Do Digital Devices Dampen Travel Desire?

Candice Gaukel Andrews January 8, 2013 23

Today’s electronic devices are capable of taking you to remote places, such as a dark canyon or a roadless jungle. ©Dave Luck

The gift-giving-and-receiving season has been over for a few weeks now, and the chances that you were the recipient of at least one electronic gadget of some kind or another—such as a smartphone, laptop computer or tablet—are good. You’re probably having fun discovering all the ways that your new device is capable of putting information and communication within easy reach of your fingertips.

But it seems that there is an inverse relationship between how much these devices make us more knowledgeable and world-savvy and how much they take away our imaginations and senses of wonder.

Could they also be dampening our spirits for travel adventures?

If you claim to see a rare and elusive animal today, visual proof is expected. ©Cassiano (Zapa) Zaparoli

A lost sense of magic

Ever dreamed of seeing the Taj Mahal or wondered what the African savanna looks like at sunset? Just Google a virtual, 360-degree view of those places and times. The age of digitized adventure has indeed arrived, where almost anyone can go anywhere from the confines of his or her living room. Why spend the money, take the risk or devote the time to go “there” when you can re-create the experience from home?

Before the widespread use of electronic devices, people often got the “travel bug” by reading nonfiction adventure accounts and stories. Adventure travel seemed appealing precisely because of the promises of the fantastic scenes, amazing wildlife, or strange cultures and societies that awaited us “out there.” Inventive wanderers and creative explorers had a way with words, describing the views from mountaintops (that they may or may not have actually climbed!) and the elusive and rare animals they encountered. Even growing up in Wisconsin, I heard local stories of what lurks in our Great Northwoods: hodags, giant sturgeon, ghosts of old loggers and our own version of Bigfoot. There was always a sense that they could be real, and I wanted to travel to see them.

Today, however, almost no place on the planet is obscure anymore. Google Earth or the Internet—via live webcam—can tell you what’s going on in one particular eagle nest in Alaska, in one dark canyon in America’s Southwest or inside a single roadless parcel of jungle. Satellite imagery of nearly the Earth’s entire surface is available online.

In 1996, author Robert Young Pelton published a book titled The World’s Most Dangerous Places. The New York Times called it “one of the most fascinating travel books to appear in a long time.” The book was a field guide to the planet’s hot spots, some engaged in war. Now, less than 20 years later, Pelton believes that as a society, we’re not as adventuresome as we were when he wrote the book. He has recently stated that today it’s not even cool to talk about visiting exotic places, because it’s then thought that you may be okay with getting kidnapped, killed or blown up. The sense of magic surrounding the unknown that drove the 18th-century explorers is gone.

Sometimes, only a real travel experience can restore your spirit for adventure. ©Patrick Endres

As satellites fail, desire for adventures might skyrocket

Today, it would be hard to get away with even the smallest embellishment when it comes to talking or writing about travel adventures. If you claim to have seen something unusual or done something remarkable, it’s expected that you will have a cell phone image or a GoPro video of it. The hodags and Loch Ness monsters—along with their tendencies to fire up our desires for adventures—died long ago.

I recently read, however, that many of the satellites now orbiting the Earth are getting old and breaking down. Funds to replace them are scarce. It will be interesting to see if once our eyes-in-the-sky diminish there is an uptick in the publication of adventure tales.

Have you ever wanted to visit a place because of an adventure account that you once read? Or did a virtual tour of a place convince you not to travel there?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Shirley L. January 21, 2013 at 6:56 am - Reply

    yes digital devices make my decision to return from N. Ireland, my birthplace, to Australia forever, with no plans to ever cross the world again, much easier. I’m still working with my dear friends in Ireland and in contact with hundreds of others I met, in person and through the net. we do need to get OFF it very regularly though, to stay in touch with the birds, bees etc.

  2. John Byrne January 17, 2013 at 7:04 am - Reply

    Visitation to national parks is down 25% per capita since its peak in 1987, engagement in hunting and fishing are down, and visitation to the natural features is down throughout the industrialized world. There was a persistent rise in this activity until about 1987.

    Going to the movies has been down – way down since after World War II – from 60% of our population to 10%.

    Three-fourths of us are overweight, one-third of us are obese, and this problem is getting worse.

    Maybe the electronic age – television and the internet – is the cause. What is the solution?

  3. David Moran January 13, 2013 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Cool note. I have to a agree with most of the comments above. Digital images add to the sense of”anticipation” before one’s trip. I love to do my research and then see it, it has more meaning and I understand what I see better.

