My first big trip was back in 1999, it was a 2 and a half month backpacking trip around Europe. back then there wasn't much in the way of communicating with people back home. Internet cafes though were just becoming common and it was definitely nice to be able to send some e-mails back home in order to let everyone know where you were and that things were going well. I suppose you also had phones, but calls overseas were quite expensive and I have always traveled as a budget traveler even when I've had plenty of money...it's the only way I know to travel.
Fast forward to 2001/2002 and Kim and I are traveling fully around the planet for about 9 months or so. The internet has become a much more communal resource that even my parents are using quite often at this point. Digital cameras are also now commonly available allowing us to share our adventures with people back home in pictures and not just words. Another big development was the proto-blog sites, ones that allowed us to put up stories and post our pictures and our friends to post comments or messages to us as we traveled. All of this really made it easy to stay in touch with family and friends as we moved from one region to another.
Sure the digital camera that we had took floppy disks and the pictures had to have rather bad resolutions but it was still a huge leap forward. Also the smaller file sizes worked well with the slow internet connections that you encountered in places like Nepal, India and Egypt. We were also blown away by how common internet cafes had become, and finding internet connections even in the most remote places had become somewhat common. I remember even hiking up to Namche Bazaar on the way to Everest Base Camp in 2002 and being quite surprised that even up there they had satellite internet. The harder thing was to find a computer in some countries that wasn't overwhelmed with viruses from the common viewing of internet porn sites. This seemed at its worst in Egypt and India where all the men spent their time basically drooling over porn in clear view of everyone else, something that was a little unsettling at times. I much preferred the internet cafes of Chang Mai Thailand that were overrun with Buddhist monks playing Counterstrike and Half Life.
In 2008 we spent a month in Tanzania and in 2009 a month in Turkey, and things had gotten even better. Our once bulky and inefficient digital camera had been replaced by a small water proof and shock proof pocket camera as well as a digital SLR that was capable of some long range shots and some really nice pictures. Additionally by this time even budget hotels are commonly supplying Wi-Fi and for free and laptops are compact and powerful enough to allow us to bring them along, providing mobile communication with the rest of our family back home and an instant way to share our pictures what was going on via things like Facebook. Kim recently had one of her friends update her status declaring that she was on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. If we had phones with sim cards we might have been able to do the same.
Now it's the end of 2010 and it's amazing how easy it is to communicate with people back home. Skype has almost made it feel like you see people back home all the time. Kim and I sat all our parents down and showed them how to use it before we left and the easy streaming video conversations make it almost like being in the living room with them. What got me to write this post was that this morning my dad patched through his cable feed for the TV via skype and we watched the Patriots play the Steelers in what was back on the East Coast the Sunday night NFL game (Pats won by the way!) all while being able to talk to each other. Now that struck me as something kind of cool, and not something I would have thought possible when I first started traveling. It really makes being away from home much easier to deal with, as in a way you can always escape back to a little bit of it if you want to.
Then there are things like Facebook that let you know who's getting married, who just had kids, what the kids look like, which of your friends are moving and what everyone is up to in general. Sometimes it can be a bit of a distraction but it's nice to be able to go to one place and passively see what's going on back home without needing to write mass e-mails and parse through responses. WiFi has become common even in Nepal, but 3G networks are still evasive, though I do not suspect for much longer. Things like my Kindle allow me to read even obscure books while traveling all while be much smaller than the many heavy paperbacks I use to have to carry. I also remember the days of people traveling with CD's and players, now reduced to just a single iPod or similar device.
I ordered a small net book through Harilo recently which I'm hoping will help with the battery consumption when we start getting into the longer periods of load shedding. For just a couple hundred dollars now we are getting laptops that can run skype, have built in video, are truly portable and can take advantage of all the WiFi spots that are available to us as travelers. As I get ready to head over to Thailand and Cambodia for a couple of weeks at the end of the year, I'm looking forward to brining all of this and still only having to bring carry on luggage. It also will allow me to very easily keep this blog up to date as I go, hopefully I can find a hut on some Thai beach with WiFi!
hat brings me also to this blog, which has been a nice way to not only share our experiences with our friends and families back home but with the world at large. It's been a great experience, and I'd certainly recommend blogging to anyone who is doing any kind of extended travel. Really something that has added positively to the whole travel and living, literally, on the other side of the world experience.
The freedom and ease with which we now communicate is a great thing.