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Travel has changed a lot over the years—for good and bad—but one thing stays constant: its power to transform. (Photograph by Anthony B. Stewart, National Geographic Creative)

The Changing Face of Travel

Traveler‘s 30-year history coincides, roughly, with the rise of travel as a widespread phenomenon. As we celebrate the magazine’s anniversary, I asked a dozen movers and shakers in the Nat Geo Travel family to share the biggest changes they’ve seen in the past three decades—and their hopes for the future.

Here’s what they had to say:

“There have been vast changes in the last 30 years: from name-your-own-price sites to surcharges on checked bags, from guided glamping trips to gluten-free travel options, from shrinking legroom on airplanes to Wi-Fi everywhere. And yet one thing remains a constant: the ability of travel to transform ourselves and the destinations we visit, and perhaps—in a small way—the world. As travelers, let us wield that power wisely. —Norie Quintos, Acting Editor in Chief, National Geographic Traveler 

“People whine about technology and how it’s getting in the way of having deeper travel experiences. That may be so, but the argument’s nothing new. Many in the Victorian era lodged similar complaints about photography when it came onto the scene, including several members of National Geographic’s own board. Technology may distract us from being present, but it’s an extension of the same challenge we’ve had to overcome for centuries. There is one thing, though, that bothers me. I used to always get a locally made journal to write notes in wherever I traveled (a favorite memory entails waiting in line behind a monk to pay for a vinyl-covered journal emblazoned with a lion in Cambodia). This has become harder and harder to do. I once found a great one in Shumen, Bulgaria, then returned a couple of years later to get another—but all they offered were Chinese imports. A few years after that, I was there again—and found the stationery shop had become a women’s shoe shop. I miss all the fun journals.” Robert Reid, Nat Geo Travel’s Digital Nomad 

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Robert Reid’s notebook collection (Photograph by Robert Reid)

“When people envy my career as a travel photojournalist, they seem to forget what an ordeal flying has become. Gone are the days of stretching out across five empty seats in the back of the plane, decent food, short security lines, and so on. But the benefits of the modern era are many. I like that I can get online or make a cell phone call from almost anywhere. I am able to have the experience of being extremely far away without losing my connection to home. I love writing email dispatches to recount a crazy adventure or a profoundly beautiful experience and having the ability to share my favorite pictures from a shoot with not only my many friends around the world, but the subjects I photographed that day. My photography is all about connecting, and traveling in the digital age only serves to make those bonds stronger.” —Catherine Karnow, contributing photographer, National Geographic Traveler

“In the past 30 years, the power of collective knowledge has been the seismic shift in how we think about and experience travel. We reveal places, people, and, yes, problems, all for the benefit of strangers that will visit after we do. There has also been a notable democratization of travel, evidenced by the sheer number of people now criss-crossing the globe. Rather than a luxury enjoyed by few, exploring the world feels much more like a right for all, and starts at a much younger age.” —Annie Fitzsimmons, Nat Geo Travel’s Urban Insider

“The world is not flat and it’s time for that cliche to flatline. Travel’s greatest gift is its ability to show us that the planet is more oblique, bulbous, and amorphous than we could ever imagine. Sure—you can fly a straight line to Tian Shan or Tierra del Fuego and the unbroken arc of bandwidth stretches from Siberia to the Serengeti. But the shapes that never cease to surprise are the curves of culture and the contours of context. Uluru’s amber swells remind us of our sacred pact with the land; Nazca’s swirling hummingbird shows that human hopes will always soar; Pompeii’s ashen enclaves prove that it can all be over in a flash. The world is a jaggedy place full of peaks and valleys. To embrace travel right now is to reject the notion that we’re a modern monoculture living in a monomanical manner. We’re not—and every trip proves that, flat out.” —George W. Stone, editor at large, National Geographic Traveler 

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Catherine Karnow shares photos with a subject in real time at the Anjuna Flea Market in Goa, India. (Photograph by Shivya Koch)

