes of passengers. These are all fairly recent adjustments that we still benefit from today.
This doesn’t even include the ability to locate cheap places to stay or eat at through guidebooks and online websites. The number of ways you can find to save money is much higher today than ever before.
The Future Isn’t As Bright
Things won’t always be so good for travelers. While there is good reason to see all three of the positives I’ve listed become even better in the future, there are two negatives to worry about. These are…
4. Future Crowds
A few weeks ago I was in Northern Ireland. One of the things I wanted to see more than anything else was the Giant’s Causeway. Apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking that since about 100 other people were already there. And buses just kept dropping off and picking up people so there was no way you had any alone time.
I think this is the future of travel. The population of the planet is getting larger and wealthier. As more and more people enter the middle class around the world, you’ll start to see more of them traveling. This new middle class will initially travel close to home, but eventually travel to more distant locations. This will make many places much more crowded.
The only thing keeping crowds from overwhelming your travel experience would be if prices rose to meet demand. Higher prices would minimize crowds. Unfortunately, this would also undermine good reason #3 and make travel much more expensive.
5. Cultural Convergence
The other negative factor comes from how globally connected we are becoming. Global communication is dropping barriers between countries fast. As the world globalizes, its unique cultures might start to blend together. This might diminish the experience you have in each country since cultures will be less distinct.
For example, I was driving around Costa Rica last year and went into one area of San Jose that felt very familiar. There were supermarkets, stores and restaurant chains everywhere that gave it a very American feel. In fact, if you had dropped me off in the middle of it without telling me where I was, I would have guessed Southern California.
The Future is Uncertain
Of course, my thoughts about the future are just theories. Predicting the future is difficult even for people paid to do it for a living. I’m very certain that crowds will become more common though. I admit that cultural integration and homogenization is less of a certainty. Or at least it might not happen to a severe degree.
I don’t think this diminishes the fact that travelers have never had it as good as now. It’s time to take advantage of all the opportunities we have to experience such a wide world with all the unique cultures and experiences it has to offer. Do it soon because it’s never been as good a time to do it.
photo credit: ~Oryctes~