If you listen to the experts, we live, right now, in the golden age of travel. This is as good as the travel experience has ever been; and it might just be as good as it will ever get.
Travel has never been easier, it's never been cheaper, and it's never been more accessible than it is now. You can fly in a plane halfway across the entire world for less than a week's pay. You can book a great hotel in a country far away with a few taps on a little gadget that sits in your pocket. You can understand foreign languages. You can visit any place on the globe and have a fair idea of what it will be like before you get there.
It's the golden age, and travel has never been more popular. Last year there were 1.4 billion overseas arrivals throughout the world. There were 7 billion international and domestic trips taken. Travel is the second fastest growing industry worldwide (behind manufacturing); $12.33 trillion was injected into world economy in 2018 thanks to travel.
This thing is a phenomenon. And all the signs point to continued growth, to continued success. The golden age of travel will just go on, and on.
Except, is this really the golden age? That is the common assumption from many people, even those who don't work in the industry and make a lot of money out of it. And all of those points I made earlier about the ease and affordability of modern-day travel are true. There's never been a time when this pursuit we all love has been so accessible to so many.
But does that make it a golden age? Or does it actually do the opposite? There are plenty of ways you could argue that travel now is far from ideal.
Consider, for a second, the sheer amount of people who are moving around the globe at any one time. Consider how difficult it is to, say, get a restaurant booking in Kyoto. Consider how many people you're rubbing shoulders with at Angkor Wat. Consider the task of booking a hotel room during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
Travel is accessible, and millions of people are taking up the opportunity – but that's not always a good thing. Over-tourism is rife. Cities such as Barcelona and Venice are pushing back against the hordes, who far outnumber the actual citizens, and that's only going to spread as more people travel, and more, and more ...
Crowds surround Rome's Trevi Fountain. Photo: Shutterstock
This might be the golden age of travel, but surely it felt better to be in these places before everyone else arrived? Try visiting the Taj Mahal on any given day at dawn, when the gates are first thrown open, compared to visiting a few hours later when everyone else has woken up and descended. What's the more enjoyable experience? What feels more "real" and authentic?
The daytime visit is what modern-day tourism is like. Visit the most popular destinations on the planet and you'll find yourself sharing them with thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of others. And this is the golden age?
Consider, too, the damage we're doing to the environment. All of those aeroplanes soaring across the sky; all of those cruise ships ploughing through the seas; all of those feet stamping around the pavements. It's causing problems. And again, it's only going to get worse.
The mystery of travel has also largely disappeared. Yes, it's amazing that you can go online right now and choose a great hotel in Ouagadougou, relying on the reviews and experiences of others, but in other ways that's also kind of sad. Where's the thrill of discovery when someone else has already made those discoveries for you and given them a rating out of five?
The romance of travel, too, has been eroded. There's little fanfare or excitement involved in going to the airport to catch a flight. Now it's a chore, something you have to put yourself through to get to where you're going, a battle of overhead space and over-zealous seat reclining and barging at the carousel.
Hell at the baggage carousel. Photo: Shutterstock
Travel becomes less special when you do it all the time, when you book a holiday in Bali in the same way you would once have planned a road trip to a town few hours down the road.
These are all issues for people who love to travel, and who have been doing it for a long time. However, the good news is that they're easily solvable.
Want to avoid the crowds? Don't go to the hotspots. The bulk of the world's tourists are still going to the same old places, meaning the slightest deviation from the beaten path will have you somewhere exciting and unknown.
That's how you reinject the mystery into travel too – go to places you haven't been before. Don't read all the reviews. Leave yourself time when you get there for wandering and discovery.
Don't fly so much. Travel overland and travel slow. Resist the temptation to go everywhere you want to go, everywhere that's now accessible. Spend more time in fewer places. Make a point of enjoying the few flights you do take. Treat them as something special.
Do all of these things, and take advantage of the obvious benefits of the modern-day travel scene, and there's no reason why this can't still be the golden age.
Is this the golden age of travel? Or was it better before everyone else was doing it? What are your tips for making the travel experience special and enjoyable?
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