86 Comments
May 14Liked by Brent Hartinger

One kind of travel was easier back then. But first: About 35 years ago, while in grad school, I took a summer course in Vicenza Italy. I traveled quite a bit around the region that summer, as the class was only held mornings, and only during the week. So as soon as it finished each day at Noon, I'd head to the train station and grab a train to some town I'd read about the night before. (I relied almost solely on a book by Paul Hoffman, who had been a Rome Correspondent for the NY Times for many years -- the book, "Cento Citta: A Guide to the "Hundred Cities & Towns" of Italy.") Usually I'd return late that night, but occasionally I'd stay for the evening and return in the morning, just in time for class. Each Friday, I'd leave for places much further for the weekend, returning Sunday evening, usually (and occasionally on Monday morning).

It was VERY easy to stay someplace on the fly in almost any Italian town back then. There was always a tourist office near the train station, and if I planned to stay over, I'd pop in the office and ask them to find me a place for the evening or weekend.

I was never disappointed. It was such a lovely service.

I can't imagine doing that today, though of course I could check online through booking.com or Airbnb or any of several sites to find myself something myself -- but in tourist-packed Italy these days, I wonder whether I'd be able to find anything at all the day of, or night before, especially during summer. (I was still paying off my student loans, including from that summer, for about 10 years after grad school, but it was the best money I ever spent!)

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Oh, those are lovely memories!

I didn't start traveling until later than that, but it DOES feel like people were so lovely and friendly and helpful, even in the 90s! (People are still lovely, but they are understandably jaded too).

In a way, you're right, it wasn't difficult at all. There was always a friend to help you out.

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I miss the spontaneity of traveling before the internet too. Finding a place to stay was part of the adventure.

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May 14Liked by Brent Hartinger, Michael Jensen

I have even more mixed feelings about Kusadasi and environmental damage, because my grandmother had a house in Kadinlar Denizi, and when I used to visit as a kid in the early 80s (when, yes, travel was difficult! My parents needed an agent to find us the most affordable flights, layovers could last up to 10 hours...but kids could travel on their own with barely a look-in from an airline assistant!), the beach was still relatively empty, there were still tiny sand insects hopping about, and natural grasses extended from the shoreline to the sand. Now the sand is "dead", all the grasses have been paved over, and many of the rocks have been blasted away to extend the piers of various hotels.

It's been a decade since I've seen the place and I'm afraid to go back! <3

(On the other hand, I'm loving revisiting Turkey vicariously through both of you! Please eat some pide for me!)

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Oh, how very very sad. I have these same feelings about the (mobbed dead) beaches and rivers near my home town.

You would not recognize it, i'm afraid.

But we do love Turkey! As for the pide, DEAL!

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May 14Liked by Brent Hartinger

And remember having to get travelers' checks and change money beforehand? (Actually I still like to have a little local cash on hand, because you never know. We landed in Iceland at the crack of dawn, and it was handy to have krona for the only place open that could sell us a muffin and juice.)

I still find it possible to be surprised by places, though. I'm not on Instagram and don't see huge amounts of photos and videos online before visiting a place. But even when you see something familiar like the Eiffel Tower or Michelangelo's David or the Rocky Mountains or Multnomah Falls, it's still different from seeing it on a little screen. It's bigger, it's three-dimensional, it's real! Then there are the non-visual aspects: the smells, sounds, tastes, temperature, and so on. The mist from a waterfall, the creamy sweetness of true Italian gelato, the smell of an evergreen forest, can not be felt from an online picture.

The aridity of Hawaii's leeward coasts surprised me, as did the free-range chickens roaming everywhere (I had never seen any posts about that before!) and the coarseness of black sand. I had seen tons of pictures of Hawaii, but being there was very different.

And I don't think you need to feel guilty about your newsletter. You always encourage mindfulness and responsibility as visitors, and although I hope to do some traveling, for me your newsletter is still largely a vicarious joy. You go a lot of places I'm never going to go myself, and I wouldn't otherwise get to see or learn about them.

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Oh Lord, travelers' checks! Insane. But remember them well. LOL

It's a good point how reality differs from the photo or the video. Very very true!

Appreciate the kind words, as always.

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I was one of a several college faculty who took American students to London in 2008. It took my deep knowledge of my native UK and of the US to find ways to slow them down, and get them to look, and talk to people. It was one of my most worthwhile teaching experiences, of which I'm very proud. But now I wonder if I erred in encouraging travel. Most tourists blunder abroad in search of novelty, and quickly get bored, while spoiling the places they visit. It's sad.

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LOL Yes, we're starting to feel very guilty about this newsletter, despite the fact that we KNOW most of our readers are thoughtful travelers. But someone tells two people and they tell two people...and so on and so on.

Change is usually good but the pace is so fast these days. Ug.

