When Lee and I met we joked that instead of a “Gap Year” we wanted to take a “Gap Decade.”
That’s exactly what we did.
September 2008 was my first solo travel experience, which led to a working holiday in New Zealand, which led to meeting Lee, which led to becoming a “digital nomad” freelance writer, starting this blog and traveling full time ever since.
Since the early days of backpacking around New Zealand, we have traveled to over 50 countries. We’ve spent nearly our entire 20s on the road and we have learned and grown so much.
One of the most fascinating things about this is how the travel experience itself has changed over the last decade. We’ve noticed major trends and significant changes – especially when we look back and remember what things were like in the beginning.
Here are some of the major changes that have happened since we started traveling a decade ago.
Taxi Apps Are a Thing Now
Taxi drivers were often the bane of our existence when we were in Southeast Asia and South America several years ago. Every time you wanted to take a cab, you had to negotiate a price and make sure that they weren’t going to overcharge you or use a dodgy meter.
We had taxi drivers try to give us back the wrong change on purpose, take us the long way around on purpose and demand more money even after we had agreed on a price. Taking a taxi was often a slightly stressful experience. Even though we would research the scams to look out for and inform ourselves about the price we should be paying, there was often a driver who would try to scam us.
Thank goodness all of that hassle is a thing of the past.
In nearly every country we visit now, we can use apps like Lyft, Taxify, Uber, Grab and many more. If you haven’t used one of these apps before, it’s super easy.
It’s all GPS based, so you just drop a pin in the map at your location and the driver will come to you. Then, you enter your destination and they will take you there (no need to try to explain the address in another language.)
Since the taxi fare is calculated on the app (based on a flat rate + distance traveled) and it is paid automatically via your credit card – there’s no more need to argue about taxi costs.
These apps are so incredibly handy and they make it a lot easier not to get scammed by taxi drivers. Plus, they also make it safer – you know at least that the drivers have been vetted before they can become part of the app and many of the apps have 24/7 emergency support if you need it.
It’s Easier to Get a Local SIM Card
One of the things that Lee figured out quite early is that it was a very good idea to get a local SIM card in each country as soon as we arrived.
This allowed us to have internet on our phones and make local calls, which is incredibly useful for finding our way with Google Maps, using Google translate, finding out bus times and opening times while on the go and much more.
Several years ago, getting a local SIM card wasn’t something that every other traveler did. It was tricky to buy local SIM cards and it sometimes took a challenging hunt and a confusing conversation in a local shop.
Not anymore! These days, you can arrive at nearly every airport and there will be several booths or shops emblazoned with the logo of the local mobile provider. When we arrive anywhere, Lee walks up to one of these shops and within 5 minutes his phone is ready to go.
It’s so easy (and often very affordable) so there’s really no reason not to.
It’s Less Weird That We Are “Digital Nomads”
I’ve found it fascinating to see how our lifestyle has become more mainstream over the past decade.
When we first hit the road, the fact that we were working completely online while we traveled was a new concept to many people we met. We got a LOT of interesting reactions to it. Some were enthusiastic, some were judgmental, some were doubting and some were incredulous.
I even created a Digital Nomad FAQ that I could direct people to, as I ended up answering the same questions so many times.
But when I look back through this FAQ, which I created in 2012, I realise that we don’t get asked many of these questions anymore.
I’m certain that this is because our lifestyle is becoming more common and most people have heard about the concept of working remotely before they meet us.
6-7 years ago, we would encounter people who had never heard of anyone working online in this way. These days, when we explain what we do, almost everyone we meet is either aware of the lifestyle, knows someone who does it, is considering doing it themselves, or is a fellow nomad.
As a result, we don’t really have to answer questions like “where do you keep your stuff?” and “don’t you miss out on things because you are working while you are traveling?”
We Meet More Americans On the Road
Here’s something interesting I’ve noticed over the last few years – more Americans are traveling abroad.
This isn’t just a trend that we have observed, it’s actually backed up with stats. Conde Nast Traveler reported in November 2017 that a record number of Americans had traveled abroad in 2016. A total of 80 million people ventured out of the country, which was a staggering 7 percent increase over the 2015 numbers (which were a record as well).
Whatever the reason, I think it’s great.
There’s a persistent stereotype of the “Ugly American” abroad. Basically, the stereotype is that they are loud, ignorant, rude and assume that people in other countries are stupid because they don’t do things like they do back home in the good ol’ U.S of A. (This guy we met in Belgrade in 2013 is a perfect example, although it must be said that there are assholes like this from every country in the world.)
