Essay: How Tech Has Changed How We Travel

By Jonathan Spira on 17 January 2018
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When I first began traveling across the globe with my parents, the biggest concern they had was bringing sufficient batteries for photo flash units and also ensuring that exposed film didn’t pass through x-ray machines at security checkpoints. All I had to do was bring along my 35mm SLR, a few paperbacks and many car magazines to read, and I was all set.

Of course, I had to choose my shots carefully. A 36-exposure roll of 35 mm film produces, of course, only 36 pictures and I had to make every shot count. I spent far more time on composition and lighting than I do now, because digital photography allows me to experiment more with the lighting and take multiple images at a very low incremental cost (really amortizing the cost of the device itself) to get the best photo I can.

As I grew older and technology matured, the next challenge became remembering to take the numerous and different chargers that were needed for the various devices I carried with me. The list included a charger for my IBM ThinkPad, my digital camera, my iPod, my PDA, my U.S. mobile phone, my unlocked GSM Bosch World 718 mobile phone, and so on. Oh, and there were maps, lots of paper maps, mostly from Michelin.

Now I travel without my Nikon digital SLR as my iPhone 8+ offers near equivalent image quality and far greater convenience. I don’t need batteries for my flash (who uses flash anymore?), I can charge my Bang & Olufsen wireless headphones, my Mophie wireless Qi battery pack, and my Nomad Apple Watch charger/battery pack with a single USB charger.

The paper maps are but a distant memory and I’ve used my iPhone for walking and driving navigation for as long as I can remember. The additional functionality that the Apple Watch brings to the table in this regard (gently tapping me when I need to turn and providing directional arrows) means, with rare exceptions, that I always know the fastest route to my destination.

My connectivity concerns have changed dramatically as well. I recall writing back in 2004 how hotels such as the Walt Disney World Dolphin and Swan had begun to implement broadband access, albeit in some cases very poorly. Indeed, it was so bad that the front desk clerk at the Dolphin suggested that going the traditional route, using the room’s “modem” phone line and calling my ISP, might be faster. (I opted to tether to my phone, despite the slow GPRS speeds of the day.)

A few years later, in 2007, I was sitting in my favorite hotel in the Schwabing district of Munich, where the assistant manager of the hotel told me that the Internet must be broken after I commented on the extremely slow speed. Given that I couldn’t tether to my phone while roaming, I was stuck and chased after the signal at various points during my stay when it mysteriously appeared.

While I had the first ever true world phone since 1998, one that was able to place and receive calls using my own number (for the curious, it was the Bosch World 718), high-speed data wasn’t really a thing let alone high-speed data roaming. I was at the mercy of the establishment I was at and its Wi-Fi provider.

Fast forward and 3G became 4G and 4G became LTE and the world got smaller. Then came T-Mobile USA, which upended everything a few years ago, first with true Wi-Fi calling (there was no charge for calls back to the States placed while connected to Wi-Fi) and later with free (albeit slow) 2G international data, free texting while abroad, and inexpensive phone calls back to the States.

Today, I can browse the Internet at no charge (again, slowly) in 140 countries and, more recently, T-Mobile has added an hour of unlimited Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi and free messaging on every flight that offers Gogo.

On any given trip, I have my MacBook Pro, my iPhone 8+, my Mophie Powerstation wireless Qi charger that does double duty as both a portable wireless iPhone charger when on the go as well as a desktop or bedside wireless iPhone charger, my Nomad Pod Apple Watch battery pack and charger, and a USB charger to keep the batteries of these devices fully charged.

Indeed, my biggest concern, as is likely the case with most travelers, is making sure I don’t run out of juice.

In a few years, we may think it quaint that we had to actually place our smartphone atop the wireless charger versus non-contact base wireless charging, which is already making its appearance on the market. Anyone want a pile of used maps?

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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