Travel made easy?

July 23, 2013 

There is probably no other place where the convergence of technology vs. old school tools is more at odds than in the world of travel.

We are rapidly nearing the time when paper tickets, dog-eared travel guidebooks and haphazardly folded maps are on the brink of extinction. An atlas will be forever doomed to the halls of a museum, possibly next to a sculpture of the actual Atlas.

I can already board a plane by showing the gate attendant my cell phone, reserve a car from a mobile app, and program the GPS to take me anywhere I’d like, including restaurants with the best reviews I’ve looked up on Yelp and the cheapest gas stations I’ve pinpointed using Gas Buddy.

I can even program the GPS to speak to me in a kind, British woman’s voice or go for a harsher-sounding male yelling at me to turn. If I want to mute the technology, turning off the voice allows for a shrill-sounding American woman to yell at me, one who takes the human form of my wife or daughter.

While this electronic progress is no doubt more convenient, I bemoan the loss of certain skills.

The ability to read a map is no longer necessary. Although 99 percent of the time, it isn’t needed, what happens when the GPS goes out? Chaos ensues, even for those who can pull out a phone with a compass app turned on.

As it is, if the phone goes out, it might as well be a paperweight. I don’t even know my own phone number any more, let alone ones I might need to call in an emergency.

You know where they are all stored? That’s right, on the phone that now isn’t functioning. Somewhere along the line, I forgot the Boy Scout mantra — probably because there wasn’t an app for it.

Where I really struggle is in the dwindling reliance on good old paper. I know this is a losing battle as e-books surge in popularity and newspapers are folding quicker than those god-awful maps with 24 pleats.

I like to flip through a guidebook when I’m in a new city. I like to break the tethers of electronics every once in awhile, and often times my dwindling battery life mandates that I take a rest.

But in today’s world, travel books can easily be replaced by a quick visit to WikiTravel or any of a number of specialized sites with up to the minute travel information. Frommer’s in a physical form is going the way of the rotary phone in favor of the e-book.

Kindles and Nooks serve a purpose, but I can see a future where bookshelves are replaced with tiny flash drive shelves. Maybe IKEA’s sleek designs were ahead of their time. Let me check an app to confirm.

Reach Scott at costanalysiscolumn@gmail.com if your Chowhound Yelps.

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