But I think the Ugly American is disappearing. When we meet Americans on the road now, they are generally more open-minded, culturally aware, curious and accepting.
Also, I always admire travelers from the USA (and Canada), because by going traveling they are breaking the expected mold WAY more than young people in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
In Europe, Australia and New Zealand, it’s culturally acceptable for young people in their early 20s to take a Gap Year. In fact, in many families it’s expected and encouraged. It doesn’t look as bad on your CV and it isn’t judged so much or considered “self indulgent.”
For North Americans, this isn’t the case.
The attitude is that traveling is dangerous and crazy and that by taking a year off to frivolously gallivant around the globe you are irreparably harming your career. (I mean, just look at the comments on this post!) Young people in North America are told this so much, that when they actually do go out and travel they are bewildered (and thrilled) to discover that none of it is true.
When young people in the USA and Canada say they are going traveling, they face a lot more resistance from the people around them – so I think good for them for breaking out of that bubble.
Further Reading: This excellent post by Nomadic Matt, Why Americans Don’t Travel Overseas
Fewer ATM Issues
These days, when you put your card in an ATM anywhere in the world, it pretty much always works. This wasn’t the case 8-10 years ago.
Lee and I found that we would often experience issues with technology such as ATMs – cards not being read properly, or not accepted by that machine. Sometimes, it could be annoying and sometimes it really left us high and dry – such as when we were in a remote region without many ATMs.
Fortunately, the technology seems to have improved since then. (In fact, I’d say that on the whole most technology has improved since then and we don’t have a lot of technological hiccups anymore while on the road.)
WiFi is So Much Better
I’m glad to say that the situation is much better now.
Yes, we sometimes still stay in hotels where the WiFi doesn’t work – but it’s very rare and usually only in developing countries with poor infrastructure (where we are just thrilled that the electricity is working!)
Most of the time, hotel and hostel WiFi isn’t an issue anymore and when it does go down, the staff are quick to get it fixed because they know that being online is a necessity for the majority of their guests.
Also, it’s easier to choose wisely and see which hotels have good WiFI and which don’t, as there are so many more online reviews to check before you book. (Which brings me to my next point.)
Review Websites Make Travel So Much Better
Although TripAdvisor has been around since 2000, the amount of helpful reviews on it 10 years ago was nowhere near the amount now.
This is great news, because it makes it so much harder to end up staying at a terrible hotel, eating at an awful restaurant or going on a really bad tour experience. These days, if something is bad – guests can quickly and easily post a review and the internet will know about it right away.
On the positive side, it also means that businesses that put in the extra effort to really offer something great will be recognized for their efforts.
This holds travel providers to a higher standard and it means that travelers have way more information when choosing whether or not to book.
No One Uses Travel Agents Anymore
Remember the days when you used to go into a shop in the mall to book your travel? You’d sit at a little desk and the travel agent would show you brochures and packages while they tippy-tapped away at their computer, arranging your holiday? That was the way travel was booked – and no one booked directly with the airlines themselves.
Those days are over.
It’s rare to see travel agents these days. After all – why would you pay someone an extra fee to book your trip when it’s super easy to book everything yourself online? The internet has made travel agents obsolete.
The only way this service still exists is in the form of personal travel concierge services, who arrange a custom vacation for you and take care of all of the details. However, these services exist out of a desire for convenience and a specially curated experience, not out of a necessity.
Travel is Booming
More people are traveling than ever.
Part of this is population growth – there are about 1 billion more people in the world since we started traveling a decade ago. (Earth’s population was 6.7 billion in 2008 and it is 7.6 billion currently.)
And of course, travel is becoming easier and more accessible than ever. This is great of course, but it means that the world’s most beautiful and popular destinations are becoming pretty crowded.
As a result, travelers are always seeking the “off the beaten track” locations that are still relatively unknown and will be less busy than the popular top 10 spots.
Also, some of the most popular attractions are actually shutting down for a bit – so that they can avoid being completely destroyed by too many visitors – such is the case for the famous Maya Bay Beach in Thailand.
The world has changed a lot in the last 10 years.
It’s really interesting to look back on our travel experiences over the last decade and see the differences between life on the road 10 years ago and life now.
If you have been traveling for a while, have you noticed any changes? Let us know in the comments!
PS. This post is about how the world around us has changed, but if you are working how Lee and I have changed in the way we approach our travels – you might find this post interesting.