Walk into most hostels today and you’ll find travelers with smart phones, netbooks, Macs, iPods, and large SLR cameras. Head to the computer room and you’ll find everyone on Facebook. In the TV room, most people are on their laptop. When I started traveling years ago, I rarely saw people hooked on technology. Few people had cell phones and even less had computers. No one had Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. Now, people are buried in their computer messaging their friends while listening to music oblivious to their surroundings.
Technology has certainly made travel a lot easier. Smartphones and GPS have made finding your way much simpler. No more giant maps. When I arrive in a new city, it’s easy for me to find my hostel. I simply turn on my iPhone and Google maps it. When I need to book reservations, I do it from my phone or over the Internet. Need to stay in touch with people? Simply call them. They don’t have a phone? Facebook them. If they are like 99.9 percent of the population, they probably check Facebook quite often.
Technology has become so ubiquitous in our lives that it is no wonder traveling has become more reliant on technology. Even for those travelers who don’t spend their days blogging like me, I constantly see them online. Travelers twittering, Facebooking, Skyping, reading the news or TMZ all the while tuning out to their iPod. In Ios, I saw people playing with their phones on the beach because the pool had wi-fi. Rather than socializing with other travelers, they had been sucked into the digital world.
Just recently, I had a chat with famed writer Rolf Potts about how technology has changed so much over the last few years. He’s been traveling a lot longer than I have, and as an advocate of traveling without a lot of gear, Rolf was amazed at how much he had to learn to keep up with new travelers. “They are always online!” he said to me. After that conversation, I began to wonder if maybe we have become too wired in our travels.
It sounds ironic coming from a tech-loving traveler who spends most of his days blogging. And don’t get me wrong, technology has made traveling easier. Travel apps and Google maps make finding places and getting information accessible from your phone or iPod. Twitter brings you the latest news. Blogging allows you to get in touch with other travelers. And Facebook, for all its addictive powers, makes it easy for you to stay connected with people. If it weren’t for Facebook, I probably would have lost touch with a lot of the people I’ve met on the road.
Despite the conveniences of modern technology, I still believe we spend too much time on the net. I also think that travelers depend a bit too much on technology. Instead of using technology as an aid and then going out to explore the world, we become reliant on Google maps, flight apps, and more. (I am guilty of this too). We spend more time on Facebook in our hostel than out exploring the world.
Running a website takes a lot of work, so obviously I spend a lot of time on the Internet. I usually take time out and spend a day or two in a hostel online. While there, I watch the internet patterns of my fellow travelers. I’ve seen people waste their days away on Facebook simply because they lost track of time. I’ve seen people reading the news at the beaches from their smart phones. I’ve seen people play “pass the smartphone” so they could all get a chance online instead of just sightseeing. We become so hooked on technology in our own lives that when we travel we have a hard time letting go.
Because I work so much online, I make it a point to get offline as often as possible. If I am not doing work, my computer is off. If I’m eating alone, I’ll read the news from my phone. If I’m on a train, I observe the people around me. When I work, I limit the number of hours that I work so I can spend more time traveling. I know firsthand how easy it is to get sucked into the net.
Sometimes I wish I could shake the travelers around me and say, “Get off Facebook! You’re in Italy!” Technology is helpful but we need to learn to turn it off, especially when we are in a place we may never get a chance to come back to. We need to learn to turn the technology off. Then again, maybe I just need to learn to turn the technology off.