Travelling: is it losing its mystique?

by | Travel Tales and Musings | 15 comments

One of the joys of travelling is to experience different cultures in the world – the language, the food, the customs….but as technology makes the world smaller, is some of that wonderful diversity being lost?

Parlez vous….

Last year we visited Japan (see related article Japan) It was my first visit, but Peter had visited many times on business trips years before. He remarked how much easier it was to get around Japan now than it was twenty years ago. Sign posts in the major cities are in English as well Kanji; English can be selected as the language of choice on ticket machines in subways and railway stations; and of course, there is always Google translate (point the camera on your smart phone at some Kanji text and it will translate it for you!).

We used to buy a phrase book, learn a few words, point, mime, speak louder….Now we just look at our phones!

All this makes travelling and negotiating your way around foreign countries so much easier, but have we lost something? Is easier better?

And the shops in the major cities are the same the world over

Food, glorious food

What about food? I love experiencing the cuisine of different countries and Japanese food is one of my favourites. Now, however, the big brands are in all the cities. Fancy a latte with caramel gunk? No problem. Starbucks is ready to serve! What about a burger with bacon, cheese and fries? You got it! McDonalds is now well entrenched in Japan. Have a yearning for pizza but you happen to be in Peru? Again, plenty of pizza to be found in cities such as Cusco. Ice cream? Okay – I must confess, when we were in China, we did have a Haagen Dazs – but only because our Chinese hosts wanted one!

I am not such a purist that I really begrudge countries access to international cuisine; after all, who does not like to go for an Indian meal in Glasgow, a pizza in Edinburgh or a indulge in a Mexican buffet in Manchester? However, I do think it is important when travelling to experience the local food and discover the new combinations and flavours.

I had had sushi and sashimi before visiting Japan, but wow! When we went to a fish restaurant in Yokohama with friends, I can honestly say it was one of the best meals I have ever had (even though our host tried challenge me with various snail-like dishes; little did he know that I had often had a bag of winkles as a child at the seaside!).

And yes, we were sitting on the floor! One of the finest meals ever.

I had never had okonomiyaki until I went to Japan, but I am so glad that I discovered it and did not opt for a Big Mac.

Okonomiyaki in the making

Okonomiyaki

The street food in Osaka was absolutely delicious and there was so much variety.

Hot!

Very tasty

Dessert

The Chinese food we had in China bore very little resemblance to the Chinese carry-outs we sometimes ordered in Edinburgh! In Canada we discovered poutine (chips, gravy and cheese curds – don’t mock it till you try it) and in Cambodia, we had some wonderful local dishes right out in the sticks.  And please, if you go to Scotland, try haggis and neeps, preferably with a dram of whisky! However, I’ll forgive you for not trying the deep-fried Mars Bar….

What about chop sticks? It might be tempting when travelling in Asian countries to ask for a fork and nowadays it is likely one will be provided, even offered. But again, if you opt for this, are you not missing out on an essential part of the experience? Using chopsticks comes easy with practice.

Traditional dining in the onsen hotel

In Hakone in Japan we stayed in an onsen (hot springs) hotel for a couple of nights. We knew the food would be traditional but what we had not realised was that we were expected to also wear the traditional dress in the hotel. Yukata  were provided. It was an expectation rather than a compulsion, but why miss out?

These beautiful yukata were provided for guests

Thoughts?

So what do you think? As more people fly around the world and visit far flung places and technology makes travel so much easier, are we losing some of the delights of travelling? Or are accessibility and familiarity to be celebrated and encouraged?

 

 

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Eating Japanese Food

 

 

15 Comments

  1. Hmmmm…good read this. Even compared to ten years ago, technology has made the world smaller. Getting around major cities like Tokyo is a lot easier and not being able to speak a language and using a cellphone to get by has made the job easier (unless your in the middle of the Amazon rainforest). In some ways I like this, but in someways, I miss the challenges which I come across whilst traveling. Still love to travel, that will never change.

    Reply
    • I agree. I love to travel and discover new places. I really hope the individuality of countries and joy of discovery are preserved as we go forward.

