An Air Mail Letter With A Twitter UpdateI must open by stating that I’ve used computers as a hobby for almost 30 years, so I’m no technophobe and we’re all aware that modern technology has changed the way travellers communicate. My question is, do these new technologies change the experience the modern traveller has with his or her destination, due to that constant link back to your homeland? This question relates mainly to travel within thrid world destinations, and not in places such as Europe, Australasia and North America. With email, Twitter, Facebook and other various new forms of communication, I believe you don’t get that feeling of complete isolation from your own culture, as you’re constantly in contact with friends and family back home.

It’s this constant connection via the use of cellular/mobile phones that intrigues me most. I remember vividly, heading back to East Africa with Liza in 2003, and couldn’t believe how many locals and travellers alike, were using mobile phones in cities such as Kampala and Nairobi. It was exactly 10 years since my first visit in 1993, and back then it was hard enough to find a phone, let alone a cellular. At the pace at which things are constantly changing, I can’t imagine what its like today. Cellular networks are alot easier and more cost effective to install than cabled networks, so cellular networks are being rolled out at a very rapid pace in many third world countries. This is a great thing for the local population, but does this have some affect on the travellers state of mind, as they cannot completely let go from where they have come from, and in turn fully immerse themselves in the surrounds of their destination.

With email, you’re in contact with people maybe once or twice a week, but with mobile communications this link can become an hourly occurrence.

From my early years of travel there were only two words that I associated with communication to the world beyond, and they were ‘Poste Restante’. To many young travellers today, these two words have little or no meaning, but to those who are a little older, they will bring back great memories (or in some cases, some not so great ones). Poste Restante, in French literally translates to ‘Post Which Remains’, and was for many years the travellers sole lifeline back to your friends and family at home. Although still in use today, it has no where near the impact on the Gen Y traveller, as it did on travellers from my own and previous generations.

Whilst on the road for months and sometimes more than a year at a time, Poste Restante was the only form of communication I would have with home, other than the odd tuning into the BBC World Service on my shortwave radio. Of course there was always the telephone, but at the ridiculous expense of $10 per minute in some countries, and very bad lines, the telephone was only used on special occasions or emergencies.

I have strong memories of walking into the post office in many African or South American capital cities, and receiving a ‘Poste Restante’ from my father.

Within the post office there was always a man or woman, who was in complete control of the ‘Poste Restanate’ boxes. You would need to show your passport, and in turn he or she would, often without saying a word, slowly scan the boxes for your name, and hand over your letters. People would sporadically send me letter’s, as well as clippings from the local paper, regarding general news or sporting results from back home. To make sure I received these letters or packages I would need to let people know what cities I was going to be in, and a rough time frame on when I would be visiting (the timing was important as most post offices will only hold the mail for no more than a month or two before it was returned to sender).

I suppose these transformation of the travellers communication methods are just another one of those aspects of travel that are slowly changing with the times. I’ll be the first one to admit ‘nothing stays the same forever’. In fact you’ll probably catch me tweeting from some far away destination at some time in the future, but I did enjoy that feeling of being lost in the world for months on end, sometimes without any knowledge of what was happening in the world around me. For anyone who has taken the time to read this post, I’d be interested to know the amount of time you spend checking your tweets, status or emails whilst on the road. Can you go for a few days or a week, or if you have an available connection can you not put your phone away, or stay out of the internet cafe around the corner?

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