Admin and IT.
As well as laundry, the other requirement of being out and about with only a vague itinerinerary is planning the next leg of the trip and the resulting admin that arises. In some ways the world has got more complex the easier the access to information has become.
Back in the day you had your guide book, usually a Lonely Planet that was your bible, and in the case of the India version it was also big enough to double as a weapon – heavy enough to clout the crap out of any tout. So you looked in there for your travel route, picked accommodation closest to your budget (recognising the prices shown bore no reality to the current day) and when you turned up to your new location hoped they’d have a room free for you to stay in. A back-up therefore was always a must have, just in case and you were really up shit creek without a paddle if your back-up turned out to have upgraded itself in between publishing dates, or you had to suck up and pay the extra.
On arrival into your new location you’d have to steel yourself against the hard sell of touts, rickshaw drivers and taxi-drivers insistent that they take you to a ‘much betters place madam’ (always ‘madam’, even at 22) or even worse, they’d take you to a knock off of your chosen hotel – similar enough name as to fool you into thinking you’d arrived at your accommodation of choice and you’re left wondering why the book didn’t mention mice or cockroaches or the fact the bathroom looked over a field with nowt but a bit of chicken wire between you and nature.
Nowadays it’s TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Agoda etc which in a way is worse as it unleashes a plethora of options, way more than you can possibly cope with. Plus you get the added pressure of a little pop-up telling you that ‘5 people have booked this hotel in the last hour’ and there’s only 1 room left!!! Argh….fear of missing out really rears its ugly head at this point.
Of course all this fine when wifi is working. Or when you’ve got battery on your phone. On the bus to Mandalay every tourist without exception showed the bus conductor a photo of googlemaps or googlemaps showing where their hotel was. I did the same today with the taxi driver in the vague hope it would prevent me from mangling anymore Burmese words (not only is Ky ‘ch’ but also ‘J’, who’d have thunk, and how the heck are you supposed to know?). On the plus side it does also mean you can track where you are and where you are going thus ensuring you end up in the right place, ultimately.
Accessing hotel details when you’re not connected / fearful of battery failure is slightly more problematic and panic inducing so you’re forced to write down details in your best handwriting to show to whoever is supposed to be taking you to your final destination. They nod, say ‘yes, yes’ then halfway into the journey they ask you the name of the hotel again, trying to read and drive at the same time or if you’re really lucky they’ll also be attempting to dial the hotel phone number that you’ve handily got too. Thank you mobile phones and taxi driver willingness to use them – god send!
Checking in for flights online whilst a blessing is also a curse as you often need a print out of your boarding pass. The days of Internet cafes and their spyware that stole your card details are long gone but so is the ability to print out your ticket. Instead you hope the hotel is a friendly one that will do it for you or that you won’t be charged for failing to produce your A4 piece of paper at the luggage drop desk. All this to prevent you ending up sat bolt upright for 14hrs as your seat is located where it can’t recline.
Some people chose to just ignore the technology and live life as a ‘winger’. Next to me at the immigration control in Bangkok was an Italian man who when asked by the official why he had not put down where he was saying, merely shrugged in that way Italians do and said, ‘I’ve not decided yet, and thought I’d check out a few places’. Madness, I thought… I want to know I’ve got a bed to sleep in and not some soi with the local dogs. And anyway, even if you don’t know where you’ll be sleeping you just make it up, it’s not like they check, dur!
T’internet really has made a practical difference to travelling, and knowing you can google ‘where can I wash my pants in [insert location of choice]’ just makes life a lot less stressful and lets you get on with spending more time searching for that ultimate monk photo.