Technology and travel: a help or hindrance?

By Harriet Cunningham

With increasing popularity of technology in society, the prevalence of travel sites and apps in the travel world is hardly surprising and something that I have definitely become more familiar with during my year abroad. However, there remains some debate as to whether such resources can actually be detrimental to the authentic and intensely personal experience of travelling and whether they can in fact distract from it.

UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics states that the number of international students worldwide is currently increasing by about 12% each year, highlighting the increasing popularity of study-based travel. But is technology a help or a hindrance to the many curious students out there, keen to don a backpack and explore other continents?

The number of international students worldwide is currently increasing by about 12% each year

The internet has given us the ability to research possible destinations with great precision, to the point where you can search for your chosen hotel or hostel on Google Maps and take a virtual amble into town.

Open Grid Scheduler

Perhaps the most well-known digital development in the travel world in recent years, Airbnb exploded onto the travel scene in 2008, allowing travellers to rent space in a private home or apartment online. Coveted for promoting an increase in ‘DIY travellers’ since its conception, you can choose a place to stay that’s tailored to your needs. “More people are travelling than ever before, and companies like Airbnb encourage younger people to explore sooner, and in a more cost-effective way”, notes Tamara Lohan, co-founder of boutique hotels website Mr & Mrs Smith, in an interview in The Guardian.

This concept is undoubtedly a natural development with the increased capability of technology to bridge the gap between those living in different areas of the world. “Technology has also brought tradition into the mainstream. The concept of staying in people’s homes when travelling is not a new one and dates back many centuries, but what technology has been able to do is accelerate this to a fast-moving and easily-accessible global phenomenon”, states James McClure, country manager for UK and Ireland at Airbnb.

Similarly, websites such as Trivago have soared in popularity in recent years, no doubt helped by the large-scale corporate advertising that continues to dominate our screens. These sites help you to create the perfect holiday from the comfort of your own home within minutes, providing instant comparisons of price, customer ratings and facilities of potential travel methods and hotels or hostels.

Technology has brought tradition into the mainstream. The concept of staying in people’s homes when travelling is not a new one and dates back many centuries.

Sites such as Skyscanner similarly allow us to compare prices of various airline carriers for the same flight, as well as showing the varying layover options.

With this plethora of websites and apps in mind, I was reminded of an interesting article that The Guardian published on the future of travel, debating how travel will differ in 2024 and beyond. The fact that this article is now slightly outdated, having been published in 2014, only adds to the sheer scale of the digital possibilities that may unfold in coming years: ‘Check in by robot? Budget space flights? Virtual holidays?’.

There remains something special about improvisation: allowing yourself to get a little lost, genuinely explore and detach from technology for a little while whilst travelling

It is clear that the effect of technology on our ability to plan our trips, book hotels and even niche aspects such as finding suitable restaurants for those with allergies before even setting off to a destination, is something that is only going to expand our horizons in the future.

However, whilst the practicality and efficiency of these sites cannot be doubted, there remains something special about improvisation: allowing yourself to get a little lost, genuinely explore and detach from technology for a little while whilst travelling. Physical travel guides such as the Lonely Planet series, treasured by travel enthusiasts worldwide, should not be forgotten and arguably often provide a much more in depth and personal perspective of a destination than a generic website ever can.

Featured photograph: Stock Catalog

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