I was born in 1984. I’m on the cusp of the generation divide that still makes me a Millennial. I am old enough, and young enough, to have experienced backpacking in two completely different worlds.
One is the world in which I first started travelling at age 23. A world in which the Lonely Planet guidebook ruled, backpackers went to Internet Cafés to long-distance call their parents, and photos were taken on a camera not designed to share photos instantly on Instagram.
The other, is the world today, with instant access to the web in practically every place on earth and a million different mobile apps, booking sites, social networks and travel blogs, all aimed at enhancing your travel experience.
Do mobile phones make travel better?
As I travel around Southeast Asia today, I wonder: How much does this constant connection in the palm of our hands actually enhance our travel experience? And how much does it deter from the feeling of adventure and freedom that makes us travel in the first place?
Do Mobile Phones Take the Adventure out of Travel?
I don’t know about you, but the desire to travel comes from a hankering within me to experience things for myself. To smell and feel a place.
I want to be challenged. I want it to be difficult.
The very fact that you give me TripAdvisor and tell me what the best restaurant in town is, and give me Google Maps to show me exactly how to get there, makes it less exciting for me.
“Just don’t use it then!” You say.
Of course, I can ignore it – and I do.
I get a kick out of finding backstreet eateries that you won’t find online. Do I enjoy them all the more simply because they are not online? Yes, I probably do.
Now, I know that technology has made travel more accessible and affordable for millions of people all over the world. Facebook, Skype and Whatsapp make it easier for people to keep in touch while they travel. (I couldn’t live abroad if I didn’t have a reliable way to keep in touch with my Mum.)
And it can’t be denied that Booking.com, Skyscanner (both affiliate links) and all the big travel industry conglomerates that allow you to compare and book cheap hotels, flights and tours take a lot of the stress out of travel planning.
Plus, being able to ask fellow travellers in our Facebook group – “What’s the best way to get from Bangkok to Koh Tao?” is all well and good.
However, when we really examine what human’s want and need to feel happy and good about themselves, is all the information and instant access to the Internet via our mobile phones getting in the way of what we really look for when we travel?
So… Why do we travel?
Disconnection – a break from our normal lives in order to reconnect with something greater.
Adventure – the very word evokes, for me, feelings of the unknown.
Challenge – this is what makes it all the more rewarding right?
Reconnection – real connection with the flesh and blood humans around us.
Creativity – sat on the train for 8 hours looking out of the window it’s amazing what new ideas we come up with when our minds are not distracted.
Peace – a moment where we experience the present moment just as it is.
So where do we go from here?
Well, I’m not going to be a Luddite. I see the adventures of having technology at my fingertips and believe that in many ways having a mobile phone can make travel safer and even more adventurous if used properly!
However, I am going to try to make sure that in my personal life, I remember what travel (and life) was like before your phone connected to WIFI. (I say try because I’m as addicted to my phone as anyone!)
I’ll try to leave my phone at home and set off on my bicycle ride not knowing which direction I’m heading. If I get lost, I’ll ask someone the way home.
I’ll try to have days and nights that are not documented online.
I’ll try to make an effort to go to restaurants, hotels and book tours with companies that aren’t on TripAdvisor. I’ll just go with my gut. If that proves to be wrong, then I’ll have learnt something in the process!
I’ll try to call my friends instead of just giving them a like on their latest Facebook photo.
I’ll try to read books when I’m bored instead of scrolling through my newsfeed.
So – what do you think? Has constant access to the Internet on your phone enhanced or diminished your own travel experiences?
Header photo credit: Chelsea MacCarthy.