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Keep writing. I have many armchair travelers reading me, and given the places I go, like Miami (the one in Oklahoma) and other underappreciated bits of America, they're not likely to follow. And that's ok! It's ok not to have a bucket list! It's ok to read Brent and Michael instead of trying to follow them everywhere! And see how they have a great time in non-tourist places! Read travel accounts, novels, memoirs, and histories, folks. We all don't have to go everywhere. Going somewhere well is the most important thing. ❤️

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May 14Liked by Brent Hartinger

As is probably true for most of your readers, this brings up a lot of memories. Those weirdly cheap student tickets you could get on KLM and the like to get from the U.S. to Europe, and the student-priced rail passes. How you had to puzzle together trips from travel guides (I traveled by bus and hostel along the coast of Turkey in 1997 with some friends and can't remember how we put it together). My family was very poor and didn't travel at all when I was young--we camped locally--but in college it doesn't seem like it was that hard, by comparison to today, to work enough waitressing shifts for a small trip. And somehow, I've lost a sense of wanderlust. Mostly I want to get to know where I live more deeply every year. Are these things related? Maybe.

Taylor Swift always said it best! 👸🏼

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Oh, that's a good point about student travel! Rail passes and hostels. Sadly, the hostel prices are exploding, I hear (but only in Western Europe, not in places beyond, so maybe it's the market righting itself a bit).

Hey, life is seasons! I swear it is. I am in one season now, but I know it will pass. (Shhh, don't tell Michael. He never wants to stop traveling!)

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I agree with you! But we'll keep it between us 🤫🫢😂

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Brent - I could write a comment as long if not longer than your column. 🤣 I started traveling after college when I moved to Paris for grad school. (And the dinosaurs were still roaming the earth) I was hooked. I made it a point to find jobs that required overseas relocation until I settled down after 10 year of that. I didn't stop traveling in the interim, but I now have the luxury of time, so I travel around 50,000 miles a year. Importantly as a traveler of that distance and duration I believe I am more aware of my carbon footprint than most and it is always a consideration and on my mind. To your point, if I met someone who had been to Iraq my answer is HELL YEAH they are more interesting, I will never get there. However, if the person has stuck to "vacation destinations" or the "ON the beaten path" I would agree with your friend. I find that people who travel, but primarily those that wander into the areas outside of the guidebook towns are more aware of world politics, other cultures. are more food adventurous and have a very good idea of how the everything that happens in the world affects someone other than themselves. Those people are for more interesting - to me-. I still say that travel is a luxury, especially if you go to difficult to access places and stay for long periods of time to really get to know the area and the people. That type of travel is not cheap because you don't have the advantage of the phenomenon of "more people, cheaper accomodations" . Air travel has gotten more expensive since covid as well. So what do I worry about? The same things you mentioned, over tourism is ruining economies, hurting the environment and often giving the world the wrong impression of people from other countries. (that is not limited to Americans). I also feel bad that the future generations won't feel the need to learn another language thanks to technology. I speak 4 and wish I spoke more by my feeble old brain has reached its limit. I love getting lost, as you said it doesn't have to happen anymore. I abhor Instagramers who don't even notice where they are for the primping and preening and selfishness - again technology. Maybe a better question is - do we need to travel. YouTube has already given you sights and sounds, what will AI bring. It will be a sanitized version without food, smells and actual humans, but is that where we are headed? I hope not, travel is vital to understand how small you really are in the world, doing that through technology just can't teach you that.

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All very true! And I suppose it's like anything: there will always be people who take the easy route (and in a way, there is nothing wrong with that, sometimes it's fine to just relax). And there will always be people who go deeper. Like you, I sometimes worry that technology is *encouraging* certain things -- often, the wrong things. But I suppose things are always gained while other things are lost, and regardless, change is the way of the world. And as others have said, great travel experiences still exist -- I believe that very much. thanks for the thoughts! We're of like minds.

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May 17Liked by Brent Hartinger, Michael Jensen

Very well said!

I just returned from a 13 day deep dive all around Morocco and your views were exactly how I felt. I was 30-40 years to late to experience the "real" and exotic Morocco. The place was mobbed and turned into a dumbed down tourist trap..

My first international trip in 1078... Tahiti.

Travel was very different then.

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Very very mixed feelings, no? (I DO think one can still go "off the beaten path." But at some point, that really will be impossible...)

And thank you.

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May 15Liked by Brent Hartinger

I'm so glad I was able to visit Croatia in the mid 2000s before Game of Thrones caused a huge increase in tourism, since I don't think I'd go now!

