The Evolution of Backpacking


Destination: South East Asia

Documenting: A pocket Panasonic camera (analog, 35mm-80mm zoom). Biggest worry: losing your negatives. Backup method: Develop film locally, send picture copies back home, keep negatives with you; have a minor heart attack every time your film goes through airport x-ray machines.

Writing to friends and family: letters and postcards. I kept in touch with about 7 friends.  In many cases, I had to write the same stories in a couple of different letters, resulting in an aching hand.

The most effective way of showing you care: sending a postcards. Space is limited so you don’t need to write too much.

Way to receive letters: none. Communication is one-way.

Email just started. Method: Write email offline, Internet café operator connects via dialup and sends to destination. Cost: ~$0.5 per Kilobyte (this post, without the images: 4K). The problem: most of my friends did not have emails, so I could only email my parents. End of 1998: Helping early adopters create their first Hotmail accounts. Surfing the web: ~$8/hour in Internet cafes that connected via a s-l-o-w dialup.

Sharing online: Have a friend’s employee convert my emails to HTML and manually upload to my website. A few weeks later, pictures I sent will be scanned and added to the relevant pages.

Communicating with fellow travelers: leave notes in prominent traveler meeting places (on the wall of the German bakery in Nepal; Chabad house in Bangkok; selected guesthouses).

Music: Sony walkman; 18 hours of battery life. 12 cassettes with music. Sony MD (mini-disc) starts to become popular among Israeli travelers. Purchased Sony MD-55 in Tokyo Center in Bangkok ($300); spent full nights awake copying music from other travelers.


Destination: Andean countries (Equador, Peru, Bolivia)

Documenting: An analog pocket camera (forgot which brand). One digital camera spotted in the wild: Sony (2 mega-pixel?) that burns images directly to a mini-CD. It wasn’t too exciting.

Writing to friends and family: Webmail. Mass distribution list of funny (and not-so-funny) stories sent to an extended group of friends. Postcards still sent to family and top friends.

Sharing online: Same as before (although Blogger did exist back then, it was too basic and missed some key features).

Communicating with fellow travelers: email.

Music: Still a walkman. Sony MD didn’t catch on.


Destination: Argentina and Brazil.

Documenting: Panasonic Lumix Gf1 + 20mm “pancake” lens + 14mm-45mm zoom lens; additional Lumix camera for casual snapshots.

Writing to friends and family: So 2001. Sharing on Facebook is king. Photos will be uploaded once a week to Flickr/Facebook. Postcard days are long over. Long emails with stories? If I write more than 140 characters I feel as if it should be published as a multi-volume novel.

Communicating with fellow travelers: Facebook, SMS. I have 2 iphones with  me (US number + local sim to avoid roaming costs).

Entertainment (music is so 2001): 2 ipod nanos (2nd generation with 4gb; 5th generation with 16gb) with 3000+ songs, Eee PC netbook (on which this post is written now), portable hard-drive (500gb) with all the catching up I need to do (Sopranos seasons 4-6; Dexter seasons 3-4; a dozen movies – perfect for long bus rides at night), portable capsule speakers.

What hasn’t changed:

The love of mountains. My outdoors gear (refreshed over the years, but at the core a tent is a tent and hiking boots are hiking boots). The joy of crawling into your sleeping bag as temperatures drop. The difficulty of getting out of the sleeping bag in the morning. The fresh air. The vistas. The good people you meet. My priorities.

Harding Ice Field, Seward Alaska 2009

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