“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going” – Paul Theroux (American Travel Writer and Novelist)
Since the invention of the backpack, young travellers have spanned the globe to quench their thirst for adventure. Generations tend to be the product of their environment, and the current digital environment is allowing the population greater flexibility and speed than ever before (in theory, less time for chores and more time for other things). This is often reflected in the attitudes of the younger generations today. This increased flexibility has led to a ‘live life to the fullest while you can’ outlook on life for many growing up in the digital era and has led me to think of our generation not so much as Generation Y, but more of Generation “Why Not?”. In my opinion, one of the best things about the very digital Gen-Y and their attitudes is the increasing propensity for young people to go exploring for extended periods overseas, with nothing more than a backpack, passport and positive attitude.
Following University and a year working in Canada, I decided to change careers. I figured that in between careers would be the best time to have an extended backpacking experience, whilst I had no job, mortgage or dependent family. I had no idea of what to expect, only a faint idea of the places I wanted to see and decided that anywhere in Europe would be a great starting point. After committing myself to the experience, I sold everything in my apartment, bought a backpack and booked my one-way ticket to London to start what was to be the solo trip of a lifetime.
Although my experience was probably quite similar to the days of old, there are some certain new comforts that make the experience of the modern backpacker slightly less stressful than the experiences of the past. So I am dedicating this article to the apps (how very “Gen-Y”) that saved my bacon on-the-go, whilst I was hung over, dazed and confused in faraway countries where I barely spoke a word of the local language.
This infamous app is a best friend to backpackers everywhere. Hostel World is your one stop for everything hostel related in almost every city around the globe. It provides a great level of detail about each hostel and what is included with the price you pay per night, so you usually know the bare minimum of what to expect for your dollar (or euro, kuna, zloty, baht, riel, or whatever other form of currency you will be dealing in for the next period of time). The other feature that sets it apart is the fact that all reviews are user-generated, an attempt to ensure that each hostel gets the fairest and most accurate review possible. Granted, some hostels may encourage patrons to give more favourable reviews, but this is the section I checked out most whilst deciding on where to stay and I found it to be an accurate indicator of where to stay and what to expect. You can also book your stay directly through the app, eliminating the need to go through a third party website – easy as.
Essentially, this app allows you to download complete maps of certain cities directly to your smartphone or tablet. If you are like me and can’t afford an overseas roaming data account, or popping in to the nearest café every 5 minutes to buy a €4 coffee for the ‘wiffy’ password, this is the greatest thing since…well…actual maps. All it takes is a tiny bit of forward planning about the city you will next be visiting to download each map and you’ll always have a reference when you get lost on the winding streets of whichever ‘old town’ you may be stuck in. I recommend getting the pro version ($3), which includes information about certain parts of town and attractions. This may become vital in times of need. It also serves as a tour and history guide when wondering which of the countless huge old cathedrals you might have stumbled upon. It delivers what it promises – an entire city map in the space of your selected device, on the go.
At some point in your trip, you are probably going to have to get on a plane. Especially if coming from an island. Easy to use, it helps you to find and book the cheapest (or quickest – usually not the same option) flight to get from point A to point B. For those who plan ahead, you can sign up for price alerts delivered to your inbox. Flights can be booked directly through the app, which makes it very convenient. Especially if you have missed your connection in Belgrade after one-too-many rakija shots and have to spend a night in the airport until the next available flight at 7am. Like me.
It’s easy to assume that the use of digital aids and guides would take away from the experience, but I found it to be quite the opposite. They allowed me to take more risks and throw more caution to the wind, with the knowledge that I could eventually solve my problem if things weren’t working out. Whilst I preferred to use advice from others I met along the way, the apps provided a safety net when the sound advice from the local shop owner proved to be a bit dodgy. Without them in my pocket, I might not have taken certain risks and may have missed out on experiences that I decided on at the very last second. Convenient, simple and effective – they are shining examples of how the digital and mobile era has allowed us greater freedom to spend more time on the best part of travel: the exploration.