4 mins

7 things we don't miss from travelling 20 years ago

Travel has changed since Wanderlust first hit the shelves. Here's a collection of bygone travel 'experiences' we're glad to see the back of

Cassettes (Wiki Images)

1. Booking an international phone call

In these days of instant communication, it’s easy to forget that, not so long ago, phoning home was a complicated business. It involved finding the local telephone centre where someone behind a counter would dial the number for you and then direct you to a numbered booth to take it.

Of course, the centres were never open at times that coincided with sociable hours back home. And the operator invariably got one or more of the digits wrong before directing you to a booth that didn’t work. But most annoying of all, at up to $12 a minute you could never afford long enough to say anything more than: "Mum, send me money!"

2. Cashing a travellers cheque

The trouble with travellers cheques is that nobody wanted to cash them. Travellers were always left with the dilemma of cashing a large denomination and being left with wads of a currency that no-one wanted to buy back off them. Or cashing a small denomination cheque and losing most of it in fees. And merchants didn’t want them because they couldn’t trade them on the black market.

Their biggest selling point was that they could be replaced if they were lost or stolen. Indeed, every ad you ever saw for travellers cheques featured a cheerful chap tracking down robbed travellers in some exotic corner of the world and handing them their replacement cheques. It never worked like that, of course. Most issuers refused to replace the cheques on the grounds that they felt the said backpacker was trying to scam them. Most of the time they were right.

3. Using Poste Restante

Where you accurately anticipate where and when you will be on a certain date and your friends and family send letters to the main post office in that exotic outpost, marking them ‘Poste Restante,’ and they arrive in time for you to swing by and pick them up.

It was never going to work.

4. Watching inflight movies

Two decades ago inflight entertainment consisted of a single movie shown on a tiny screen hanging from the ceiling of the plane, 20 rows away, with the soundtrack playing through crappy plastic tube headphones that were never loud enough. So think twice about complaining about the two Bruce Willis movies on the multi-channel entertainment panel on the back of the seat in front of you. At least you have a choice.

5. Buying a plane ticket from a bucket shop

Twenty years ago, every travellers’ ghetto across the globe came complete with Bucket Shops – tiny, fly-by-night travel agents that specialised in flogging cheap airfares to unsuspecting travellers. If you were lucky, the ticket they sold you was real and there was a seat waiting for you when you arrived at the airport. If not, you’d return to the said backpacker ghetto to find the bucket shop shuttered and the owner gone – a refund policy still favoured by some budget airlines today.

6. Relying on hostel notice boards

Back in the day, if you wanted to contact a fellow traveller while you were on the road, it was as simple as finding the local fleapit favoured by backpackers and sticking a handwritten note on the noticeboard. If you were lucky, the said traveller would drop by and see it and leave a note for you in reply. If you were unlucky, the message would blow off, the manager would decide to clear the board or a fellow traveller would cover your note with a note for the girl he met a couple of towns away that he was hoping to hook up with again.

7. Listening to pirate cassettes

Before Pirate Bay and other bit torrent sites, battered C90 audio cassettes were the medium of choice for getting hold of the latest tunes cheaply. They were clunky things that took up a third of the space of your backpack and would invariably unspool into the insides of your Walkman. Worse, you were never really sure that the music would match that advertised on the cover. A dodgy copy of Nevermind I picked up in Sofia came with a couple of Phil Collin’s tracks tacked on to the end. I’m still working through that in therapy.

Anything you’re glad to see the back of from travelling 20 years ago? Tell us in the comments section below.

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