Like many Australians, my twenties were a time when I undertook a tour of duty as an overseas traveller, diligently exploring ‘the world and elsewhere’.
In an age before ‘glamping’ and ‘flash-packing’, this was a common rite of passage – thousands of us travelled either solo or in hastily assembled teams, descending en mass on the museums, cathedrals, and pubs of the ‘old’ world. Whether the time was spent kicking the dust along a gringo trail, or singing along to TV theme-songs with a bus load of hung-over antipodeans, we returned with a sense of fulfilment, satisfied in our new found wisdom and worldliness. I didn’t always know where I was going, what it would be like or what I would do when I got there, but I looked forward to unlocking the mystery, step by step, mile by mile, and meeting the challenges presented by less-than-honourable taxi drivers, cockroach infested bathrooms and dodgy curries head on.
Recently, with these fond memories and my swiftly advancing years foremost in my mind, I was lucky enough to be able to return for another dose.
In preparation for this freshly named ‘mature aged gap year’, I pondered a common discussion point among frequent travellers: which is more fun, the planning or the doing? I find enjoyment in both, but in this age of the internet, between Airbnb, Tripadvisor and Google Streets, the element of surprise, the ‘go with flow’ spontaneous moments, and yes, the complete screw ups that we endured at the time but look back on with such fondness, are gone. There is now no need to fly with a tardy airline, eat at restaurants that rate poorly, or stay at a hotel with bedbugs. Every apartment, cafe and museum has been scrutinised, reviewed and rated to within 5 points of Pi, removing the element of doubt and anything potentially distasteful in the unknown.
Does the apartment have lightning fast Wi-Fi? How’s the hotel breakfast? Is that café the one with the Australian barista? No need to wonder, just read the reviews.
If, after all my online research I’m still not sure if the place is in a dodgy part of town, opposite a bus depot, or undergoing construction, I can just check Google streets. Hell, I can even wander the block and pick the café with the best ambience from 10,000 miles away!
So, once you’ve studied and absorbed all the available information, you could be forgiven for feeling a tad let down, perhaps even that you’ve already been there, or at least experienced 50% of the journey. So why still go?
We go because, no matter how many reviews we read, images we look at, or virtual strolls we take, nothing compares to stepping out of a taxi, or hauling our bags up the final flight of stairs from the underground rail, the sensation of sun, smog and rain stinging our face, and finally breathing in the smell of adventure, once again.