Have tech, will trek. After having roughed it in South American jungles, lounged about in the Mexican seaside, and bustled through European city centers, I have come to the conclusion that travel with tech is better. I’m not talking planes, and better trains, but of personal tech, such as cameras, smartphones, laptops, etc. Some feel that getting away means getting away from all things, including electronic ties. How does technology silently interweave itself in our travels? Is it a help or a hindrance on the path to self-discovery and exploration while on the road? How can one find a balance?
The desire to cut the tethers pulling you back into the world you left behind is a strong one. After all, travel is about opening yourself to new and exciting things, and for some, moving away from the old, creating new.
Talk with some older hardcore travelers and you will see how their past travel experience differs from ours today. Paul Theroux is famous for his solitary sojourns across continents. We’d be hard pressed to imagine him checking Facebook. His travel was immersive, intuitive, and unanchored by everything but that which was inside of him. Others speak of carrying just their cameras and essentials, possibly stopping to phone home once in awhile. The essence of what we see here is that anything carried was an extension of themselves.
Now we see much more available in travel tech. There is smart cameras that can tag and upload pics automatically. Smartphones can track our luggage from city to city. iPhones can take excellent video that we can edit on the go, while simultaneously allowing us to conquer Temple Run. We can track expenses, write down contracts, itineraries, and thoughts all on a smart phone. Don’t forget GPS. We can buy tickets, book hotels, and plan routes, all from a hotel room. We can read reviews of all that is around us. We often have a virtual experience of what we are going to do in prep for the real thing. So much work is done for us. Convenient? Yes. A form of distraction from new and unusual places? Yes. Does this make technology bad? No.
A balance must be struck between treating travel tech like an adult pacifier we can’t let go of, and spontaneously existing in the moment, not the moment as it pertains to our smartphone, camera, or potential social network likes, the real moment. Maybe this means setting limits on ourselves as to when we will let ourself whip out the camera. Agree with yourself that, today you will experience they entirety of a situation first, and then take pictures. Experience, then capture.
On the other hand, some may find constant camera clicking, blogging, and commenting as an essential way to process a situation. And that is fine too. But, it is a travel style choice. The social network travelers see new and exotic things through a lens. For some that means they see a gorgeous statute that reminds them of a story their grandma used to tell them, so they click it, post it and let grandma know that she was a part of the travel experience half the world away. That is a special moment. And a completely valid way to travel. But not all in your group may share that. There’s always those that don’t even bring a camera, the Island. They are happy to live in the moment, with a terrifying thought to some of us, that they won’t photographically remember every detail, but rather the entirety of the experience. That too is a perfectly valid choice.
I myself have teetered from extreme to extreme on this scenario. When I was younger, I was an Island. I didn’t have much of a camera. It was old, clunky, hard to work and mostly just bugged me. I found myself on an exhilarating 6 month trip in the Guyanese jungle, doing volunteer work, and now nearly a decade later, I have nothing pictorially to show for it. I remember it clear as day, the deep dark rivers, so black I couldn’t see my hand dipped just inches into it, the questionable market for exotic animals, the precious children who I had nicknames for, and the rickety old house I lived in, but no pictures. Swinging more to the middle of the spectrum, is my time living in Mexico at a seaside town as a Blogger Type. Then came a Barcelona trip, shortly after I discovered Instagram, moving firmly into a Social Network Lens Type. Different places in life, different styles of travel, and the one I regret the most is when I had no tech in South America. There is something to be said for memories, as fleeting as they are, if they can be captured on film, even a little.
So what it comes down to, is know yourself, what makes you happy in your travels. Know what will make you feel the most fulfilled, and use technology as a mere extension to that end. Then you can come away with an enhanced experience tailored to you.
This new feature column on Chip Chick will focus on all kinds of tech as related to travel and outdoors. You choose how much to integrate. I have an upcoming 8 day trek to Annapurna base camp in May, that will certainly require some specialized gear. All of it will be an extension of myself and my abilities, to enable a better experience. Because that’s what travel and adventure are all about. So, what kind of travel techie are you?
You are going to experience everything you can and not be distracted or bothered by tech. Sure you might send an email letting your parents know you aren’t dead, and you will siphon off pictures from others with cameras when you get home. But, who can be bothered to deal with it now?
“My sister would love this!” Click. Comment. Send. You see your experiences through the lenses of your social circle and the likes that will result, or simply the joy it can bring to others around you.
Much like the Social Network Lens type, but with more flare. You experience situations taking careful notes to later craft a witty and immersive article for your following. People are relying on you to convey the magic and you won’t let them down.
You have had this set-up since your first backpacking tour. That old camera has never let you down. Internet cafes work just fine, why do you need a new smartphone? Plus, that ancient backpack is like an old friend, you feel more for than some real ones. Why fix what ain’t broken?
The best part of the trip is gearing up with all new stuff. You spend your time using the shiny new items throughout the trip, rejoicing over what a good buy they were, and ignoring the occasional back pain that pops up once in awhile from the busting bag you’ve been carrying.
Now, which one are you? Hit the comments to let us know.