Dear Modern Travel Technology,
Everything worked fine before you came into my life.
It used to be that my new friends were those that serendipitously crossed my path.
Like that time in Spain I slept outside of the train station in a park, met 3 other travelers, spontaneously rented a car and took off on a random road trip through Basque Country instantly transforming a group of strangers into best buddies.
Despite not being able to view some version of their lives on my computer before meeting, we still figured out how to have a great time, make beautiful memories and stay in touch afterwards, at least for a little while.
While we are at it, I’ve got another beef….
It used to be when I got lost or needed a little help, I just asked somebody passing by me on the street.
If they were in the mood this ‘human being’ would give me directions. Sometimes I found the place I was seeking right away. Other times I got lost, frustrated and ended up doing something completely different than what was planned.
Either way, I ended up where I was supposed to….eventually. Or didn’t, which was somehow ok too because getting lost in a strange place is kind of awesome.
Most people ask their extremely smart devices for directions now, so we talk to each other a lot less.
While I’m riffing, here is another thing I wanted to discuss….
Prior to all of these pocket sized computers, when I needed to make a call I purchased a really confusing calling card then attempted to decipher the complexities of high priced international communication from this thing called a ‘pay phone’. I saw some people using a new-ish thing called ‘skype’ but apparently it didn’t work that good.
Because of this, I didn’t make very many calls. Occasionally, I talked to people from home, and most often I didn’t.
It’s not that I don’t think it’s a great idea to correspond with family and friends on the regular. But maybe, just maybe, I may not have had so many personal insights on my solo journeys if I was in constant communication with people familiar to me.
Despite being off the grid, I maintained close relationships with family and friends after my adventures.
Now, let me address the sensitive subject of memory making. Back in the day, my camera took pictures and did only camera-like things. It had a lens and a flash and even some buttons.
It could capture memories but couldn’t make a phone call, do online banking or make a fart noise. When I took the picture I didn’t know what it looked like. A trip to get pictures developed always yielded a few forgotten surprises, sort of my own personal ‘The Hangover” movie montage. What a rush it was to open that package and discover its contents. Like this one somebody snapped of me jumping off of a cliff in Italy. (It’s a picture of a picture so forgive the quality)
Also, it wasn’t so easy to carry around that camera, so I didn’t take it out everywhere. This kept me planted more firmly in the present moment. I still ended up with precious photos and keepsakes. Some were great shots, others not so much. I couldn’t share them with a thousand people in 2 seconds, but the photos figured out a way to live on anyway in my personal albums.
Now, onto my issue with the media…because this 24/7 news cycle is absolutely killing me my friend!
It didn’t used to be this way.
Being mostly disconnected from daily world events helped me stay connected to the place I was visting.
My knowledge of what was going on any given day used to be relegated to newsstands. If there happened to be any English publications nearby it was easy to save a few bucks by casually browsing the kiosk and getting a quick update on world events
I know it seems strange, but sometimes the only way of knowing something happened was by hearing it from other people. Amazingly enough, the news media didn’t go out of business, stuff still happened and my life went on.
This whole letter could be about media, but time is short so I need to move on.
Let me briefly touch on one of my favorite subjects, food and drink. Because what is traveling without experiencing the local offerings?
In my past adventures, when I needed a place to eat my first instinct was to search for a local person instead of a 5 star review on Trip Advisor. This meant interacting with a person and generally meant eating in some of the best and worst restaurants around.
Once, on a long journey up the Carretera Austral in Chile, my seatmate gave me the beat on the ultimate local spot. Upon arrival at our destination she took us into her home to have lunch with her and her husband. The food wasn’t all that great (macaroni’s and hot dogs), but did it matter? We got to hang out with our quirky new local friend and her husband, a disturbingly quiet former officer from the Pinochet regime.
Even as recently as last summer, I’m fairly certain that if I was buried in my smartphone and closed off to my surroundings I would not have shared the best Pho I had in Hanoi with these two friendly Vietnamese locals.
I find that getting invited into somebody’s home or asked to share a meal somewhere can happen quite a bit when talking to locals is my default setting.
Funny enough, it’s never happened to me on Trip Advisor.
Now don’t get me wrong technology, overall you’ve made things a helluva lot easier.
Without you I wouldn’t be able to make a living while traveling the world, at least not as easily.
Sure, my friends would be harder to reach and there wouldn’t be so many inspiring stories to read at my fingertips.
In fact, it would not be possible to share this very letter with anybody in this capacity, which is irony to a T.
All of this makes me wonder…
Was it better then?
Is it better now?
Some things yes, and others no. It seems that there is no easy answer except the one you give yourself.
Which is why I’ve created my own rules around you travel technology. I will do my best to live by them, ignoring your repeated attempts to butt into my business.
This way I can create a healthy environment away from you, which necessary for me to have authentic travel experiences.
My rules are simple:
If there are humans around, I’ll ask them instead of asking you.
I will be in the present moment as much as possible.
Don’t interrupt me when I’m with friends, you aren’t invited to social gatherings.
I’m sure during moments of weakness I’ll fall short of my intentions to avoid you.
Other times I will hapily use you, and you’ll probably save my ass on many future occasions.
Either way, let’s get one thing straight travel technology…
You’re here to add to my life, not take away from it.
Just be careful you don’t overstep your boundaries.
Ok? Are we cool?
I’m so grateful we’ve found a way to continue traveling together and overcome these hardships as I have no plans on ever giving up on us.
And I know you’ll never give up on me.