Travel 30 Years Ago vs Today

I recently saw a Facebook meme that outlined all of the ways that young people today have it soooo easy.

As I’m currently packing for a trip to Germany, the country where I first lived abroad as a teen, I chuckled at the meme because I’d just been thinking about how easy I have it these days when I travel, compared to when I was younger.

Ever since my husband and I decided on this trip to Germany, I’ve been experiencing nostalgia overload. In some ways, going abroad was SO different 30 years ago vs. now. Here are 9 differences I thought of:  

#1: Calling Airlines to Book Tickets



Then: Who remembers having to call each individual airline (with a land-line, of course, and maybe even *shudder* a rotary phone) and talk to a human in order to find out ticket prices? Then, if you didn’t book through a travel agent you had to call the airline again to make your reservation. And they didn’t charge you for this because it was the only way to book a flight. 

Now: Doesn’t it cost extra to book your ticket over the phone? I can’t even remember the last time I booked a flight that way. It’s so much easier to go online to search for the best flight. And then choose exactly where you want to sit on the plane after researching the best seats!

#2: Paying for Flights 


Then: I always paid for my flights. I’d save for months and months to buy a plane ticket.

Now: Miles, baby! I haven’t paid for a ticket to Europe in years!

#3: Paper Plane Tickets


Then: Remember when paper plane tickets were mailed to you? I remember being soooo excited the day my tickets to Frankfurt arrived in the mail a few weeks before I moved to Germany as a teen. Holding those tickets in my hand made my upcoming adventure feel so much more real.

I also remember a couple years later when I was set to fly back to Germany for my college study abroad program and I thought I’d left my (and my friend’s) plane tickets at home, which was hours away from the airport we were leaving from. After completely freaking out and unpacking my all of my luggage, I found the tickets stuck in a random pocket of my new backpack. Whew!

Now: I check in the night before my flight using an app and download my boarding pass to my phone. Even if I were to lose my phone I can swipe my passport at the airport and print out new boarding passes. So easy!

#4: One Movie Screen

Then: Remember when movies were projected onto large screens throughout the plane cabin? And everyone had to watch the same 2 or 3 movies, depending on how long the flight was? And how disappointing and boring it was when the movies were terrible? Or if the entertainment system wasn’t working? And how if you’re short like me you often couldn’t actually see the screen?

Now: I turn on my phone, open an app, pop in my ear buds, and watch all of the movies and TV I want!

#5: Flying within Europe

train in the Alps

Then: Nobody I knew even considered flying within Europe. It was too expensive and often more hassle than it was worth. We bought Eurail passes, which were still a good deal back then, and took trains everywhere. I remember so many epic multi-day/night train and ferry rides in order to get from one end of Europe to the other. It took a loooong time but it was so. much. fun! 

Now: I still take the train whenever I can, simply because I love European trains and train travel is so easy in Europe. But since flying is now so cheap now, I do fly within Europe if it makes more sense than taking a train or bus. 

#6: Money 

Then: In high school, I’d go to the Deutsche Bank once  a month to withdraw money off my credit card to get my month’s spending money. I then paid for everything I bought in Germany with cash. In college, I had a German bank account and a debit card but still always used cash on a day to day basis.

When I traveled outside of Germany, I’d cash traveler’s checks. Those traveler’s checks were so annoying! You had to purchase the checks in the US and they came in denominations of $20, $50 and $100 (if I remember correctly). There was a fee per check, so to save money you’d want to cash the higher amounts. But it was often hard to know how much of a specific currency you’d need before moving on to the next country. I always ended up with lots of extra money or not enough. Remember, this back when each country had a different currency!

When I traveled with friends, we’d borrow money from each other whenever we misjudged how many travelers checks to cash, which led to complicated multi-currency lists of money borrowed and owed. I owe you x Francs but you borrowed y Pesetas but then I also borrowed z Pounds…how about I pay you back in Lire when we get to Italy? And then I’ll pay you in Greek Drachma after Italy if I still owe you money. 

Now: I go to pretty much any ATM and withdraw all the cash I need for a small fee. I also use credit cards far more often because they’re accepted in more stores, hotels, and restaurants now. Plus, if I use my Chase visa, I pay no fees and I earn airline miles. 

#7: Coffee to Go?

coffee cup

Then: If you wanted to drink coffee, you went to a cafe, sat down, and drank coffee from a real cup. I once asked for coffee “to go” after eating at an Italian restaurant in Germany because I had to leave for the airport and didn’t have enough time to linger over a cappuccino. I knew there was nearly zero chance of getting a coffee to go but I tried anyway. The waiter looked confused and said, “what, you want to take the cup with you?” It just wasn’t done back then. The best you could do was to find a Stehcafe and drink a quick cup while standing at a table.

Now: The last time I was in Germany “coffee to go” was everywhere! There are even Starbucks-like coffee chains, as well as Starbucks. Even thought I still love lingering over coffee at a traditional German cafe, and drinking out of a real cup, I do love that the convenience of coffee to go has arrived in Germany.

#8: Hard Copy Everything

stack of books

Then: Maps, guide books, novels, music, photo albums, letters, alarm clocks…everything was hard copy. And heavy! I used to tear the pages out of my guide book and staple them together to save space (and not look like a huge dork when I needed to check the guidebook). When I was in high school I brought a mini-stereo and like 50 cassette tapes. No wonder my backpack was so damn heavy!

Now:  iPhone

#9: Film! 

35mm film

Then: I used film in my camera and got 24-36 photos on each roll. I didn’t take very many photos because film was expensive to buy and develop, and I had to carry all those rolls of film in my backpack!

And, of course, I had no idea how the photos turned out until I developed them weeks later. Sometimes they were better than expected, but more often than not…they were worse. I have a lot of tiny photos from my first year in Germany because it was so much cheaper to develop them in the smaller format. And I have a ton of slides from my college year abroad because for about a year I thought slides were better than photos. Suffice it to say, I have a lot more memories than actual photos of my early years in Europe. 

Now: I take more photos with my iPhone in one day than I did during an entire year abroad.  

10. Calling Home

British phonebox

Then: I rarely did it! Calling the US from Europe was expensive and difficult and rarely private. My options were to call collect (expensive), use my US phone card (slightly less expensive), charge it to my German phone (super expensive) or buy a German phone card to use at a pay phone (really, really expensive). The best option was to have friends and family call me using their US long distance service because they often had special discounted plans. So I’d often call, quickly tell them to call me back, and then we’d chat. There was always an underlying anxiety to each phone call, though, as we were always thinking…oh gawd, how much is this going to cost? 

Now: Skype, Facetime, text, email, Facebook…so many options! I LOVE that I can be in touch with my husband and family all the time when I’m abroad.

I’ll stop at 10 but I’ve already thought of so many more…like the fact that we used to think wearing hiking boots while traveling around Europe made us real travelers and not tourists (at least they were comfortable!), there were so many food items from the you just couldn’t get, unless I bought a newspaper in English I had no idea what was going on in the world…I could go on…

Writing this article has been a fun trip down memory lane, but I have to say, I’m pretty content with the conveniences I have today!

What would you add to this list? How have things changed since the first time you went abroad?

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