We renewed our passports this year. Flipping though the pages, I realized I was holding a decade of travel in my hands. Looking back I saw many new places I had visited and dramatic change in how I planned and traveled.
We went to New Zealand in November 1999. Okay.. I know... that is the previous decade but I'm going to start with the New Zealand trip. It was the first trip that I really used the internet for planning. We found a lovely B&B in Auckland - the Great Ponsonby B&B. I exchanged several emails with the owner before reserving a room. Previously, we never made reservations and usually visited the tourism office as soon as we arrived. Even on this trip - we only reserved the first night. We found hotels the other nights by using the old traditional method of reading a travel guide book like The Rough Guide or visiting the local tourism office where they would book a room for us in the next city.
I got the idea of the trip from Fodor's New Zealand guidebook where they had a section on gardens to visit. I used Yahoo and Google to research other gardens and discovered several sites devoted to gardens. I printed out the information and we had a wonderful trip wandering the gardens of the North Island. It was the dawning of the age of travel research on the web for me.
In 2000, I was dreaming of France. We visited the Maritime Alps above Nice on a trip in 1996. I had been working for two months in Den Haag Netherlands and used a Carlson Wagonlit travel agent in Den Haag to plan our trip. We looked at glossy travel brochures and selected the hotels and apartment in Corsica for them to book. We had a great time in France but the accommodations were not very good. It did not give me a good feeling about using travel agents. It was the last time I used travel agents to book our accommodations.
I was surfing the web looking for pictures and information on Parc Mercantour when I stumbled upon a Portland hiking company website, Mountain Hiking Holidays. They offered several hiking trips in Europe including one to the Maritime Alps. I really like their philosophy of staying in one town for several nights and doing day hikes. G did not want to go because he was busy at work but he encouraged me to go by myself. I was a little scared because I had never traveled solo internationally. But going with a group would be a perfect way to do my first solo international trip. I booked the trip via email and had a wonderful time. I gained a lot of confidence by doing the solo trip.
Later in 2000, I had an opportunity to do a solo business trip to Asia and Australia. Thank goodness I had traveled to France by myself a couple of months earlier. It was daunting enough trying to figure out how to get around in Tokyo. My first time in Asia which was very exciting. Tokyo seemed like a blur since I was only there two days but I had a great weekend in Singapore. I also visited Melbourne and used the internet to take a day tour of the wineries and research places to eat. I was starting to get the hang of using the internet for travel.
In 2001, we traveled for the time to Italy. We had seen "Stealing Beauty" and thought it would be a lot of fun to get a rental in Tuscany. I found Parker Company on the web. They had a great website that allowed me to see the location of the rental, wonderful pictures and good details on the rentals. But I wondered about renting from the Parker company and searched for reviews of the company. I discovered Slow Travel. I lurked for several months digging through the information about where to eat, supermarkets, where to park in Siena, and what to do in Chianti. What a treasure trove of information and a helpful, sharing community. I didn't join the forum until we returned from our trip. I wanted to give back by sharing my experiences. I also found Judy the "Diva" at Divina Cucina website. I did not have time to take a class but it was wealth of information on food in Tuscany and Florence. We went shortly after 9/11. I was able to find information on what it was like to travel those first few weeks after the attack and we decided that we did not want to cancel our trip. I still have memories of reading the headlines everywhere we went.
2001 was also my 30th high school reunion and I attended for the first time. They planned it using Classmates and it sounded like a lot of fun. And it was. Many of us continue to keep in contact but now we use Facebook.
In 2002, I convinced George to go back to Italy and do a hiking trip with Mountain Hiking Holidays. Staying in one location for several days and doing day hikes was a fabulous way to travel. We had a great adventure climbing the via ferrata and craggy trails of the Dolomites. We moved on to Venice after the tour and met up with some good friends. I found an apartment using Slow Travel and it was perfect. I was getting the hang of traveling slowly.
2003 was a milestone birthday for G and I. He decided he wanted to challenge himself and climb Rainier. He wanted to wish me a happy birthday in July from the summit. Using the web, he booked with Rainier Mountaineering Guide Service and we started training. I was definitely sold on traveling slowly so I found a cabin to rent just outside of Mt. Rainier National Park. We invited his parents to join us while he did his climb. We also needed to document this achievement so we got our first digital camera. Later in 2003, we traveled for the first time to South America. We spent 3 weeks in Chile traveling from high in the altiplano with Barbara from Alto Andino Nature Tours. We saw some amazing and unusual plants in the high mountain plateaus. Next we flew down the long thin country to hike in the Lake District and on further to Patagonia. Another long time travel dream was full-filled when we hiked part of the W trail in Patagonia with Cascada Expediciones, another great tour company I found on the web. I started my blog to journal our travels on-line.
