Post offices are often among the most attractive historic buildings.

Travel is never just about covering a set distance to tick off the main attractions. At its best it is always a journey of anticipation, discovery and unexpected encounters.

But is a love of GPS, electronic maps, mobile phones, internet hotel and restaurant reviews robbing it of its essence?

My heart sank recently when a restaurant in Chile emailed a menu to our tour group asking us what we wanted for dinner before we'd even left New Zealand.

Advertisement

Such requests are understandable when restaurants want to plan ahead. Fortunately by the time we got there most had forgotten what they'd ordered. But surprises are becoming something of a rarity for travellers and their loved ones at home.

When Captain Cook and the lads set off in their ships their families didn't see them for years. Letters took ages to reach home.

Thank heaven for those long nights at sea when writing a journal was an important task.

Imagine the surprise when these were first read. "You ate what in New Zealand, you've got to be kidding!" Now a photo of your first meal on a cruise ship is seen by your internet friends before you've taken the first bite.

It doesn't have to be like this. There has to be a middle way. Otherwise travel will become numerous photos against a background of scenic wallpaper with hourly updates to home base.

Hotels are fighting a losing battle against laptops on the breakfast tables and loud phone conversations. Bored youngsters taking a photo of every painting in the art gallery are also causing frayed tempers. Instead of taking a picture, buy a postcard - they are cheap, attractive and highly collectable.

Post offices are often among the most attractive historic buildings in any city.

During my last visit to Istanbul I was pleased to see tourists gaping in admiration inside the 1909 former Imperial Post Office building in Sirkeci. It is a stunning example of Ottoman architecture with its tile work, coloured glass and high ceiling.

Other beautiful main post offices include those in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Santiago in Chile. Historic banks are also great places to admire. But with the demise of traveller's cheques, and the rise of electronic banking, there is now little reason to visit banks. Some, like old railway stations, have found new uses as restaurants and hotels.

While visiting a working post office you might as well post some postcards. They bring a smile to the face of the recipient, who may well pin it on the office noticeboard.

Happily paper maps are still readily available.

Who hasn't got hopelessly lost using one? Often it results in a heated discussion over where you are. "It looked so much closer on the map I could swear it was around this corner."

A local wants to help and after profuse thanks you offer to buy them a drink. A new friend is made and a memory created.

This is much more fun than yelling abuse at the faceless voice on the GPS or burying your head in an electronic map then banging into someone before missing that crucial street sign.

Feeling famished after playing hide-and-seek with the paper map?

It's time to let your nostrils do the searching not your fingers.

Years after accidentally deleting all your photos you'll still be talking about that great little restaurant you found in the back streets of Lyon. It served the best steak you ever had.

No, the restaurant wasn't listed on a review website.

Taking a chance is all part of the adventure. Exhausted after a hard day's sightseeing and with no hotel reservation, you decide to stop at the nearest reasonable place you see before it gets dark.

Yes, you could end up in a dive with dodgy plumbing, a hard bed and a view of the back alley but at least it is memorable and a great future dinner-party story.

While you're looking up, not down at a screen, you may see something out of the train window you've never seen before, overhear a conversation or even start one with a stranger.

You may not want to hear their life story but don't jam on the headphones and tune out. They may have a great suggestion for places to visit, stay or eat the next day.

When they offer to take your picture thank them but maybe wait a while before you send it home.

Save the best for later.