I struggle with how the vacation experience has evolved in the digital age. There is an upside and a downside to knowing practically everything about a hotel, destination, attraction, or restaurant prior to visiting.
First, the downside: Knowledge can have an inverse effect on adventure.
Back in the early ’70s, my parents owned a 21-foot-long Winnebago that our family of five crammed into for our annual summer vacation. Leading up to the trip, my mom used to write (pen, paper, stamps, the whole shebang) to tourism offices, campgrounds and parks requesting information for our upcoming trip. Each manila envelope that arrived in our mailbox as a result of her request gave us a sneak peak at what might lie ahead. I use the phrase “sneak peak” because color brochures and park maps back in the day only showed so much. Your imagination filled in the blanks. Or, you just approached the trip with a very open mind; with little or no preconceptions of what was over the river or through the woods. For the most part, each place we rolled into was a true surprise. We didn’t have the “luxury” of viewing multiple videos, reading traveler reviews or looking at a thousand pictures of every nook and cranny of the place. It was all new. And, many of my fondest memories were the result of my mom’s inaccurate map reading, which led us to places that I still hold dear to my heart. GPS wasn’t there to save the day, and we were better for it.
Now the upside: The digital age allows us to find places we never knew existed, and that fuels wanderlust.
“The world at your finger tips.” I know the phrase is greatly overused, but it’s true. A computer brings out the explorer in all of us. It’s no surprise that the most popular browser goes by the same name. Like most folks, it’s how I plan my vacation these days. I’ve soared over Google Earth, perused a gazillion photo galleries, and read countless traveler blogs all of which have vastly increased my “to do” / “to visit” list. In planning recent trips, I’ve found on line -- and visited in person -- World Ware II bunkers in Germany, a mind-blowing floating opera stage in Austria, waterfalls in Zion, a country store south of Charlottesville, Va., and an Arsenal Football Club-friendly pub in Philly, just to name a few. Online, “a thousand places to see before you die” can quickly turn into “a hundred thousand places to see before you die.” All you need is time and money, which brings up another benefit to digital vacation planning. These days, most of us are time strapped and budget conscious. Doing your due-diligence for an upcoming trip is just plain smart.
So how do you preserve the adventure that “old school” trip planning offered, but still gather enough digital intel to make wise decisions?
Don’t over plan. The joy of travel is discovery. In person. Learn just enough online, but save room for mystery, adventure and, yes, getting lost. The parts of a vacation you’ll remember will be the experiences and the places that are truly unexpected. There are few surprises in life.
Travel -- by it’s very nature -- uniquely affords the opportunity for these moments to happen. Try not to spoil it.