Of course it was and he did call and the friend did have a room for us. We strolled over there, a ten minute walk still in the old town, and it was fine and reasonably priced. That was back in the days when we didn’t bother with hotel reservations when traveling in Europe, or train reservations either, and somehow everything always worked out.
Throw a few things in a bag, catch a plane, and several hours later end up on another continent ready for unexpected adventures: a dream that often came true. Sometimes, we took a boat or a train, other times we rode a bus or drove. We didn’t need a lot of money and often we didn’t know exactly where we were going or what we’d see along the way or even where we’d rest our heads each night. We could walk right up to the great rocks that were Stonehenge and the Roman Forum and give them hugs—no kidding, we did (gently). We could stroll into the great museums for free or for a few cents and never have to wait in line—not even to ascend the Eiffel Tower or to wind our way up the famous Leaning Tower. We always could find a room and a meal without too much trouble and usually a cheap bottle of good wine. Or beer. Or ouzo. Or grappa. Our lives were casual and so was travel.
Travel has changed, whether we like it or not. It’s great that more people than ever are exploring the world, despite the ordeal of flying these days, but there is a fallout. Hotels large and small are becoming pricier and pricier, catering to tour groups more than independent travelers. It’s great that new destinations in developing countries are opening to visitors. They may not have much tourist infrastructure, but they need the cash tourists spend. And it’s great that adventure travel has become popular—and not only for the young, since many older people today aren’t afraid to climb a mountain or raft a river or go birding in an island jungle.
All this has made it hard, however, to avoid swarms of other tourists when we travel, even in formerly remote areas. As the most prosperous developing countries such as China acquire their own large middle class, they too are sending tourists around the globe. Growing crowds already are a problem in traditional tourist destinations. If you don’t buy tickets online far in advance of your trip, you’ll end up standing in long lines of mobile phone-wielding tourists to get into the Louvre, Uffizi, and Vatican and up the Eiffel Tower. Even in once remote areas, you’re likely to find yourself among tourists from around the globe. I’ve encountered tall, blond Scandinavians in isolated jungle villages of Eastern India, Japanese in the Sahara Desert, Chinese in Puglia, German teenagers with their electronic devices shuffling through Southeast Asian temples, and Mexican newlyweds in a remote corner of Burma. If you crave a reasonable flight schedule and convenient shelter at affordable prices you’ll find it’s not so easy today to be a spontaneous adventurer.
The impact of these growing crowds rushing around “seeing” the world is changing the world, itself, from the physical environment to societies and cultures that had survived until recently almost untouched for generations and even centuries. Will the once pristine landscapes and ancient traditional societies, however remote, survive this invasion?
To be continued….