“Thirty years ago the ‘family trip’ was a major production. The focus was on time carved out annually for that one, big trip. Now? Families are traveling more than ever before and redefining what they can do with their kids. Some are taking bigger, bolder adventures; others are simply making sure long weekend jaunts have an impact or tacking on a few days with the kids after a business trip. The kids of the generation who pushed adventure aside once they had kids has forged a whole new path. As parents they are going farther, longer, and refusing to let little things like strollers and 15-hour flights stop them from seeing as much of this big, blue planet as they can…with their kids in tow.” —Heather Greenwood Davis, National Geographic Traveler “Traveling With Kids” columnist

“Travel, you don’t look a day over 29. No, really! Ah, but how the rest of us have changed, and not necessarily for the better. When you were born, many of America’s once-great legacy airlines—Pan Am, TWA, Eastern—were still flying. Travel agents were still people, not monolithic websites. The hospitality industry was more hospitality than industry. No surprise that when you turned 16, you decided you needed an ombudsman (ahem, me)—maybe to remind us that we can do better. That we deserve better. Here’s to the next 30, my friend.” —Christopher Elliott, ombudsman and editor at large, National Geographic Traveler

“My travel bug began in the 1970s and ’80s, when my Aunt Charlotte, then a flight attendant for Pan Am, would return home with a bag full of goodies from exotic lands—from handmade ponchos from Mexico to unique German nutcrackers. Travel then was only for the wealthy. Now it’s more affordable and accessible, especially for families. And with our older generation living longer, the growth in intergenerational travel is amazing to watch. Last year, my kids were able to experience Europe for the first time with a trip to London with their grandmother, who remembers the days before rolling luggage.” —Kimberly Connaghan, Publisher and Vice President of Global Media, National Geographic Travel

“When I became travel editor at the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle three decades ago, a dozen travel publications—and their editors—dominated the dissemination of travel content. Today, with all writers able to self-publish their work online, thousands of travel blogs and websites have proliferated, and the spectrum of travel publishing has stretched to encompass content that is more marketing than journalism. As the traditional editorial structure has fractured, editorial standards have fractured as well. Still, in the best work, the old principles apply: Honor yourself, honor your subject, honor your reader.” —Don George, editor at large, National Geographic Traveler

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There’s an app for that: Mapping technology has revolutionized the way we navigate the world. (Photograph by Luis Marden, National Geographic Creative)

“In the early 1990s, a small group of travelers, tour operators, and conservationists from the Americas, Africa, and Asia gathered in a farmhouse outside of Washington, D.C. Our mission: Officially define the word ecotourism for the first time. We came up with this: ‘Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.’ With this, a global movement was born that went beyond anything we had imagined. Along the way, it planted the seeds for what is known today as sustainable tourism, based upon the key pillars of environmentally friendly practices, protection of cultural and natural heritage, and providing social and economic benefits to local communities. The question is no longer whether sustainable tourism can deliver on its promise of making the world a better place—it can and does. Now the question is, how far can we take it?” —Costas Christ, editor at large, National Geographic Traveler

“As a National Geographic Traveler photographer, I’m blessed with the ability to help readers see the world in a new and different way. When I’m out in the field experiencing a new culture for the first time myself, my success in making that culture come alive depends on my gaining access to real people quickly. With digital cameras trending smaller and smaller, this has become exponentially easier. Sharing what I do with your subjects right away has become fun again. In the past I would trek around with a Polaroid SX-70, and give those prints away to my subjects in exchange for their cooperation in letting me enter their lives. Today, I can share my work with them on the spot without using chemicals and paper.” —Cotton Coulson, contributing photographer, National Geographic Traveler

“In decades past, I would spend days and days researching the subject and destination I was assigned to photograph for Traveler, pulling relevant news clips from the National Geographic library and making Xerox copies of of the articles that might help me in the field. More often than not I would come away with dated and less-than-useful information. Today, everything is on the Web and accesible from my iPhone. Map apps have replaced paper maps and hotel reservations are a click away. Much of the research I need now is done directly in the field, while I am shooting. The smartphone and the ubiquity of Internet access has completely changed the way I work.” —Sisse Brimberg, contributing photographer, National Geographic Traveler

Leslie Trew Magraw is editor/producer for the Intelligent Travel blog network at National Geographic. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @leslietrew.