continental airplane

Then and Now: How Travel Has Changed in 25 Years

This month marks my 25th anniversary as a world traveler. In September 1990, I left my life-long home in suburban Indiana and headed to Europe on my first-ever flight, from Chicago to Ireland, to start a new chapter in my life. My first plane flight, first time outside the United States, first time backpacking and staying in hostels, and first time exploring the world and experiencing first-hand other cultures. It was the start of a new era—post-college, as an adult, on my own, and with the freedom to structure my own time. Then my world was full of new possibilities; now the possibilities exist, but in a different form.

 

Me at Stonehenge
European exploring 1990–Me at Stonehenge, England

My first memories of the trip were of the flight— There was a lot of turbulence on the flight (or some, I had nothing to compare it to). The Irish girl, Brigit, I was sitting next to was so nervous flying she had to go to the back of the plane to have a cigarette to calm down. This was back in the day when you could still smoke in designated areas on flights. The beige leather seats on the Continental plane were large enough to be comfortable (even in economy class), and we were actually served good food and drinks (without having to pay for them).

 

Security was very different then too. I didn’t have to take my shoes off and partially undress to go through security. No standing in awkward positions and experiencing awkward pat-downs. No figuring out how to stuff all necessary toiletries into a few tiny bottles to fit into a small plastic see-through bag (I don’t check luggage now). And less fear and concern with flying. But that too changed with the new century. After 911, terrorism in the skies became much more on the minds of everyone.

 

I awoke to lush green views outside my window seat, which were lovely, despite dealing with jetlag for the first time. I couldn’t wait to begin my new day in a different country for the first time! When I finally arrived in Dublin, after a plane change at Shannon airport, I remember the drive into the city center, on the other side of the road, and the “differentness”, but still with the familiarity of a western world lifestyle and language. After getting settled into my hostel, I went out to walk around a bit toting my Let’s Go Europe guidebook with maps so I wouldn’t get lost, and to find a phone booth to call my parents with my MCI calling card to let them know I had arrived safely.

 

I spent a total of a year in Europe—working for 10 months, first at restaurants in the ski resort town of Aviemore, Scotland, then at a deli in Aachen, Germany, for the summer, and traveling around Europe via Eurail. I took photos on my point-and-shoot disposable camera (but only a few in each place, as it could get quite costly developing all the film and mailing the pictures home). And when I was ready to return home, I went in to a travel agency to book my flight.

 

Me in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, France
European exploring 2015–Me in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, France

Nowadays, it almost seems like ancient history when we couldn’t have instant connections with anyone from our smart phone or computer. I now take way too many photos (over 100 per day) with my DSLR and iPhone knowing I can delete all the extras and there’s no cost to see them. I Skype home, use my phone’s GPS to find my way, and can be in instantaneous contact with friends via social media and email. I meet new people from around the world every day on Twitter, can find any travel information I’m looking for on the internet in a few minutes, and book all my travel and accommodation from my computer. And I arrange to stay with locals in a new destination ahead of time via Airbnb or Couchsurfing.

 

Technology has definitely made travel easier and available to plan in advance on your own. But it has also lessened the excitement of when you finally hear from someone via postcard or letter (the precursors to Instagram and email). The world was a bit more mysterious when any information you desired wasn’t accessible at anytime, anywhere from a computer. You didn’t always know what you would find in a new place. And that made travel a bit more of an adventure.

 

Twenty-five years from now, I hope to still be exploring the world, experiencing new places, and having new adventures. It’s hard to image how different it may be then and what new technology will influence the way we travel. Perhaps a new traveler’s first memories will be of boarding a flight on Virgin Galactic for the Moon and contacting holographic versions of family and friends to talk while beaming photos of the landscape home instantaneously. And perhaps someday travelers may even be leaving their life-long home on the Moon to explore quaint and ancient suburban cities in Indiana.

28 Responses

  1. Mary
    Mary at |

    I love your article! I agree with what you said! I hope 25 years from now, more people will see the beauty of traveling, from learning new culture to meeting new people. Keep writing! <3

    Reply
  2. Nikita
    Nikita at |

    I wish I’d been around to get to know this travel style! I still write letters though… Sometimes, it’s nice to really feel the distance.

    Reply
  3. Ursula (myVideoMedia)
    Ursula (myVideoMedia) at |

    Congratulations! I wish you all the best for the next 25 years. A lot of new adventures, wherever you you. Keep on 🙂

    Reply
  4. Conor (The Continental Drifters)
    Conor (The Continental Drifters) at |

    Happy to see you’re first trip abroad was to Ireland – have you been back since? My oh my I can imagine it’s quite different to the Ireland of 25 years ago!
    I reckon I’m still a bit of an older style of traveller – I try and keep my phone away and use maps. And when I get lost, I’d rather ask someone on the street where to go rather than stare blankly at my phone 🙂
    PS, what’s a “travel agency”??? 🙂

    Reply
  5. Claudia
    Claudia at |

    Lovely post. I still manage to get excited when I go to a place, even though I read about it online, and seen lots of pictures. I also still send postcards to some friends, just because it is different now (how fun) and they love getting them 🙂

    Reply
  6. karla
    karla at |

    I like how you wrote this article. Comparing then and now and how everything really did change. Then, we used film cameras. I can never see how pics looked like so we just hope and pray that its good once it is developed.Now, you can take a million photos… I think for me that enough is HELPFUL enough.