  4. Burr Williams January 10, 2013 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    books have often inspired me to go places… did a ed abbey memorial tour to the maze, the arches, the lasalles, for example…went to alaska because of jack london… the chiricahuas because of birds on the history of the local apaches and laterday naturalists…went lookig for chulos (coatimundis) because of bil gilberts books…. nowadays I have dozens of books on my digital devices (and the cloud)– i.d. books, history books, the whole gamut…

  5. Roger H. January 10, 2013 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    I am lucky. After graduating from the University of York, I came to the US to study biology. Thereafter I led natural history and photography ecotours to the Amazon rainforest, the Galapagos Islands and Africa. Nothing I have seen online, in print or in any movie or television show comes close to these experiences.

  6. N.Shiva Kumar January 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    Visuals are indeed very appealing, but be warned, most of them are manipulated and made to look beautiful. As an ardent photographer of wildlife I have realized this quite often and most people do it with aplomb. I have resisted not enhancing the colors or manicuring my digital visuals so far except to crop them. And frankly admit that visuals make you travel to places that look beautiful in photos and when you reach the spot it is not all that beautiful after all.
    The best example I can give is of the Taj Mahal and I live just about 200KM away in Delhi and visit it almost every year. All photos of Taj Mahal published across the globe are made to look very milky white and that is not the fact. Even though the Taj Mahal is still beautiful with all its blemishes and aberrations it is always projected as extremely beautiful by manipulating.
    As per Do Digital Devices Dampen Travel Desire? YES it does to some extent as it digs a hole in the pocket and again as wildlife life photographer it is difficult to reach remote areas where I can go hunting for one specific bird or panther as it needs months of planning. Until then enjoy the visuals that float in the WWW both real or fake……CHEERS

  7. Sharon (Sherry) Ritter January 10, 2013 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Did a virtual tour of a place convince me not to go? Yes, just once. I wanted to go to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin but it was too expensive. So I took the virtual tour and while it intrigued me, I didn’t feel I needed to go after that. But then, I’m a biologist, not an architect.

    I have traveled to a lot of places and know that I could never be satisfied with a virtual tour. A digital experience can’t let you interact with people, smell the smells distinctive to different places or cultures, feel the heat or cold or humidity, taste the foods, see the gritty and personal sides of life.

    Has a book ever inspired me to travel somewhere? Absolutely!

  8. Justin January 10, 2013 at 4:21 am - Reply

    Recently I moved from the US to Australia for a few years due in part to the images of the outback that I have grown up with in magazines and on TV. While there I enrolled in school (ecology) and volunteered for several wildlife conservation projects.

    For me images of beautiful landscapes and animals help rekindle my passion for the wild world.

  9. Jim Reisert AD1C January 9, 2013 at 6:02 pm - Reply

    Watching Amazing Race, it gives us ideas of places to go. We never thought, “Hey, they just showed the Terracotta Army in the Xi’an province of China. Now we don’t have to go there.” NOTE: the ones in the China pavilion at Disney’s Epcot don’t count.

  10. Burr Williams January 9, 2013 at 6:02 pm - Reply

    The digital devices will make travel more interactive and more in depth…in my opinion.

    Instead of being a “passive” tourist, experiencing pretty sights passing by, now folks will engage with the landscape, recording sightings (billions of photos on Facebook, for example)…and in time, this democratization and ease of identifying (with apps created for regions…even just habitats of regions), everyone might become citizen scientists, learning about their home, and other places, and making scientific discoveries (via their digital images) there has even been new species of invertebrates identified on the web because of someone’s photo on flicker!

  11. Nita January 9, 2013 at 10:18 am - Reply

    I think books, images and others have enhanced my interest in travelling rather than discourage me to do so. According to me, the electronic media has just opened up many options to choose from to know more about a place and I think the judgement then lies in the individual on how he/she perceives this information with respect to travel.

  12. Shona Hill January 9, 2013 at 10:09 am - Reply

    I have to say even though I am still a whipper snapper at only 33 I am not into technology enough to keep me from travel…YIPPEE.. I say with glee… and I hope many more follow me in this opinion.

    Travel is EXCITING… Travel is ADVENTUROUS… Travel is AMAZING!!!

    You simply can not know everything about a country or culture without travelling to it… this will lead eventually to a very closed world full of misunderstandings. To fully understand anything, you need to have experienced it to some level yourself.


