As summer travel continues to raise the question of, “Just how did this person afford this European trip?” over and over again, it’s time to finally pay our respects to our tried and true travel companion: the smart phone. Long ago in a time far, far away, people actually had to religiously research, memorize, and print out maps of wherever they may be going. There were things called… *checks notes* phrasebooks meant to help you speak a foreign language. A trip to the mall an hour away? Gotta pull out the trusty state map and get out your yellow pages to find the address.
The era of modern-day travel has been upon us for arguably 15 years, since the rise of the first smartphone circa 2008. As someone who hasn’t ever been able to navigate her local city without Google Maps, let’s just say that we are thankful for this technological advancement. Yet… there’s something to be said for anyone who was brave enough to venture out into the great wide world before smartphones.
Twitter users began reminiscing about this forgotten age of travel after freelance writer Hannah Docter-Loeb reached out to people for a piece she is writing about pre-smartphone travel.
I’m looking for a few people to talk to for a @Slate piece on traveling before smartphones! I’d love to hear stories about navigating unknown places/keeping in contact/all the other things that are important during travel that most people now use their phone for
— Hannah DL (@keepitonthehdl) July 20, 2023
The prompt inspired many Twitter users to share some memories of those years traveling smartphone-less. While smartphones have certainly made everything about travel easier, the memories of these golden days without our trusty tech companion surely bring up some fun memories.
I was talking about this the other day. We had to print out Mapquest directions. Before that, we kept an atlas in the car. When I was 5, my dad drove us to FL using a big foldout map. Also, AAA used to highlight routes for you before a trip.
— Kathleen Schmidt (@KathMSchmidt) July 20, 2023
On the road in pre-cell late-90s we got from AB w/ paper maps, AAA TripTiks & Mapquest printouts. In a pinch or to find food/hotel, you’d use a pay phone w/a phone book, or ask at a gas station. Also used pay phones to find/book/change hotels & flights. Pocket change was vital pic.twitter.com/bqM9hclpwN
— Justin Goodman (@JustinRGoodman) July 21, 2023
When driving across country, I remember fondly going to a AAA office and getting TripTiks— they’d map out your whole route in a small binder, highlighting your trajectory by hand, page by page
— voicesbend (@voicesbend) July 21, 2023
Ohhhh figuring out how to use the pay phones in foreign countries was so hard!!!!! At least we had email cafes. There I was with my camera, film & backpack just… untrackable between comms pit stops. Wild times.
— Rachel Sklar (she/her) (@rachelsklar) July 20, 2023
Late 1970s travel for 6+ weeks in Europe:
Let’s Go guidebook, paper maps, rail maps, talking to locals, getting lost often & discovering things as a result.
Sent blue AirMail letters home to parents & friends. Didn’t talk to or call anyone until back home.
It was great.
— Nelle Engoron (@NelleEngoron) July 21, 2023
Mid 1980s … we’d place a “collect call” with a code name that meant “I’m doing fine, I’m alive and safe”! And then our parents wouldn’t accept the charges but would know we were ok. We used books like “Let’s Go” and got guides from AAA.
— Jennifer Weiss-Wolf (@jweisswolf) July 21, 2023
how about having no sense of direction and keeping all your routes to your favorite places on old school mapquest printouts in your glove compartment as well as using keymaps to get around lmfao. i also remember how scary nyc was with just a subway map.
— 蔡一芝 (addie tsai) has no chill & is proud of it (@addiebrook) July 21, 2023
I have great memories from traveling in 1982 with two friends, using Let’s Go as our guide. We’d stand in front of the train schedules with our backpacks on, watch them click over to a new destination, choose one, and hop on with our Eurail passes. So grateful we were unreachable
— Sara Stevenson (@ssteven2) July 21, 2023
Ah, the joy. 3 months in Europe and the only contact was if you bought a phone card and someone happened to be home when you called.
— Sunrise On Kauai (@BIGFOOOOT) July 21, 2023
I’d love to share a story about how I got lost looking for a hot dog stand in Reykjavik while trying to use printed out directions.
— Lauren J. Mapp (she/hers) (@LaurenJMapp) July 20, 2023
Oh yes, Tokyo at the end of the 1990s. All visits had to be planned in advance with detailed paper maps. Appointments were immensely stressful. Whenever possible, I asked for a description via fax. Nevertheless, it wasn’t unusual to be 30 minutes or more late because I got lost.
— Ferdinand Brueggemann (@Ferdinand_B) July 21, 2023
Backpacked through Western Europe 1981
• Eurail Pass
• Youth Hostels & the kindness of strangers (landed in France on Bastille Day, no Francs and no lodging available)
• Paper maps
• Travel books, ripping out sections as we moved on
• Sleeping on trains
. . . .
— (@ClearlyNYC) July 21, 2023
Phone cards, Lonely Planet, a pocketsized London A-Z, Falk maps in Germany…
— Karen Tongson (@inlandemperor) July 21, 2023
Calling cards! Lonely Planet guidebooks! Phrase books! Maps!
— mandana (@recycledgiraffe) July 21, 2023
Prepaid international phone cards and paperback travel guides. Ah, the memories.
— abigail (@agepnitz) July 20, 2023
At 21 after graduating from college I went to South America for 6 months. It was just before the smart phone, so it was all calling cards, internet cafes, skype calls, & some guidebooks. But mostly it was just talking to people & learning where to go & what to do from the locals.
— Tea Marie (@Tea_Marie_) July 21, 2023
Lonely Planet and Internet cafes. Pay phones! I also had a journal I wrote a lot of info in.
— Nefarious Nene (@nehachheda) July 21, 2023
Roads were easier and less complicated, people would hand draw maps from memory if you asked them, aaa created custom maps for road trips, adding time for missing a turnoff or two was normal
— noBjustRyan $8/mo (@noBjustRyan) July 21, 2023
OMG. I remember making a long distance call to New York from England in the 80s to book a hotel room. I made the call from a pay phone, with a plastic bag full of coins, that I had to keep inserting in order to not drop the call. What a process.
— Slava Ukraine (@MartinJmcmah) July 20, 2023
Travel influencers make travel look like a walk in the park nowadays (in fact, one could argue they’re far less resilient when things go sideways), so kudos to all those brave souls who made the journey with pockets full of coins, endless maps, and smiles on their faces. We’re looking forward to reading Hannah Docter-Loeb’s full piece on Slate.