Luxury of the Unknown

In Art of Travel Spring 2016, Prague, Travel 2.0 by Joshua

What was travel like pre-Skyscanner, Airbnb, Yelp and Google Maps? On Skyscanner, one can search where the cheapest flight to a city departs from. The Airbnb platform allows for unprecedented opportunities to experience living in a city beyond the monotony of hostel or hotel life. With Yelp, my friends and I have gained access to knowledge of the local food scene akin to that of a native’s. Google Maps optimizes my travel route to the next sight with just the touch of an icon. Technology has transformed travel into what many term the world of Travel 2.0.

More than an app or website, New York University (NYU) might just be pioneering the world of Study Abroad 2.0. Terming itself a Global Network University, NYU has a presence in fifteen cities on every continent, from Athens to Accra and Shanghai to Sydney. The study abroad experience has been similarly revolutionized to say the least. With physical campuses and housing at each site, one can seamlessly transfer from Washington Square to any city with adjustment to a new system. Faculty and administrators are NYU-hired, courses are taught in English and even the WiFi login stays unchanged.

Upon arrival in the new city, the school arranges for a crash course in the local language, and extensive tours to acquaint us with our foreign surroundings. Once the semester begins, there are sponsored day and overnight trips to all corners of the country the site is in. Sparing no expense, everything from an onsite library and computer lab, to a wellness counselor is at the disposal of students. A friend I have studying at NYU Tel Aviv tells me an assigned minder travelled with the group on their recent trip to Jerusalem.

Studying away with NYU, one can literally pick-up-and-go, and seamlessly transplant abroad without the usual hassles one might face with the traditional university exchange. There is the benefit of familiarity as one can keep up with core courses, and study alongside fellow cohort mates who will also return to campus proper with you. The window for inconvenience and confusion is drastically reduced to a tiny portal. Can one argue about the drawbacks of such a system? Sure. The same can be applied to the technological tourists of today. Can travel be just as meaningful without the paper maps and Lonely Planets?

Without Skyscanner and Airbnb, travel affordability would likely take a hit. Without Yelp, I could potentially risk an unfavorable dining experience. Without Google Maps, I’d probably take thrice as long to get anywhere. Nonetheless, the mechanical fixation on such travel aids could threaten the element of spontaneity. On a recent trip I took with the school to Dresden, we were given time to explore the city without guide or itinerary. I took the opportunity to wander the streets, without company or the Internet of things.

Unplugged from social media and communication, I traded in the digital cloud for those of nature. Granted it was beautiful city to get lost in, there was beauty in losing my way. There was freedom in not knowing if a particular café was rated well online, or knowing the most direct route to the next sight. I had just been doing a reading on Augustus the Strong, and was now face to face with the Zwinger and the former capital of the Kingdom of Saxony. Returning to the pickup point by sunset, I was refreshed and energized- a welcome change from the familiar fatigue of ‘hitting up all the sights’.

It was a luxury to get to know the city’s streets with time and the senses; a luxury we can all afford ourselves to. The essence of travel exists within the space of risk and exploration. Embrace all that the world of Travel 2.0 can offer, but not at the price of losing the tension brought forth by the unknown.

Image source

  • World’s Longest Porcelain Painting in Dresden: Joshua