Why the internet is so useful for travelling
Many people mock the internet and the need for internet access whilst travelling. They have a point I suppose. Do we really need to be in contact on Facebook, by email, reading the news etc constantly. Always in contact with home takes away the edge from travelling. But on the other hand information is vital for travelling. We need train times and prices, hotel booking, maps, weather information, activities in an area and so many other things. This is a recent phenomenon, just a decade ago people would have gone out and seen the world armed with little more than a Lonely Planet guide. You go where it says, stay either where it recommends or nearby and see the sights it recommends. Vague bus and train information is provided as are some basic maps. Is that more fun or less than what we have now? I don’t know, I like information. I need good information to make a good decision. Maybe this is just me. If I turn up in a random town or village and have to spend the night in a dump, that would be annoying, others might find that fun or an experience and make the most of it.
We had very bad internet access in China, especially in Qingdao when we had to decide where to go on Japan. We were arriving in Shimonoseki in the south of Japan and had to plan a route. I found an amazing looking island off the south of Japan. It had hiking trails, ancient forests, beaches with turtles laying eggs. It looked perfect from the little we could find out. We just managed to stay connected long enough to book a hotel on the island of Yakushima. We arrived in Japan and bought the train tickets to Kagoshima, ready to board the ferry to the island the next morning. With good internet we started to plan our stay in more detail. This was when we found out the size of the island, far larger than we’d thought it was. We also found out how few buses there are. So taking a bus was out of the question (first bus gets us at the start of a hike at 10:40am and the last bus is around 3pm). Taxis would burn our cash too fast plus couldn’t come and pick us up (middle of nowhere, no English). Everything we read said you need a car. Even the turtles would probably need an overnight stay at the other side of the island (or pay an absolute fortune for a guide and transport). In addition four days of torrential rain was heading our way. Great for hiking!
Armed with this information we changed our plans and are now heading north. This cost us a night in Kagoshima (£35), train tickets to Kagoshima (£75 each), tickets back up north (£100 each). Ouch! Maybe others would have ploughed on regardless and made the most of a bad situation. But I’m not like that. If I can see what is achievable in an area I want to do that. I hate going somewhere and not doing the main things in an area.
Maybe the internet has changed us. Or maybe we have a different mentality nowadays. I don’t know how people did it in the past. When we get off a train in a new city we have maps on our phone to navigate us to the hotel. Taxi drivers, or rickshaw drivers are lined up for tourists arrival. They charge ridiculous amounts, far above any fair price and what the locals pay. We avoid taxis and local transport as we usually just get ripped off when we go near them. Thailand required very tough negotiating tactics to get anywhere. I dislike this. In China it’s hit and miss, sometimes taxis use the meter and more often they won’t and ask for fares at least twice the meter price. Nepal was ridiculous, the drivers would just say the highest number they could think of as a starting price. For a ride I’d expect to pay 300 rupees they would start at 900. I punished those drivers by refusing to go with them even when they dropped the price. I just can’t stand stupidly overcharging. It’s true we have more money, but that has to last a long time. Most people were willing to spend more per day than we were, especially Chinese tourists in China. Yet the touts left them alone and only bugged us.
Now back to the original point. I know exactly where we’re going, how to get there, how much it’ll cost, how long it’ll take, what the weather will be like when we get there and even seen photos of the area. I think this is a good thing. It means we can plan better and generally skip places which we wouldn’t find so interesting (as you can see this doesn’t always go to plan). But it does take away an element of surprise or mystery from travelling. But as we’ve seen this week, no information can lead to bad decisions and a change of plans can be costly (especially in Japan where everything costs a fortune).