I took 10 days of vacation in October 2011 and visited Western Canada. My itinerary went like this: Vancouver (1 night), Squilax (1 night), Banff (2 nights), Jasper (2 nights), Lake Louise (1 night), Squilax (1 night), Vancouver (1 night).
Here is the slide show with the travel highlights. Scroll down for my thoughts on how the experience of travelling alone is changing because of technology.
Hosteling – not only for poor students anymore
Yes, I agree I am bit too old to stay in hostels, but I still find this is the best when solo (which is how I have done most of my travel). You meet interesting people, have the opportunity to share experiences, offer and get help, make new friends.
Hosteling International (HI) is clearly changing their target audience. They no longer call themselves “Youth Hostels” and most facilities have been upgraded to combine the advantages of a hostel (common areas, communal fully-equipped kitchens, Internet connectivity, etc) with the comforts of hotels (towels and linen, decent hot showers, 24-hour reception desks, etc).
Think about it, if you charge $30 per person and put 6 people in a dorm bedroom, that is equal to running a $180/room hotel. So there is nothing surprising about finding hostels that are better than the average tourist hotel (Banff and Lake Louise easily pass that criteria).
Some hostels are still basic like in old times, but those tend also to be interesting in some other way (e.g. the hostel in Squilax is a set of old train cars, still on the rail tracks by a beautiful lake, that have been converted into dorms).
If you have not been in a hostel in the past 25 years, I recommend you try it again, just for fun (even if you are paired with someone).
Photography and Social Media
This was the first time I did “backpack” traveling carrying an iPhone (and an iPad) with its two cameras. That was in addition to the pocketable point-and-shoot (Canon Power Shot) I carry for convenience and agility and a SLR (Canon Rebel) for telephoto or a special scene.
Rather than replace one of the other cameras, the iPhone broadened the subjects I would photograph. I was sharing what I was experiencing (rain, interesting food I was eating, a special view of the mountains, etc) in real-time instead of seeing through an analytical eye of a photographer thinking what is the most “representative” image to share later.
So I was using the compact camera to document the trip, the SLR for creative photography, and the smart phone to socialize in real-time. It deeply changed the experience of travelling alone (several of my friends at home were there with me through the comments and responses to my posts).
Internet, Social Media and Travel Planning
On my last night in Vancouver, I went to the Gastown district for some end-of-trip bar hopping. Instead of looking up my travel books, I posted “Going bar hopping in #Vancouver – any suggestions?”
My friend @krcraft (who is in Toronto) responded and immediately connected me with a Vancouver local I did not know. I got a short list of “must see” bars in Gastown, in real-time, literally as I walked along Water Street and stopped in front of a Starbucks WiFi hot spot.
As I enjoyed my Elk tenderloin, paired with a great local IPA at “Alibi Room”, I twitted again about and how much I was enjoying Vancouver. Another local Twitter friend picked up that and helped me to select the next place in the short list (another hit, “Chambar”, specialized on Belgian Ales).
Social Media was giving me real-time, authoritative advice on every step along the way.
Earlier, I had met Liz in front of the fireplace of the hostel in Banff. We both had iPads and both had identical red covers. So I did not have to think too hard about a good pick-up line :).
As we talked, we used the tablets to look up maps (she is from Jersey, a small island off Normandy, but part of the UK), continue to socialize our conversation with others, change future reservations and travel plans based on input from the other, share photos from family and from the trip.
Rather than negatively interfere with the conversation, I found the iPads to enrich the interaction between two travelers meeting along the way (maps, photos, plans, Wikipedia). We learned more about each other than if we were just talking.
Then she opens her backpack, gets a bottle out and asks. “Would you want to share this BC Cabernet with me?”