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The Travel Detective

The Travel Detective: How Communication Has Evolved for the Traveler

When you think of London, you probably think it rains a lot. And you probably think of the iconic red wooden phone booths, but they’re not made out of wood anymore. They’re made of metal. And the other thing is that they’re disappearing. And they’re disappearing fast now that we all have mobile phones. And they’ve let these things go.

So how do we communicate when we travel? For travelers, staying in touch with home used to be difficult and at times was impossible. 
Sending a postcard from Australia to London in 1934, if you adjust for inflation, was about $20.  Even with air mail, letters in the 1940s to 1970s could take a good month to reach their destination. 
By the last part of the 20th century, we got the hang of cheap and fast mail, but phone calls were still prohibitively expensive. 
I remember traveling in Central America in the 1990s and pumping in coins as fast as I could and still getting disconnected because it wasn’t paying fast enough. A three-minute phone call was once $30!
Then, in just the last 15 years, high speed internet and Wi-Fi has made it so easy to stay connected from almost anywhere in the world that disconnecting has become like dieting–a self-imposed restriction. And many of us simply don’t want to give up our connective habits.
When I dropped into a few youth hostels, I noticed something a bit frightening. Young travelers in the lounges were so busy staring into their computer and phone screens that they weren’t communicating with the international travelers seated right beside them. 
It’s as if the improved communication with friends and family at home has made it more difficult to have natural communication with the people we would otherwise be meeting abroad.
Maybe new apps will fill that void and help us meet the digitally connected travelers right next to us or maybe this new communication bubble is something we’ll just need to accept.
If we want to see the old forms of communication–the letters, the interesting postboxes from around the world–we might just need to go to a museum to see them or can we come up with a reason to protect them in their natural habitats? 
You can’t stop progress. The red wooden phone booth is probably not going to be here much longer, but it does give you the option of a photo op.
By Doug Lansky for