When we started cruising in 1986 there was no true access to the Internet. Cell phones in the US were a rarity, though they were around, just not on our radar. I had "always" had a computer, but we didn't meet many other cruisers who had one on board.
Today is a very busy day for us as we try to locate and obtain various spares to replenish our equipment on the boat before heading for the Bahamas to visit friends. OEM Yanmar and Northern Lights fuel and oil filters are significantly more expensive than the various alternate products, but finding the correct substitute is a challenge. It wasn't fast, but I was able to find many cheaper options after a lot of searching on the Internet. Those alternate suppliers and part numbers are now in a permanent file. I carry a small printer on board so that I can also print out the information and keep it in our maintenance log.
Infuriatingly, one of the filters we need is relatively difficult to locate in the small town we're in. The manufacturer's web site has a "where to get" section. The first company I called told me they were a distributor only, and so I asked the woman for the names of retailers in the Stuart area. She said, "any auto repair shop". I repeated that we were transients and didn't know the area. She repeated "any auto repair shop" (I will give her the benefit of the doubt, that she did not want to be accused by one of her customers of giving another one an unfair advantage in a tight and competitive market). I gave up and went to the next, 20-mile more distant name on the Mfr's list, and here I found help and courtesy. We'll drive the extra 10 or 15 miles just to give business to a nice person.
All told, I made 7 telephone calls for this one filter. Without a cell phone, sitting on the mooring, we would have been REALLY cranky as we drove around trying to find this stuff. Or, we just wouldn't have done it!