How I Travel
I was in my early teens when the internet first became a household amenity, so I remember quite a bit about life pre-www. We listened to music using bulky stereo systems that played formats ranging from shiny compact discs to clunky cassette tapes and scratch-prone vinyl. We bought those cds/tapes/records at brick-and-mortar stores or through the mail via rip-off “clubs” like BMG, often purchasing an entire album for a single radio hit. Yes, I’m one of the kids who fell victim to BMG.
Though I had my own computer games, VHS tapes with programs recorded from the television and a few video-gaming platforms (Intellivision, Atari, NES and Sega GameGear) at my disposal, play time most often involved action figures, Barbie dolls, storybooks, stuffed animals, puzzles, crayons/coloring books, my bike and the swing set in the back yard. Tablet-toting tykes just didn’t exist.
My 110 camera used flash cubes, took film that you had to manually advance after each photo and probably cost the same as what you’d pay now for a family of 4 to eat at McDonald’s. What if your subject blinked when you took a picture? Well, that’s just too bad because you didn’t know for sure until after the film was developed, which took at least a couple of days. No instant uploading.
We sent actual cards and letters in the mail. We wrote checks and meticulously balanced our checkbook registers. We did everything then that we do now, just a little more slowly.
Try as I might, though, I simply can’t fathom how people planned vacations back then. My parents had a file drawer full of travel brochures—something of a mystery since we only ventured out of state to visit family—and I assume the telephone must’ve played an integral role. Were that the case today, I would be even more of a curmudgeonly homebody than I am now.
Thanks to modern technology, I am empowered to explore locales unknown with nary a voice call on my phone. Airfare, rental car and hotel rooms are all booked online, and I spend time equivalent to days on end harvesting ideas and reading others’ reviews to decide what we want to see.
My travel-planning “dream team” consists of Pinterest, Google Maps, TripAdvisor, a physical map, some Post-it flags and a Sharpie. See, I’m still a little old-fashioned…I just happen to buy the maps on Amazon or order them from state tourist websites—some states even offer them for free!
When we have an overarching idea of where we’d like to go (Oregon, for example), I fire up Pinterest; inevitably, I discover places that make my heart go pitter-patter. I open separate browser tabs for Google Maps and TripAdvisor. Google Maps helps me narrow down which part of the state I’m exploring, and TripAdvisor gives me an idea of if I want to stay in a particular city or look for a neighboring community instead. I also pull up candidate hotels’ websites and scour the web for coupon codes or special pricing. It’s a lot of legwork, but we rarely end up disappointed.
Google Maps also helps me plan out how much travel time we’ll need between destinations. This is particularly helpful as we tend to cover a lot of ground on our trips.
Utilizing a tangible map adds an extra step to planning a trip, but I find it worth the effort. After I’ve located sights and sites online, I lay out the map and start flagging destinations; this gives me a much better feel for the terrain and helps me analyze which routes we should take to maximize our experience.
The map also helps when we find ourselves in areas devoid of cell and satellite signals, which happens more often than I would’ve thought. Let me tell you from experience, it can be more than a little unsettling when you’re driving through the middle of a deep, dark forest without any sign of civilization and no technological assistance. I’m considering investing in more comprehensive state atlases at some point for this very reason.
While it all sounds very structured, the reality is that the planning just gives me an overall “ballpark” idea of how things will go—our vacations tend to be rather free-flowing and include a lot of naps. We generally know where we want to go and how to get there, so we fill in the rest along the way.
What are your favorite travel resources?