In 2004, it was my turn to summit a peak over 14,000. We used the internet to get our permits for climbing Mt Whitney. I started training even harder hiking almost every week. I also found the Whitney Portal store forum which provided lots of first hand details on on the climb. It was wealth of information on the best places to stay, eat, where to get water on the trail, the latest conditions and timings. We stayed at an apartment at Mammoth while we adjusted to the high altitude. I found lots of good trip reports on trails in the area that we used for our final conditioning. I also made two trips to New York City and met several people that I had gotten to know on the internet through Slow Travel.
In 2005, we took the plunge and visited South Africa. It was our first trip to Africa and a place we long had dreamed of visiting. G had grown succulents from South Africa for over 20 years. I spent days researching floral areas in the Western Cape. Through the web, we found interesting places to explore, a wonderful guide to take us to Richtersveld, a chance to meet with conservationist and farmer Neil MacGregor, flower shows in small towns and wonderful homestays. We celebrated our anniversary at Bushmans Kloof and rented a self-catering cottage near Capetown. We couldn't do a trip to Africa and not make a special effort to see animals. We decided to extend our trip to four weeks and spent the extra week in Namibia to visit Etosha. All the arrangement but air was done over the web.
In 2006, we struggled deciding where to go. The trip to Africa was so fantastic we had no ideas on where to go... until G realized that we had been to 4 of the 5 Mediterranean plant biomes. Western Australia was the only Mediterranean plant region that we had not visited. It was June but in short time with the aid of the internet, I worked up an itinerary of floral hotspots that we could visit in September. I used Google and Australia based Whereis maps to plot our driving routes and times. The Wildflower Society of Australia website gave me road names of places to visit and with a little bit of detective work - I found the roads on google maps. We found excellent self-catering apartments in the SW using the Western Australia tourism sites including a romantic Hilltop Studio in Margaret River.
In 2007, I decided it was my turn to full-fill a life long dream. On my flight back from France in 2000, I read an article in the Delta Sky Magazine on an intensive language school in Villefranche sur Mer France. I dreamed of spending 4 weeks in France at the school and I decided to do it. I spent 5 weeks solo in Villefranche sur Mer challenged but slowly learning French at Institut de Français. I loved it. G met me at the end of the classes and we spent a week in a rental in Menton and another week in a rental in the Luberon. It was also the first time that I traveled with a cellphone and ipod with speakers but still no laptop. I was moving towards being a connected traveler.
In 2008, the exchange rate and price of gas was astronomical. G's niece arranged a family camping get together in Eastern California and invited us to join. We decided to do a road trip to California. I found the directions on the web to Costco gas along the way so we could save a bit from the $5.00 a gallon gas. We still managed to squeeze in a bit of slow travel. We had rentals in Mammoth which gave us the flexibility to do fun hikes and crash at the end of the day. We also rented a beautiful zen cottage near the beach in Fort Bragg where we relaxed and visited gardens.
In 2009, I was unemployed and starting my search for part time work. We wanted to visit somewhere warm in February but it also had to be not terribly expensive. Europe was too cold and dark. New Zealand and Australia was too expensive. I went back to planning using travel guide books and started to research Thailand. I went to the library to get some books on Thailand and also brought home a Lonely Planet guide book for Borneo. An exotic island that always seemed too remote, expensive and hard to get to. A few searches on Kayak airfare website and we learned that it was not expensive and not difficult to get to. Images on Google Earth showed us it would be easy to drive and a couple of search on Flickr showed us the modern cities and well developed hotels of Sabah and Sarawak. It was the first time I bought international air tickets on the web. Using email, it was easy to arrange for a car rental, a special 3 day trip into the dense jungle, hotels and even accommodations at National Parks. It wasn't slow travel but it was very easy to do. The exotic land, food and wonderful people made it another special trip. We have now been to 6 of the 7 continents of the world.
But we were not done yet, one more trip. We grabbed a couple of low cost airfares and found a cute inexpensive studio on Oahu on the web and we were off to a week in Hawaii. I had a netbook and a cellphone so we were connected the whole trip. Time on the beach, trekking through the mud to jungle waterfalls, exploring lovely gardens, watching surfers tackle the monster waves and meeting up with an internet friend made for a lovely way to close out the decade of travel.
I wonder where the next decade will lead us? And what technological changes will take us there?