For the first thirty-years of my life I was waiting for the internet to become available; I wasn’t clever enough to put my finger on just what it was I needed but when it arrived I knew the internet was going to become an indispensable part of my life. I know we all managed without it through the dark years but so many things would have been so much easier if it had come along just a bit earlier. I use the internet for many things but for me as a travel writer it is particularly useful for planning and writing about travelling and holidays. Here’s a list:
Campsites – Through the 1980s and 1990s we took our young son on backpacking holidays around Europe; trips that required a bit of planning. Months before our trip we would write to various tourist information offices requesting leaflets about the area. We might find some details about local campsites in these or in a Rough Guide but we would have little idea how good or bad the sites were until we arrived. I have lost track of the number of times we have trekked out of a town to a campsite only to find it is either full, unfit for human habitation or closed. While this can generate fun travellers tales after the event at the time it was always stressful as we sorted out overnight accommodation for a family of three.
Train timetables – A few kilos of the weight in our packed rucksacks was due to the hefty European timetables book. This is a marvellous publication that opens up all sorts of possibilities and I always loved browsing through it but it isn’t very portable. Just think if we could have checked train times on our phone! We always travelled to Europe by train and booking these trains required joining a long snaking queue at Manchester Piccadilly around eight-weeks before we travelled to select the complex combination of trains and couchettes we needed to get us to Italy, Spain, Germany or Czechoslovakia.
Local bus times – We might receive some general information about local buses in the brochures from the tourist information centres but, as we often had little idea where we were actually going or what there was to do in an area, we had to spend a chunk of our holiday time seeking out this information in person. Hanging around information centres was an aspect of our holidays that was always particularly boring for a small child. I remember booking our trains back from what was then Czechoslovakia; this involved firstly finding the right office and then hanging around for many hours with mostly little idea of what was going on as systems were checked and connections calculated.
Buying maps – Before the internet I either bought maps locally or had to take a trip all the way south to Stanfords in London to buy maps for foreign places (although you could ring and talk to the marvellous and knowledgeable staff, send a cheque and buy that way). Not having a map is not an option for me, I like to know where I am. I still get a thrill from being able to search online and buy maps from the comfort of my own home.
Top attractions – Today there are so many websites to check out what there is to see in a city, there is no danger of missing the top sites [I doubt anyone wanders around Milan failing to find the Teatro alla Scala anymore]. For those ‘must see’ attractions with long queues you can now book timed tickets in advance. We would miss this convenience now wouldn’t we?
Staying in contact – Trying to get to grips with the bureaucratic nightmare of an Italian post office takes any fun out of sending postcards; even finding the right queue for stamps to the UK is mystifying. When eventually we had purchased the correct stamps we would spend hours writing these postcards [trying to think of something different for each one] before sending them home; if we were lucky they might arrive before we did. Today friends and family can read my blog or we can send texts or emails as we travel.
Learning the lingo – We bought a cassette tape and book to learn Czech as this wasn’t a language our local library kept in stock, otherwise we borrowed language tapes for a few weeks at a time to try and get to grips with a language. Today I can learn as many languages as I want via Duolingo for free, how cool is that.