I’ve heard some criticism recently of the use of technology while travelling. Some see the backpackers hanging around in hostel common areas chatting on their phones or catching up on the latest episode of Game of Thrones on their tablet or laptop, and think it speaks to a new, less social age of travel. More than before we’re talking to each other on the road less and trying to stay connected with the folks at home. We’re getting lost in the online world instead of taking in the beauty and diversity of the area around us.
As someone who likes to stay connected and uses her laptop for work while while travelling, I’m definitely in a different camp. I believe that for most people it is important to stay connected with friends and family, just as you would if you were at home. It’s also important to have an avenue to allow you to disconnect. Moderation, however, is the key.
When travelling in some of the poorer regions of this world, you get glimpses of a life that is not always pleasant to see or be a part of. For me at least, this can take a toll on my mental state and I need more than anything some nights to sink into a nice happy episode of whatever is new on Netflix.
As someone who is travelling for months instead of weeks, it’s also important for me to keep up with my people back home and the new people that I meet as I travel. I’m looking forward to those free accommodation offers in Germany yall!
I know first hand that when you get back from a long trip it can be hard to restart those relationships. When I was 18, I travelled around South America for a year and when I got back things just weren’t the same with all my old friends. These were the days before Facebook and Whatsapp. Where scheduling a Skype session involved complicated calculations of when we were both awake and when the internet cafe was open.
I figured out that while I was being told about the Big Things - engagements, new houses, promotions - it’s really the little things that tie people together. These things are not something you think to include in a long email about what’s been happening, but with new technology you can now take the 30 seconds you need to send the snippets of your life.
When my friend Bel is waiting for the bus sometimes she’ll reach out and give me little snippets of her day. When my friend Gabe was recently waiting at the airport, exhausted after not having enough sleep, it’s easy for him to let me know how tired he is and that it was a terrible idea not getting a direct flight. These are things no one would bother or remember to write in an email but it’s really the little things that make up the conversation and fill the gaps once you get back home.
If you think about it, when you spend time with your friends, it’s rarely the big, life changing events that you discuss, it’s mostly the little things.
In my opinion, access to apps like Whatsapp and Snapchat allows you to keep up the conversation with your loved ones so that you can quickly share the little things. Just like you would at home.
Time for yourself
Even writing this is a good escape for me. I get to reflect on what I’m feeling as I travel, how I’ve handled certain situations and offer advice to new travelers on how they might avoid some of the mistakes I’vee made. Sure, I could write this all down in a journal, but how would I get it out there so that it could actually make a difference?
If you need it, take a night off and watch a movie or catch up on your favourite show. If you have something to share, spend some time chatting with your people back home. Don’t feel bad, seriously, what’s the difference between that and plunging into a good book on your hostel sofa? Of course, wearing headphones can be the surest way to say, “I don’t want to talk to anyone right now” but as you travel you realise that there's people everywhere. If you spend one night in your own head, you’ll be sure to meet people the next night.
Heck, you could even offer to watch something with someone else if they look bored. I know I have sometimes made some great travel friends when I’ve given them the opportunity to relax into a good movie in a hostel barren of other activities.
I think there’s definitely a balance. Try not to escape from the world around you too often and remember that if you’ve got headphones on then you have less chance of connecting with your fellow travelers.
The important thing is that you don’t worry about what other people think. If you need to chill, chill and if you need to hang out with your friends online, then do that.