Travel, then and now

This item appears on page 32 of the April 2011 issue.
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While planning a trip to the south of Italy recently, I thought about all the ways that my traveling differs today from back in the “old days.”

For example, in ’66 my wife and I and our two children took a several-week trip around Europe. I used a travel agent for air tickets and car reservations, but most agents could not handle booking the small, two- and three-star family hotels that we liked to use.

To make a reservation for one of those hotels, I first had to purchase a guidebook, invariably one of the Michelin Red Guides, for there were few others published. There was one newish guide becoming popular: Arthur Frommer’s “Europe on $5 a Day.” There wasn’t even an ITN back then!

To make a reservation, I almost always had to write. Aside from personnel at the large and expensive hotels, those at other hotels might handle written English but rarely could handle spoken English over the telephone.

I would buy an airmail stamp for the letter and then, to make sure I received a reply, at the post office I would purchase an International Postal Reply coupon, which I enclosed with the letter. The hotel could take that coupon to its local post office and exchange it for a stamp to mail its reply back to me. Then I waited two to three weeks to learn if I had a reservation or not.

To secure the reservation, I generally had to send another letter in which I enclosed a check. Most hotels would retain the check until I arrived to pay for the room in cash. If the hotel wouldn’t accept a personal check, I faced a trek to the bank to purchase a cashier’s check, or bank draft, in the currency of the hotel’s country. This required paying a service fee.

This back-and-forth mailing required three airmail stamps for each of the hotels in which I wanted to stay.

In January 2011, I sat down at my computer, used the Michelin website and Google’s map site* to come up with the names of a dozen possible hotels at which I could stay. I was able to quickly check reviews and then immediately went to a hotel booking site. I used www.booking.com this time, but there are many others. (For advance booking, www.booking.com will not charge a cancellation fee.) I was done in a matter of minutes and at no cost.

Here’s another way to look at how things have changed.

We were in France in ’94 and took a detour quite a bit out of our way in order for me to have a special treat: my first taste of Orval beer, brewed in the Trappist monastery in Orval, Belgium. I enjoyed the beer and it had taken a day’s excursion to drink it, but I had that secret thrill of knowing I had reached another small goal in life.

Today, I can jump into my car, take a short drive into Philadelphia and enjoy an Orval beer at any number of places.

Although one can still seek out good travel adventures, the opportunity to experience the thrill of small ones is diminishing as our world becomes smaller.

BILL STELTZER
West Grove, PA

*On Google Maps, type in, for example, “Berlin, hotels” or “hotels near Heathrow Airport.”

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

While planning a trip to the south of Italy recently, I thought about all the ways that my traveling differs today from back in the “old days.”

For example, in ’66 my wife and I and our two children took a several-week trip around Europe. I used a travel agent for air tickets and car reservations, but most agents could not handle booking the small, two- and three-star family hotels that we liked to use.

To make a reservation for one of those hotels, I first had to purchase a guidebook, invariably one of the Michelin Red Guides, for there were few others published. There was one newish guide becoming popular: Arthur Frommer’s “Europe on $5 a Day.” There wasn’t even an ITN back then!

To make a reservation, I almost always had to write. Aside from personnel at the large and expensive hotels, those at other hotels might handle written English but rarely could handle spoken English over the telephone.

I would buy an airmail stamp for the letter and then, to make sure I received a reply, at the post office I would purchase an International Postal Reply coupon, which I enclosed with the letter. The hotel could take that coupon to its local post office and exchange it for a stamp to mail its reply back to me. Then I waited two to three weeks to learn if I had a reservation or not.

To secure the reservation, I generally had to send another letter in which I enclosed a check. Most hotels would retain the check until I arrived to pay for the room in cash. If the hotel wouldn’t accept a personal check, I faced a trek to the bank to purchase a cashier’s check, or bank draft, in the currency of the hotel’s country. This required paying a service fee.

This back-and-forth mailing required three airmail stamps for each of the hotels in which I wanted to stay.

In January 2011, I sat down at my computer, used the Michelin website and Google’s map site* to come up with the names of a dozen possible hotels at which I could stay. I was able to quickly check reviews and then immediately went to a hotel booking site. I used www.booking.com this time, but there are many others. (For advance booking, www.booking.com will not charge a cancellation fee.) I was done in a matter of minutes and at no cost.

Here’s another way to look at how things have changed.

We were in France in ’94 and took a detour quite a bit out of our way in order for me to have a special treat: my first taste of Orval beer, brewed in the Trappist monastery in Orval, Belgium. I enjoyed the beer and it had taken a day’s excursion to drink it, but I had that secret thrill of knowing I had reached another small goal in life.

Today, I can jump into my car, take a short drive into Philadelphia and enjoy an Orval beer at any number of places.

Although one can still seek out good travel adventures, the opportunity to experience the thrill of small ones is diminishing as our world becomes smaller.

BILL STELTZER
West Grove, PA

*On Google Maps, type in, for example, “Berlin, hotels” or “hotels near Heathrow Airport.”