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Opinion: Travel before the digital age

Sometimes I wish I was that little bit younger. Not because the odd grey hair or wrinkle gives cause for concern but because I did the bulk of my travelling in a time before the digital age. My best photos are on transparency, my letters and postcards home handwritten and posted with an actual stamp and received weeks later by parents who just had to accept I'd be alright. What a prolific social media user I would have been had the technology have been available 15 to 20 years ago.

However, as I read how tourist numbers have sky-rocketed in places like Machu Picchu and how tourists must now hire a guide and tour the site on set trails, I realise how much freedom I had. I wandered where I wanted, barely noticed the other tourists and climbed Huayna Picchu on a whim. As a child a climbed and clambered over the ancient stones at Carnac, gleefully jumping off them and playing hide and seek between the boulders. I felt the power of Stonehenge despite having no idea why it was such an important place, simply because I could walk freely among the massive monoliths and run my fingers along their rough sides.

Although the increase in visitor numbers at all these sites means that limits on access are not just necessary but desired, I can't help feeling saddened that my own children will only see these sights from behind a wire fence or from the official route on an orderly guided tour.

The magic of travel is that sense of discovery, of feeling you may be the only person to have ever seen the remarkable sight before you, or getting close enough to sense the ancient people who made these sites so spectacular. The freedom of spontaneity, of deciding where to go without planning, staying an extra few nights because you wanted to, knowing you could rock up at that famous sight and paying for a ticket for immediate access. It simply doesn't happen so much any more, at least not if you're planning to tick off the well-trodden sights on any continent. That's why I choose to travel further off the grid, to seek that old school sense of discovery in places with less infrastructure and fewer visitors. To enjoy the calm and the quiet, to teach my children what it really means to travel, to help them discover their own adventures - and not to blog about it.

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Etain O'Carroll

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