    Reply
  7. Lieurene Tran
    Lieurene Tran at |

    That’s amazing to see that you have been traveling for 25 years. I would love to travel for that long, you are an inspiration. It’s also amazing that you get to see the beginning and the development of technology as well as how tourism change over the years.

    Reply
  8. Twyla Mulvanny
    Twyla Mulvanny at |

    Great article Vicki! I remember going through my travel book (Fodor’s!) and reading every page before venturing onto the plane. I would tear out and take only the pages of the areas that we would be visiting – we didn’t want to have to carry too much weight!

    Reply
  9. Shane Dallas (The Travel Camel)
    Shane Dallas (The Travel Camel) at |

    I can relate to everything in this article. My first ever overeas trip was to New Zealand in 1986 (was coming from Australia) and Europe in 1991. Travel was more of an adventure then, mainly because it was more isolating – no daily or even weekly communication with friends and family. You needed to be more self-reliant in those days. Thanks for bringing back memories of my early travel experiences.

    Reply
  10. Erica
    Erica at |

    This is very interesting to read! I was told most of the popular beaches were such virginal gems in the 90’s…no fast food chains, no hotel chains, just nipa huts and local homestays. Such a shame, would have love to see some islands at their prime!

    http://girlunspotted.com

    Reply
  11. Ynah CA
    Ynah CA at |

    Wow very inspiring! I have learn alot from travelling – and i will continue to do so…Congrats Vicky 🙂

    Reply
  12. Heather Sinclair
    Heather Sinclair at |

    Thanks for this post! Wouldn’t that be great if people from the Moon came to Earth to explore our hometowns? You never know!
    And I definitely remember hoarding my film, and being selective about the photos I took while traveling. Oh times have changed!
    Here’s to another 25 years for sure. 🙂

    Reply
  13. Nic from Roaming Renegades
    Nic from Roaming Renegades at |

    Great post, fascinating to hear how the shift in technology had impacted on you. For me my travel experiences back then were family ones so that has changed a lot. But I look back to even a few years ago and the amount of photos I took for example and it’s crazy! Good and back I feel, sometimes we do let tech come between us and the place, sometimes it allows us to connect more to it.

    Reply
  14. Lucy
    Lucy at |

    Oh that’s interesting for me to read…
    I can’t imagine the airport security back than … since I always take off my shoes… or how was travelling without smartphone & all the technologies.

    Reply
  15. antonette - we12travel
    antonette - we12travel at |

    Great blog! I can’t help but wonder where we are in 25 years – somehow I feel like we can’t change too much anymore because it’s already so developed and changed but who knows – for now, I hope my life sure doesn’t change too much as I like traveling the way I do now…

    Reply
  16. Michael Huxley
    Michael Huxley at |

    It definitely has changed so much, and I think technology has a lot to do with it, absolutely! I’m just waiting for someone to invent the transporter! ;D

    Reply
  17. Anne | Girl Chasing Sunshine
    Anne | Girl Chasing Sunshine at |

    You’ve been traveling for 25 years?! Aahh, #LifeGoals! What do you think it would be 25 years from now?

    Reply
  18. melody pittman
    melody pittman at |

    25 years, congrats! Seems it changes so much, year to year, it is hard to keep up with. Isn’t so amazing how accessible the entire world is now? Keep on keeping on, seeing the world and learning new things. Best wishes!

    Reply
  19. Revati
    Revati at |

    You know, I’m watching Bridges of Madison country tonight, and I was just telling the husband, how much respect I have for the old time travellers, who had to really get out there and off the path, and photographers who really needed expertise and knowledge to do what they do. So so much respect for old time travel!

    Reply
  20. christine
    christine at |

    I can’t imagine how difficult it used to be to travel!! Not as easy I’m sure.

    Reply
  21. Robb Saunders
    Robb Saunders at |

    I wish I could have experienced flight travel like it was 25 years ago! Such an amazing journey you have been on. Keep up the great work!

    Reply
  22. Sarah Ebner
    Sarah Ebner at |

    What a terrific piece. I don’t miss the people smoking on the planes, but I do miss the fact that it was all a bit more laid back then – the security was totally different. Glad you’ve done so many things over the last 25 years. My son is desperate to go to Mars, so maybe that is next after all!

    Reply
  23. NWRoadtrips
    NWRoadtrips at |

    Excellent take on your life as a traveler. As time goes by, the desire to travel seems to remain a strong force in a certain percentage of some peoples’ lives. Your travel has obviously been a very positive thing on your life. Good job.

    Reply

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