Is there anything you can’t check on the internet? Research a hotel before you go and you can read hundreds of reviews about it, usually ranging from those singing its praises to others saying that they’d rather have slept in a sewer. Look up an airline and you can get reviews of the size of the seat, the smiles on the cabin crew and know in advance whether it’s worth bringing your own sandwiches on board. It seems that there’s nothing in today’s travel experience that hasn’t been done, written about or even shared in a video.
It used to be said that Americans didn’t need to go to Paris or Venice as they could see almost life-sized replicas of Europe’s big attractions in Las Vegas. Perhaps that logic could apply to the rest of us now. We can walk through the gates of the Taj Mahal and take in thousands of different views thanks to Google Photos. We can watch countless videos and take in the noise of the crowds, the shouting of the vendors and the chatter of the guides around the complex. All this without enduring hours on a plane, burning up our not insignificant amount of CO2 and spending all that money to get to Agra.
Of course, those who have been to the Taj Mahal will no doubt agree that nothing quite prepares you for the experience of physically being there and taking in its beauty. Memories are made not from the very act of seeing an object, but from the full experience of getting there and being there, with all its hassles, unplanned obstacles and unexpected encounters along the way.
Perhaps the Taj Mahal is an exception, but there are many less spectacular sights for which Google provides us with a more than adequate experience. Indeed most of us will immediately be able to name a place that looked far better when we researched it online than when they later experienced it in person. So is there anything left for us to experience without being able to check it out online first?
Certainly when travelling in Micronesia I found precious little information online about the islands we were due to visit. With only a handful of first-hand accounts and almost no official tourist information it was easy to get to places that did not exist as far as Google is concerned. In many ways it felt like going back twenty years to a time when even some sizeable European cities were absent from guide books, which were then the only source of vaguely reliable travel information.
It was with a mix of frustration and perverse pleasure that I have been unable to find any reliable information about my upcoming travel arrangements. Having bagged a dirt cheap Ryanair flight to Malmo in Sweden, a short but potentially expensive hop from the hotel I’ve booked in Copenhagen, I have no idea if there will be any way for us to get to the Danish capital when we arrive at 10pm on Saturday night. You’d think plenty of other people would have made the journey and shared their experiences or horror stories, but no; only a bus company website that looks hopelessly outdated that suggests we’ll be greeted by an empty airport and a guidebook offering a vague mention of a bus that may or may not be there when we arrive.
I guess we’ll just have to turn up and see – a situation that’s now so rarely encountered that it’s almost exciting.