  13. Art Hardy January 9, 2013 at 9:01 am - Reply

    All the new electronic media and imagery further serves to whet the appetite for travel. The style or tone of the presentation can have some affect on travel desire, but that’s always been the case. Well chosen images combined with effective writing will always stoke the desire to travel and to see something for yourself.

  14. Jessie January 9, 2013 at 6:28 am - Reply

    I am of a similar mind as you Roger! Just seeing amazing pictures or videos of Egyptian and Mayan temples did not satisfy my desire to see them in person. There is so much to the habitat of an animal, which just cannot be captured in the best of media. I want to hear the eerie sounds of the howler monkeys as I stumble upon a coatimundi troop rumbling through the bushes, feel the crunchy dry ground under my feet where I happen upon an echnida, smell the sea with the amazing sight of a blackfoot albatross returning after a long foraging trip to feed its hungry chick. Media only makes me more aware of places there are to experience personally.

  15. Stephen R. January 9, 2013 at 6:27 am - Reply

    Only phones depend on ringtone, otherwise No.

  16. Bozena Sawa January 9, 2013 at 6:26 am - Reply

    A survey should be conducted to answer this question for skeptics. For the rest of us? —No need. To my knowledge the math of the travel industry in any and every country worth visiting keeps proving without fail that tourism and digital devices sale keep growing together. If affected by each other at all —each encourages the growth of the other, the math shows. The last but not least: No amount of exposure to the far away lands through digital devices has ever dampened or will ever dampen my desire to be there. Only the money can do it; the lack of it.

  17. Carlyn January 8, 2013 at 11:28 pm - Reply

    Armchair travel, to which we are now consigned due to physical limitations, is a poor substitute for the real thing. Electronic gadgetry satifies only one of the senses, while actual travel engages them all. The sounds, smells, tastes and textures of a place add so much to its digital image or written description, either of which simply adds it to my bucket list.

  18. ann cabezas creed January 8, 2013 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    I am using photographs on my web site now to illustrate much of the info on Costa Rica Travel which I sell off my site. HOWEVER, i am feeling the pressure now to add videos. I believe in quality, and phone videos which are on many sites are not good quality. Hopefully people will keep coming to my site…but yes I am afraid that soon I will need to put some good quality video on my site (and that takes talent and more money)

    Ann Cabezas Creed

  19. Lee Anne January 8, 2013 at 11:36 am - Reply

    I would have to say, I am an adventurous sort. Reading a book, seeing a picture, I have even done one of those 360 virtual tours and take vacations via google maps now and again. That doesn’t dampen my sense of adventure. THOUGH I will say that the thought of leaving behind my electronics even for a day is daunting. I would equate it to addiction. On a recent trip to Algonquin Canada, I had to leave behind my cellphone which would not have worked out where we were going anyway on our long canoe trip but I used it up until we crossed the border into Canada and it went BACK on as soon as I crossed into the U.S. So my thought is, it might not be the computer TOUR or PICTURES that are the problem but the device itself and our addiction to being globally connected to people.

  20. James January 8, 2013 at 10:21 am - Reply

    Actually Candice I don’t think electronics dampen travel desire. Quite the opposite, they make me want to go to places I hadn’t thought of visiting. Perhaps its the same effect as TV promoting rather than killing sporting events.
    Oddly enough, I first imagined that your piece would be about how the weight of all these devices would dampen the enthusiasm for people like you and me to visit remote locations. Recently, I was trekking the Tour de Mont Blanc and my backpack weighed 18Kgs (almost 40 lbs). It was hard work lugging it up and down hill every day as my knees will testify! I discovered that it was the weight of all my electronic devices that was the problem rather than my clothing: Camera + charger, Mobile + charger, Laptop + charger, kindle + charger, spare batteries, camera tripod, time lapse equipment, compass etc etc etc. Including notebooks, writing books and other assorted junk, I decided I was killing myself for my trade. But someone has to do it!

  21. AMITABHA GUPTA January 8, 2013 at 9:51 am - Reply

    It is how you look at things. For me it is better if I have an idea of place when I visit there for the first time. That is when online resource of personal travel blog and photographs come handy. I feel the experience of viewing anything first hand can never be compensated with a digital image or a written description of it.

  22. Roger H. January 8, 2013 at 9:08 am - Reply

    If anything, I would say that access to greater information (especially images) provided by digital devices enhances the desire to travel. But that is just an opinion of course.

  23. Mike January 8, 2013 at 8:19 am - Reply

    Interesting idea. Personally, seeing a fantastic travel pic has only ever made me want to travel to that place even more. I guess for some people the opposite may be true.

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