I remember planning a trip to Little Corn Island and trying to find a place to stay. I saw some reviews mentioning what were essentially small huts on the beach, but there was no website (and this was 2012). We had to try calling a phone number and reached a man who said he would put us down for the dates we wanted, with no deposit or anything! We showed up on the island after a plane ride to Big Corn, then a rather scary panga ride to Little Corn, not knowing if we'd have a place to stay or not.😆 But we actually did have a small wooden hut on the beach just steps from the water, and it is still one of my favorite trips.

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Yeah, Dubrovnik was...intense. Loved Split in the winter but wouldn't go back in the summer. No way.

That's how how reservations used to work, wasn't it? No reviews, no deposit. You just showed up! hahaha

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May 14Liked by Brent Hartinger

Great article. We got married in Sri Lanka 24 years ago & are planning to go back for the first time next year to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We are looking forward to it obviously, but also know it will be nothing like the place it was in 2000.

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May 14Liked by Brent Hartinger

I was there two years ago. My boyfriend and I cleaned a beach next to the hotel we were staying in. The next morning we saw two employees cleaning the beach of garbage.

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Soooo much plastic in southeast Asia! Tragic. But good for you.

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Thank you.

Yes, I'm sure it will be very very different. But it's still on our list to visit.

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May 14Liked by Brent Hartinger

Well, here's some irony for you. I took a picture from the exact same spot overlooking Vernazza that you two were standing in ... And speaking of Cinque Terre - and the mobs of travelers ... I don't know, the little quaint things you see on your hike, just seem so less quaint when there are so many tourists around. It feels almost like Disneyland. I also felt the same about visiting Venice - first time in 1982, second in 2012. You are making a really good point about how easy it is, it becomes so much harder to find places that are special anymore. By the same token, how will it be 20 years from now? Will we remember the places we visit today as uncrowded compared to how it will be then? I hate to think about that.

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That's exactly right! That's exactly the point! People waiting in line to take the same Instagram photos. I did like the Cinque Terre but it TOTALLY felt like Disneyland, like a museum, with various set pieces. Not "authentic" at all anymore.

Re: 20 years from now. Yeah, I ask the same question. How much crazier can it get?? But somehow it will, I know. Oy!

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Cheap travel is killing the joy of travel.

I have been traveling (not full time but regularly) since 1970. One of the problems that has temporarily subsided, is the number of first time travelers. For example while the Chinese government does not publish reliable figures, in 2018, it issued around 30 million tourist passports. That is 2.5 million people per month that are getting out of China for the first time. Include other developing countries and the numbers become staggering.

Travel in addition to creating memories, helps us better understand each other and appreciate our cultural difference. But when it’s done under duress with people pushing and edging out each other, travel becomes combat sport and a pain in the neck.

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Very very true! Travel is a thing of great beauty and wonder...and also a thing of destruction and unwanted change. hmmmmm

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May 20Liked by Brent Hartinger

I liked reading this article and all the comments. I’d like to add, there are still places out there where you can travel like the old days… google maps doesn’t work very well, phone reception sucks and people don’t speak English but are welcoming and helpful. There are still places that are off the beaten track and are incredible. I live in one 😊

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Haha, good to know! Where are you exactly?

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You share so much more than the IG/TikTok influencers. Don't feel guilty about your newsletter. You share quality and truth. THAT is rare.

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Awwww, thank you very much.

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May 18Liked by Brent Hartinger

This was such an interesting post. I am 40 now, and though I can remember life without the Internet, I can remember when we didn't use the web so much for travel planning - nor did we have ubiquitous access around the world (nowadays a cheap eSIM card anywhere gives us pretty much all the time!). I agree that certain types of travel has gotten to be really easy, but in some of my recent experiences, like in Bulgaria, I felt like a fish out of water. Despite having a Lonely Planet guide, the web, Google Translate, and several travel experiences behind me (of all kinds), it honestly didn't feel all that easy. Your post has made me more grateful for this. Thank you!

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Thank you! And you're welcome.

There are definitely still places like that -- and you're right about parts of Bulgaria (which we loved). But things are changing fast even there.

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May 18Liked by Brent Hartinger

Great perspective. I traveled in Europe (backpacking, mostly) in '93. '94 and '99, and I remember those last minute phone calls hoping for a room in a Lonely Planet-listed lodging! And buying a baguette and a piece of cheese and calling it lunch. Now I've been to Spain and Portugal a few times the past five years, and it's a completely different experience. Not worse or better, just different. Part of this is that I'm able to spend more, and that my (aging) body won't accept some of the accommodations or food that my 20-something self made due with back then.

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Thanks!

Part of my feelings are age-related, I'm sure. And like you, yeah, I really really wouldn't want to recreate some of the crappy travel situations I found myself in back then lol

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I traveled through Europe 20 years ago and then returned with my kids last year. With google "public transportation" directions and automatic translations via google lens, it felt like cheating. I was kinda sad :(

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It does feel like cheating! LOL that's it exactly.

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