Every time I board an airplane, I bring along a big stack of magazines that have been collecting dust sitting on my dresser. On a recent trip to Mexico, I spent some time picking through the January-February 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveler, which I love to read but never seem to find the time to absorb while I’m at home.
One article that caught my attention was the piece by Christopher Elliott called “Savor the Trip, Don’t Tweet It.” In it, he talks about a time not so very long ago when vacations were void of social networking, DVD players, MP3 players and iPhones. I’m talking about a time when we could wander down the streets of Cusco or hike the hills of Switzerland without announcing our every move or scrolling through an app that leads us to some genuine experience down the street.
According to Elliott’s article, nearly one in five American carries a smart phone, and I’d be willing to bet that a good portion of those who travel frequently use them abroad as well. I have avoided this urge, choosing instead to turn my phone off before my plane lifts off for an international destination. It stays off until I touch American soil again. This means I spend several weeks throughout every year without any phone-based connection with the world.
It’s worth noting that I was on that plane to Mexico for a press trip, which means that I was working. As a result, my laptop was tucked into my backpack (which is almost always the case when I travel now). During the trip, I logged on at night to check my email, update Twitter and upload pictures to Facebook. I traveled with two cameras (my good one and a back-up one), and I have a video camera and voice recorder that I take on these trips as well. Despite the fact that I’m smart phone free when I travel, I’m still weighed down with technology.
When I travel for myself, though, such as on a road trip with my husband, I really try to keep my tech-obsessive tendencies in check. I’ll be the first to admit that I check my email constantly and use the games on my phone for diversion so I don’t have to watch traffic that makes me feel squeamish. Knowing this, a few particular parts of Elliott’s piece really struck a chord with me:
“Vacation meant leaving the world you knew for a world you didn’t.” – Have we lost that sense of discovery in the age of tech-heavy travel?
A recent poll by Harris Interactive found that one in ten men don’t think they should have to switch off their mobile devices during their own weddings. – Where do our priorities lie? In the present that we can touch and feel, or in the virtual present where we can share the experience with those who weren’t invited to be intimately involved with the experience in person in the first place?
“Technology short-circuits some of the delights of discovery.” – I would agree that the “wow” factor may be diminished if you know what you’re going to encounter before you get there, but I’ve also been relieved to learn about some things in advance (how to cross a road in Vietnam, for example).
I’m constantly at odds when I consider that so few people take advantage of vacation time given to them at work … and then, when they do go on vacation, they’re glued to their email while sitting on the beach because there’s some sort of expectation that they’ll always be available. Travel is about leaving all that stress behind; when we combine technology with travel and never unplug, it’s like we never left home.
Since reading Elliott’s article, I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to cut back on technology even more when I travel. In the piece, he recommends doing the following to keep technology in check:
1. Set boundaries with technology.
2. If you have to check in for work, limit yourself when you do so each day, and only respond to urgent issues.
3. Don’t obsessively check in with Facebook and Twitter.
4. Use technology as a diversion (such as on a flight), but then put it away when you arrive at your destination. – NOTE: I actually think it’s a better idea to use flight time to truly unplug. Read a book, write in a journal or have a conversation with your traveling partner instead.
Unless I get a new job, I don’t see myself leaving my laptop at home when I travel in the near future. But I do think it’s worth checking in with myself every once in awhile to make sure I’m actually experiencing the moment, not living it through my technology.
How about you? How do you manage the technology / travel relationship? I’d especially love to hear from those who don’t make a freelance living on their laptops.