Monday, May 23, 2016

Timing is Everything

At St. Simone's Island, Ga.

As I find retirement approaching quickly, I've been thinking about life and the pursuit of happiness. As I've told several students, we are about to embark on the adventure that I wanted to try when I graduated from college, but had neither the money nor the courage to attempt. This is true. But there are many other reasons why this is happening now and now 40 years ago.

One reason, of course, is the knowledge gained in the intervening decades that we can do this. This is no small thing. This experience has replaced the need for that missing courage. Not sure I'm any braver now that I was as a young man, but I know myself, I've experienced more of the world and am ready to wade in and just do it.

There are other reasons why now is a good time for a long-term travel adventure that rely, in one way or another, on the rise of technology: the internet, GPS, e-books, and digital photography.

Without the internet and existence of the many house and pet sitting sites, we'd never have found a way to afford to travel extensively. Even if we had found a way to do this, without this blog, we'd have run out of money buying postcards keeping in touch with our friends in the States.

Without GPS and the easy ability to get maps of any country (not sure about North Korea!?), we'd have to work much harder to navigate the world. If you've every watched Foyle's War (check it out on Netflix) and perhaps if you haven't, you know that during WWII, Britain removed all road and train signs in preparation for a potential German invasion. If you've driven in England recently, you will also know that there is no need to remove signs to make the country inscrutable. There are so few outside the large cities and the British style of posting is so different from ours that a GPS is absolutely required if you want to get to and from somewhere. The roads are often hidden behind a building or a hedge so that you see it when going one way but not when coming the other. Having missed the turn, it is easy to find yourself coming back a different way than you went. And in a city, the big worry is missing a turn where you cannot turn around. What do you do returning a rental car in London when you miss your turn and have no idea what to do next? GPS to the rescue: "recalculating" the route is a real life saver. Don't leave home without it.

Everyone needs a book to read on the plane, on the beach, in bed at night, and on the promenade when not watching people. Lugging books across oceans in the time of extensive baggage charges is just crazy. Kindle to the rescue. Now we take any kind and number of books with us anywhere. And with at least sporadic cellular or wifi connections, we can download an unlimited supply of books to keep us interested. This is also a great place to stash important pdf files for easy access.

To capture our memories and learn the craft/art of photography takes equipment. Yes, I lug a lot of heavy lenses about with me. This I can do, but the cost and hassle of filling a growing space with film canisters is more than I can consider. Just think: traveling for a year or more, taking pictures and finding a  way to purchase film, get it developed, store and carry the undeveloped film in a cool place (in Australia in the summer!) and then keep all the negatives (at least) safe until you return home. Digital photography makes this doable. For the price of a now pretty cheap hard drive, you can store thousands of images in something that will fit in your pocket. No need to buy or store film, no development expense. Yes, it takes my time to develop the images digitally, but you can't be out taking pictures all the time. Sometimes you just want to sit and enjoy while you work on the images.

Another way that now is the right time for travel is that the cost of travel is now manageable. The cost of air travel has drops considerably since the 70's and it become possible to travel, not just in economy but even, occasionally, in first class. This is really significant for us. Not that we've dealt with the cost of being there, the affordable cost of getting there makes the whole trip easier to manage.

We now have cell phones that work everywhere in the world. Using a wifi connection, we can talk to anyone anywhere for free. Even without that, our T-Mobile phone is reasonably priced in most places (Botswana was pretty outrageous, but Australia is $0.20/minute) and (slow) data is free. We can text and "WhatsApp" from anywhere to anywhere. This connectivity means that we can travel and not lose touch with our many friends.

So, all in all, now is the best time there's ever been for getting out and seeing the world. Armed with our extensive collection of electronic gadgets, we are able to travel in a relaxed way and see the world in a way that was only possible for the rich when we were young. What was difficult and expensive in the '70's is now comfortable, affordable, and easy to arrange.