The 1970s Hippie Trail & How Traveling Differs Today

By Guest Blogger on Jun 07, 2019
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Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Myanmar. These aren't countries from the latest news story about conflict or economies — they're stops along the hippie trail, the name given to the overland journey taken by members of the hippie subculture and others from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s between Europe and South Asia.

In the 1970s, cheap buses, vans and trains brought travelers from Bangkok to Europe. What you needed to know was learned along the way. Fear was not a major part of the equation.

The hippie trail epitomized travel in the 70s — much different from travel from today. Here are some additional things that have changed since the days of groovy backpacking.

The Golden Age of Air Travel

Air travel is something our modern-day travel adventures have in common with previous decades, but the differences are jarring. In the early 1970s, the Boeing 747 was brand new to the market. Legroom, plenty of room to stand (storage areas instead of overhead bins) and funky lounges were featured on the first 747 cross-continental flight. Getting on the flight was much easier, passengers could use a family member's airline ticket to board, and there wasn't a need to bring McDonald's on the flight in a rush — full meals were served in-flight at no extra charge.

Sure, turbulence was an issue, and people didn't realize the concept of a "smoking section" doesn't really apply when you're in a large cylindrical tube with no open windows. But Southwest Airlines was offering a premium bottle of alcohol with their $26 flights.

Technology Advancements: The Good & The Bad

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To hit the hippie trail, you needed: basic supplies, a passport and the guidebook, "Across Asia on the Cheap" and "Europe on $5 a Day".

These thin paperbacks were the bibles of backpack travel and included information on vaccinations, etiquette, food and drugs. These books, plus a few maps, were the only required resources to travel across thousands of miles and dozens of border crossings.

This lax attitude brings a certain fondness. No Instagram or Facebook — just the exploration of a place you've never even seen photos of. However, technology advancements did make travel much safer. Today, with the help of your smartphone, you can easily find a hospital or embassy, or Google translate your way out of a predicament. Things are safer at home, too. You can set up home security cameras and monitor them from a smartphone while abroad. The advent of GPS, travel websites and Wi-Fi all make travel easier to coordinate and plan.

Death of a Travel Agent

Today you can identify a destination by spinning a globe and stopping it with your finger. From there, you can head to Google Flights, buy the cheapest flight and look up current Visa information in 10 minutes. Still, just 40 years ago, the first step was to make a call to a travel agent (well, you could still spin the globe first). The travel agency would book flights and accommodation, and provide stamps, maps and advice on how to get around.

Travel agents still exist for corporate travel coordination, unique travel requests and domestic promotions such as an Australian company offering spontaneous Great Barrier Reef tours to tourists. Forbes recommends you should still look into travel agents for possible discounts or special offers. Certain travel rewards credit cards include complimentary travel concierge services.

Relive the Hippie Trail Today

There's no reason you can't relive the hippie trail today. Of course, you'll need to re-route occasionally to avoid dangerous or prohibited areas, but you can still travel by land and don't need a ton of supplies or money if you plan ahead. No matter how much travel changes, the ingrained spirit of seeking freedom and adventure will always remain the same.