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How I Travel: Then and Now

Travel used to involve a lot of planning, printing and paper. These days, it just takes a wallet, passport and mobile.

Before I got a job in the mobile industry in 1996, I did not have a passport. I’d travelled as a child on my parents passport, but not as an adult. In the first six months on the new job, I went to Atlanta, Georgia; Oakland, California; Athens, Greece; Toronto, Canada; and others.

As everyone in the office travelled the world, we had a stack of Frommer’s travel guidebooks (which Google happens to be killing), Fodor’s, and others. Going on a trip involved a lot of planning and photocopying.

I recall connecting via the Texas Instruments TI8n forum (on or via CompuServe) at home to get suggestions on where I could go for sightseeing, eating, etc. (This is how my obsession with Ruth’s Chris Steak House started.)

I kept a file folder in my briefcase (!) to keep track of my paperboard ticket from the day it arrived in the mail until I got to the airport for the return trip, as well as reservation confirmations for my hotel and rental car.

Ideally we used taxis, but in some locations we had to use rentals, which was a daunting prospect. Not the driving, but the navigation.

Whilst I had a personal CompuServe account, at work we didn’t have any Internet access, and Ajax enabled online maps where still in the future. So navigation meant paper maps—if you could find one. One early trip was to a new mobile network being built outside Atlanta in the summer of ’96. As you recall there was a ‘small’ sporting event in Atlanta that year, which meant I did not have a confirmed hotel until just before I flew out to the states. I discovered I was commuting from Alabama everyday, using (fairly) complete directions from the Hertz rental office.

As soon as I left the UK, I couldn’t use my mobile because international roaming plans didn’t really exist (my bill could top £3,000 a month!), and anyway I was always going places where new networks were being built – so they was no network to connect to.

Finally, my briefcase: it was huge. Our team had one laptop we shared for trips, but as LCD projectors were still a rarity, we had to travel with a huge binder of acetates on which we pre-printed any presentations. So all of that had to be carried each trip.

Also crammed into my briefcase was my notebook(s). I live and die by my notebook, and recording everything in there. If a trip conincided with me starting a new notebook, then I needed to bring the old one with me as well.

I'd almost forgotten for in-flight entertainment I would have my mini-disc player, a few magazines and a book to add some final bulk to my luggage. And, I nearly forgot, by 2001 I was also carry around my Handspring Edge for all my contacts, and offline reading (via Avantgo),

Compare that to my upcoming trip to Las Vegas for CTIA 2013.

  • My airline ticket is in an app on my phone
  • All my reservations (flights, hotels, rentals) are stored in the cloud, and accessed via TripIt
  • My phone has (of course) all my contacts, a selection of podcasts and music (all managed by smart playlists)
  • My iPad is not only loaded with my Wired subscription, but also a few TV programmes download via iPlayer
  • I still have my laptop, but at a push I can do any presentation from my iPad or even iPhone
  • For directions, I’ll use WAZE
  • Thanks to Livescribe, all my notes are instantly synced to the cloud, and I can update them directly from my mobile device
  • To figure out what to do and where to eat, I use Foursquare, Yelp and others.

These days, all I need is my wallet, passport and a mobile device. And soon(?), perhaps only my passport and mobile. I don’t miss the good old days.