      Reply
  2. I really understand your point on this.. Despite the fact that technology does connect us to the world, it somehow lessen the excitement of discovery and of adventure. And I am no big fan of cuisines being made available anywhere you go as it erases authenticity in some way. Regardless, people should be encouraged to still try experiencing local food and customs when they travel to not only preserve local customs and traditions but to experience it in the most natural way as possible. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Having been a small child when guide books were popular, I can’t remember a time before using the sat nav or trip advisor. It’s useful languages wise but we do spend hours staring at our screens and there’s less thrill in finding a restaurant now! I love just walking up to one and it being a guessing game!

    Reply
    • Agreed. It is a fine balance between convenience and the thrill of discovery.

      Reply
  4. While we might have tools that make exploring an area easier, I don’t think we are losing the delights of traveling as each new place brings new foods and a history and culture to discover.

    Reply
  5. Of course big chain stores and “international” food is almost everywhere nowadays. But like you said, the Chinese food you order in Edinburgh is not the same Chinese food you get to eat in China. Same with sushis… they’re sold everywhere but the raw fish in Japan taste different. We think that there’s still hope that variety and “local food” still exists. What matters is to order or buy the “really” local stuff wherever we go. And by the way, the blending of cultures sometimes also create fantastic fusion food. 🙂

    Reply
  6. This is a really interesting thought! I remember the first time I went to Rome and being so disappointed that many of the Italian restaurants in the heart of the city had been “Americanized,” rather than being authentically Italian. We had to get outside of the tourist areas to find really good restaurants! I think technology is both good and bad (as with most things haha). It makes traveling easier, and allows us to interact with different cultures. But places are definitely becoming less distintly unique. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it is definitely a reality we have to accept.

    Reply
    • On the whole, I think it is a good thing. In a way, it is bringing the world together. However, I hope that different countries do manage to preserve their uniqueness and I am optimistic with regard to this.

      Reply
  7. Okonomiyaki is delicious and I absolutely adore Japanese food. When I saw your post on Instagram, I was thinking how technology might introduce us to many more new places, but it’s still different experiencing them in person. But now I totally see what you mean too although I do think it has enhanced travelling for the most part. Also, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and a lot of these big chains all actually have different menus in Asia. I know in North America it’s more or less the same, but Japan, for example, has specific cherry blossom flavors, etc. that cater to the Asian tastebuds!

    Reply
  8. Hmmm, you’ve posed some interesting questions! I think it all depends on the person. I do enjoy the convenience for my phone but I still enjoy simply walking around and starting up a conversation with locals to ask for tips.

    Reply
  9. I really love the points you bring up here. Both with language and with food, I think it’s undeniable that over time, more and more people around the world are learning English, and more international restaurants are opening up in even the smallest and most remote towns. In my experience, learning basic phrases in the local language can still make a huge difference in making things a bit easier in a new country, and no phone or app will replace that! I totally agree with you on the food, that it can be fun to try local variations of international cuisine, but that you have to try the dishes that are famous in each region.

    Reply
  10. Totally agree. The fun and mystery of getting lost because you don’t understand the text used to turn out into running into a great Cafe or street art which did not exist in the itinerary. Unfortunately every nook and corner is covered with Instagram photos and ‘must visit itinerary’. What a great read making one think.

    Reply
  11. I definitely think that some of the thrill is gone when you’re able to see pictures and videos of remarkable places so easily before you visit them. (How about a NO SPOILERS mode on travel blogs which hides photos from readers who don’t want to see it all ahead of time?)

    However, in general, I think technology is doing more good for discovery than it is harm. It facilitates travel and communication SO much that we can now discover things we may never have been able to in the past without it.

    One of my favorite quotes is from Professor Fonzworth (from Futurama) who said, “Technology isn’t intrinsically good or evil. It’s how it’s used. Like the Death Ray.” ????

    Times have certainly changed though since 15 years ago when I was calling home from Bangkok using a pay phone on the street and a calling card!

    Reply
    • Yes! When I first went abroad at the age of 19, the only way to communicate was with a letter and a stamp – or in an emergency (because they were so expensive) a telegram or a landline call! I think technology is a good thing for travel. My main worry is that individual places will lose what makes them unique as big companies move in and places which once were challenging to reach and explore are now very accessible. For instance, I am disappointed when I see MacDonalds and Starbucks in places like Japan. It is a double edged sword I suppose. There are huge benefits, but there is also a price to pay.

      Reply

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Hello!  I’m Jane. I live in the Lake District in the north of England with my husband, Peter. We love to travel, but this is a great place to call home.

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