5 Reasons Being a Traveler Now is Better Than Any Time in History

by STEVE BLOOM

Passengers

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.

1. Technology

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.

2. Safety

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~

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Comments

  1. I agree with your believe that crowds will make travel much more unpleasant in years to come. Everyone is tapped in and getting the same deals at the same time. Even “off-season” isn’t really “off-season” anymore!

    • Hey Stefanie, everyone does seem to be getting the same deals at the same time. After all, the internet makes access to those deals much easier for a wide range of people. I can see how that would make traveling more crowded.

  2. I haven’t traveled by plane in years. I think that I am due for some international travel.

    I went to Ireland back in 1999. It is a beautiful place with lots of really friendly people.

    • Hey Justin, I think you’re about due for some international travel too. Maybe you’ll want to head back to Ireland. I think your assessment of the country was spot on. I loved it there.

  3. I second this vote! I think it’s always a great time to travel! I love it! Meeting new people, experiencing new culture, tasting new foods, seeing new sights…it rocks!

    I say if you can afford it, and you have the time – go for it! We all deserve a break every once in a while 😉

    • Hey Brock, traveling does rock! You get so many valuable experiences from it…all the people, new cultures and new sights. I agree with you, if you want it, can afford it and have time then go. You won’t regret it.

  4. This is a really interesting article, and you make some great points about good reasons to travel. I’m not sure I agree, though, that people are going to start traveling more in the future. I say this because I lived in Japan for three years (from 2008-2011) and noticed an unsettling trend: Japanese people are traveling less and less. During my last year there, I actually attended a monthly meeting of a group that was trying to encourage young Japanese people to travel more, so I participated in lots of discussions about this issue. In the past (probably from the 80’s to the early 2000’s) the Japanese used to be some of the world’s enthusiastic travelers. You could hardly visit any major attraction without encountering a group of Japanese tourists, and the global tourist industry catered to them. But nowadays the Japanese are being overtaken by the Koreans. Major tourist attractions are now more likely to have their signs in Korean and Chinese rather than Japanese. Older Japanese people who’ve been traveling for years will attest to these changes.

    So will people really start traveling more and more as they become wealthier, or will increased enthusiasm for travel simply be a phase that some countries go through? It’s hard to say of course, especially since there are so many complex cultural factors that might affect the trends in different countries. But I just wanted to share my thoughts on this.

    • Jana, you make an interesting observation. I actually didn’t know that the Japanese were so enthusiastic about travel during that time frame. I started most of travels around the beginning of the 2000s. They might be a special case. They did go through two decades of stagnant economic growth, they are aging rapidly and there could be cultural expectations. It is hard to say and the future is notoriously hard to predict. You gave us some good things to think about. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I agree with you on the fact that more and more people are traveling and that in the future, there will be fewer and fewer places “off the beaten path.” The word will have gotten out and the crowds will be there.

    • It does seem as if there are fewer places “off the beaten path”. There are more travelers venturing off into newer and newer places all the time. Getting off the beaten path seems to get harder every year.

  6. Great points Steve. I think what scares me the most about just saying fuck it and traveling for a couple months, is being able to support myself. I think a really worthwhile post could be on a topic like support yourself while you travel. And you might have already posted something along those lines (if you did could you do me a favor and just reference it for me) If you didn’t, that’s information I would pay to have!

    Take care Steve!

    • Hey Chris, you should check out my post http://dosomethingcool.net/six-ways-travel-endlessly/ – it has several ways you can support yourself while traveling with a lot of links to get you started. I think it’s a great resource to get you going.

      The first time I went traveling, I just saved up a lot of money to get me by. It wasn’t too bad since I was in cheaper areas of Asia. You can make a little bit of money go a long way there.

  7. Steve,

    You have convinced me. Now I am going on a trip. I don’t know how I am going to afford it, but I’m going. This was a very well thought out and informative article. Thanks.

  8. … and to add to the list… we can now travel longer and earn at the same time :-) the technology enabled us to be more mobile and stay productive :-)

    • Good point. There are many people who can use technology and the internet to make an income while they travel. You can use that way of making money to travel indefinitely. Sounds like a great way to live to me!

  9. I still find it unbelievable all the great ways technology has made travel easier. And I love all the new stuff coming out every day like the translators and location tools. Now if only global data plans were cheaper… :)

    • Miranda, I find the advance of technology unbelievable sometimes too. You can find an app or tech tool for just about anything now. It makes me look forward to the advances on the horizon.

  10. almost on my way to travel long term 😀

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