Sharing 1975 style

Travel and technology – a 38 year perspective

We are currently planning a trip to Europe in 2013. For me it will be a return after a gap of 38 years which got me thinking about the differences in organising and travelling in 1975 and 2013.

Even that opening paragraph highlights that ongoing rapid change in personal technology. Writing this in late August 2012 I know that the personal gadgets available will have changed yet again by the time I pass through immigration. iPhone5, the iPad mini, the Nexus tablet, just some of the rumoured or signalled changes likely to be reality before the end of this year with no doubt further updates and releases prior to our departure.

Attempting to plan our four-month road trip in Europe in 1975 was a slower process, mainly due to the fact that much of the planning and documentation required snail mail. We happened to be located in a remoter part of Scotland at the time working between 8am and 6pm (7 days a week) as labourers. No mobile phones, let alone smartphones, that you could whip out during smoko to ring or even make email enquiries, let alone complete bookings.

Arranging car insurance (we wanted to go to some  regions which insurance companies had an aversion to) required countless letters and weeks to resolve, no instant travel advisories, no debit or credit cards, eftpos machines were making an appearance but not when we had left NZ, it was cash or travellers cheque (not that we possessed much of either).

Exchange rates were pegged but we had the ever-present threat of devaluations or revaluations of currencies which usually meant a far (usually) nastier and surprising impact on your spending ability. Trying to follow currency trends was pointless and of course you could not pull up instant real-time charts to tell you how the French Franc, Deutschmarks, Lira, etc, etc, were all trading, I shudder to think that they could all make a reappearance before I leave given the current state of the Euro zone. Dealing with predominantly one main currency now is a much easier exercise.

To get most of your current information you had to purchase a newspaper (music to the ears of my employer). You certainly did not keep up with what was going on at home or even in East Germany, Hungary or out in Turkey and once on the continent it was pointless unless fluent in the local language.

With no internet cafe ( they must also be close to becoming a part of history) keeping in touch with the family at home required a process of sending letters and postcards and giving them a Post Restante address where you hoped you would be at some future point in time, so they could forward the latest news from home. Keeping in touch with all of you friends and family involved a lot of writing, stationery, postal charges and time. It just did not happen

Showing them pictures of your trip involved boring the living daylights out of them on your return to NZ. Using photo albums or worse,  a slide show, that sent them all to sleep. That is of course provided your photos came out, you had to wait, often for months, to see if that fantastic shot surreptitiously taken when heading through Checkpoint Charlie was focussed correctly. You only saw the result when you finally them developed. trying to do that on the move was usually impractical and not in the travel budget.

Which comes to our most frustrating part of road travel in 1975, perpetually being lost, particularly in the cities. Navigation took place using hard copy maps which lacked the level of detail required to tell us what round-about in Naples we were currently trying to negotiate our way out of.

When the car finally fell to pieces in the South of France we could not grab the copy of the local train schedule (good contingency planning would have required a lot of paper floating around) to see when we could catch the next train to Paris, we did not even know where the train station was and of course you never knew if the trains were on schedule or not. When attempting to return home fog closed Heathrow for days on end, you could try to make phone contact or simply go out and hang around.

Quaint as it sounds now, we were able to catch one of the last scheduled regular cruise boats (they were a little less cruise and more functional) that sailed between Australasia and Europe. The 747s were actually in the air by then and I suspect they were the final nail in the coffin for those long haul sea trips.

But the term 747 tells us of some of the things that have not changed that much. Air travel has become cheaper and more efficient but the planes still look pretty much as they did then. The same for cars, they look a lot sleeker  and will be far more efficient but the basic principles for the means of getting from A to B have not changed that dramatically other than speed and possibly comfort although the latter may not be an advancement in the case of air travel.

The planning in 2012 has almost left me feeling as if I have already done the trip, I can pull up countless images of the places I want to visit, do street views of the routes I want to bike along, look through the accommodation that I want to use, check out the menus of eating establishments, work out the time it will take me walk, train or car from point A to B and of course read countless reviews on how good or bad each of these things are.

I have apps for keeping every aspect of my itinerary and once travel details are entered I can check flight and train status from within that. I have apps that translate from one language to another and tell me how to say the phrase or simply provide it in big block letters so that I can hold it up to my language victim. Apps to give me exchange rates and trends, book my transport and accommodation, tell me how many calories I have burnt, take my heart rate, edit my pictures and movies on the go and these are all uploaded to the cloud so that i don’t have to worry about losing them which did happen last time when our car was broken into (desperate thieves) and all my gear including camera and associated film rolls that i have not got around to sending back to London.

It kind of removes some of the excitement.

In 1975 I was instantly lost and bewildered by the differences and I had no personal device in my pocket or pack that allowed me to  instantly phone home, take a picture of my hopeless state and update my friends on how lost I was (using a 1970s setting of course). By the time i got around to communicating with them I had long since forgotten the many incidents that happened. I did keep a diary, pen on paper. Reading it recently made it all sound like a real daring adventure.


  1. We took our three children (ages 14, 12, and 9) to Europe for a three-month sabbatical in 1986. Your blog reminded us of the planning for that trip – all done with a few guidebooks and by mail. It makes you wonder how it all worked out so well. And yes, all was documented with slides. We just discovered the box of slides a few months ago, long buried in storage. They were scanned and it was terrific fun to see those images after 26 years! Your photos too of Germany were similar to ours. We stayed for a week in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) for Joe’s work. Trip planning by mail and the GDR are from an age now past.


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