Wanderjahr – Improved

My eldest son, and two of his friends from high school, just left this morning for a three-week road trip out on the west coast.  They plan to make their way from San Diego to Vancouver – by bus, train, plane, and automobile – stopping to visit friends and family members along the way.

The trip was meticulously planned by the three boys, with almost no parent involvement.  I was particularly taken with the way they used online sources and media tools for this venture.  There’s the obvious – they looked up potential places online to discover what might be of interest to 18-year old guys and used that information to plan their stops. But in addition to that, they made healthy use of Google Earth and Google Maps (directions, distances, adjacenies, and street view to preview an area); wikis (for to do lists, itinerary planning, packing lists, contact numbers & numbers); airline and amtrak web sites (to purchase tickets, select seats; and check-in); online agents to purchase tickets to ballgames; online weather feeds to figure out what clothing to take, and an application Trip It to house their complete itinerary and share it with all interested parties.  Trip It is particuarly impressive – you just forward your confirming emails (from Amtrak, an airline, or a hotel) and the site automatically adds the pertinent information to the trip profile you’ve begun.  It also automatically alerts you to any travel delays or problems. Their travel plan existed completely in the cloud.

Now that they are on the road, their technology use will deepen.  They’ll use cell phones to keep in touch with each other, their parents, and the upcoming hosts.  A designated member of the trio is carrying his laptop on the journey and all three have an Apple iTouch which they can use to access their Trip It itinerary and navigate using the GPS system.  One of the boys set up a blog site, to chronicle their travels (all three of them plan to contribute) and all three of them are carrying digital cameras.

Whew.

I can’t help but make a comparison to a similar trip to Europe that I took when I was 21 years old.  I had a one-way ticket to London, a one-month Eurail Pass, and a dog-earred copy of Let’s Go Europe.  That was it.  My parents got a few postcards from me but there was no synchronous contact for eight weeks.  I lugged along a (very) heavy Nikon 35 mm camera and stashed sclores of used rolls of film in my backpack, to be developed later.  I don’t think I had an itinerary – electronic or otherwise.

Part of our son’s delight in planning this trip came along with the technology he used. Unlike my long-ago trip, these young men were able to investigate options in advance, research and compare most efficient routes and best places to see, execute transactions and reservations online with a mouse click, and own their plan in way that very clearly felt powerful to them.   I can’t help but envy the added dimension that this easy-to-use and light-weight technology will add to their travel experience – freeing them up from constant arrangement making en route (I remember wasting hours in line at Tourist Information booths in European train stations) and adding a new dimension to the new people, places and experiences they will have.

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