I’ve been traveling the world long enough now that just thinking about it makes me start to feel old. There’s an NHL hockey game playing in the background as I write this and I’m willing to bet that a good percentage of the players on the ice right now were born after my first solo trip to Europe back in 1995. Which I guess theoretically makes me old enough to be their mother. Now that’s a really scary thought.
But the one cool thing about travelling every year for over two decades now is that I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. Some things have gotten easier, some are harder, new innovations have come and old technology has gone the way of the dodo bird. Some things have changed almost beyond recognition while others have remained almost exactly the same. I thought it would be fun to look at a few things that stand out to me as I think back on the changes of the past 22 or so years.
Travel is much more accessible than it used to be. Most of the young people I travelled with in the late 90’s viewed their trip to Europe as a once in a lifetime opportunity. For families, overseas travel was generally reserved for visiting relatives, at least amongst the families I knew. The only times I really worried about crowds in those early years was in the big, “Grand Tour” cities like London, Paris and Florence and even then things were quite manageable once the seniors from the giant busses were tucked back in their beds for the night. Outside the major cities tourists seemed to be few and far between. It was easy to find your own “back door” or “hidden gem”, it was just a matter of turning left when everyone else went right.
Today, well not so much. Popular museums and tourist sights can be so crowded that you actually can’t move. The first time I visited the Duomo in Florence I wandered right in the front door. When we were there in 2014 the line stretched all the way around to the back of the enormous building and once you got in you were herded in a path around the outer fringe of the interior. High season, once a few weeks in July and August, seems to stretch out longer and longer with places booked up from the end of May to September. There are books titled “1001 Beautiful Villages” or “Secret Destinations” which ensure that any great travel find is soon known by anyone who does their research. One year’s undiscovered gem is next year’s tourist trap.
But….. it’s not all doom and gloom. Aside from natural disaster or the outbreak of war, once a place is on the tourist radar it tends to stay that way and you can’t turn back time. However, more tourists generally means better infrastructure. While some places genuinely want to stay undiscovered, most places welcome their business and respond with better accommodations, improved public transit and more options for travellers. Many places are also using new technology to improve crowd control. Savvy travellers can often pre-book tickets and timed entries eliminate wasting time in lines. Sure, it’s not as good as having a place all to yourself, but those crowds aren’t going anywhere soon.
Okay, I’m not old enough to be able to remember buying an ice cream cone for a nickel, but I did get a shock after our last trip to Europe when I realized I was paying more per day for the kennel for our dog than I used to pay for accommodations on my first few trips to Europe. I remember paying five pounds a night for a bunk in an old army tent set up in a disused sports field in London and the equivalent of $27 for a shabby double hotel room up four creaky flights of stairs in the centre of Paris. I think I budgeted five dollars a day for food and still managed to eat a restaurant meal once or twice a week by living off bread and Nutella the rest of the time. Museums and other sights rarely cost more than a few dollars and public transit was even cheaper.
Today not so much. I’ve paid more than my former week’s food budget just buying a round of snacks in some of the more expensive locations. Hotel prices have risen significantly even in the eight years or so that I’ve been travelling with kids and $15 youth hostel beds are a thing of the past. I was recently reviewing my credit card statements and saw that after currency conversion our seven hour visit to the San Diego Zoo in December cost $263 Cdn, (plus $37 for the small lunch that we supplemented with drinks and snacks purchased elsewhere). And if you want even more proof that travel is getting more expensive just check out the trend of Disney entrance tickets over the past few years.
But….once again there are some bright spots. For example, for my 1995 trip to Europe, flying Vancouver to London and home from Frankfurt on a charter airline in June I paid $1063. This year I paid $700 per person for tickets to Paris in March and $980 for Scandinavia in the middle of summer! Prices go up and down and we just happen to be in a pretty good market for European flights right now but it’s pretty significant that the prices for the largest single expense of most trips has actually gone down over 22 years. And while accommodation prices have gone up, so have standards in many places. Let’s face it, those $15 hostel beds and $27 hotel rooms were pretty skanky. Nowadays, dodgy shower rooms with limited times for hot water and crowded dorms with rows of sagging mattresses are a thing of the past. Sure, the cheapest hotel room might be $100 instead of $40, but with a bit of research I can usually find a $100 place that has the amenities that only the fanciest places had 20 years ago. And speaking of research…..
But once again, I find that I’ve gotten a bit carried away. I was going to write about the changes I’ve seen over the years in planning and communications, but that will have to wait for my next post. Along with anything else I can think of in between. Can anyone else think of anything to add?