There is something uplifting and very frightening about leaving technology behind when you travel. You are already expanding your boundaries by visiting a foreign country – for most of us this is already enough to pull ourselves out of our comfort zones. So, why should you put down the cell phone, GPS, iPod, tablet, or all those other fancy gadgets that make your life easier?
In one short word, purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy having my gadgets and in my home city my eyes are often glued to a screen at work, on the bus, or even walking around. However, my opinion is that a vacation is supposed to be as detached from your normal routine as possible – that means abandoning technology. I do bring a phone, iPod and sometimes a laptop while on the road, but I tend only to use them when necessary – checking in with family, booking flights, and scanning for important emails.
As technology becomes smaller and more efficient, it receives endless praise. My phone can map out where I need to go, how long it takes, who I’m meeting, and accurately plan my next eight hours. A perfect invention for a busy professional, but something that is good for one function isn’t always applicable to another. The joy of travel is intertwined with unpredictability and spontaneity; you tend to miss amazing adventures if you rely too heavily on plans. I am not advocating to leave your phone at home, but I usually stash my phone away in a backpack until I really need it. I enjoy using old-fashioned maps and occasionally getting lost. Most of the time, people are willing to point you in the right direction.
Technology is a safety net that I feel I can go without. Granted, it is safer to have an accessible phone wherever you are and a GPS to lead you back to your temporary abode, but I feel I can substitute technology with common sense. Don’t trek down winding paths where you won’t be able to find your way back. Get to an area you know before dark. Ask for help from a business or friendly local that is willing to help. You don’t always need technology to stay safe. Actually, I find that reliance on technology cripples you when you don’t have it available. It is all too easy to lose your phone or have your battery die on you, leaving you stranded and with no sense of direction.
I also note that a large reason for the overuse of technology is to cure boredom. Every year, new games, videos, and other distractions on a mobile device takes attention away from your monotonous surroundings and concentrates your gaze on an addictive screen. It is a true testament to how far we have progressed in terms of content creation that a phone can take attention away from the wonders of travel. Imagine you are at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, or Great Wall of China, and all you see are people staring at their palms. Sadly, this is all too close to reality, as Instagram posts and Facebook check-ins, as well as games that reward you for spending endless, uninterrupted hours have eclipsed the actual experience of visiting a historic landmark.
Put down the phone. Put down the tablet. Travel is about enjoying a culture outside your bubble of technology. How can you immerse yourself in a new experience if you are still attached to your comfortable device?