Unplugging from your electronic devices when you travel will bring you to a deeper connection with and appreciation for the people and places you visit.
Long before smart phones, GPS’s and all kinds of other mobile electronic communication devices were ubiquitous, I was in Venice for the first time, stumbling through its maze of streets and canals with a map I kept turning about in my hand, attempting to find my bearings. In frustration, I stopped a gentleman coming my way and asked him how I could get to a particular place. Instead of answering me, he just snatched the map from me, folded it up and stuffed it in my shirt pocket, telling me to look around as I walked and I’d find my way.
Sure enough, during the rest of my Venice stay I had no trouble at all getting about. And I enjoyed the city’s charms to its fullest. It was one of the best travel advices I’ve ever gotten.
The ancient art of engaged travel
In the past decades, modern society has taken a giant step from even the old potential paper-bound distractions and become so woven into the digital world that the ancient art of engaged travel is becoming lost. With a plethora of smart phones, tablets, laptops, digital cameras, GPS’s and all the apps that come with them, it’s all too easy for the beauty and discovery of the places we’ve worked so hard to arrive at on our travels to become sucked away from our consciousness by virtual substitutes.
It’s as though, if at every turn of a journey we’re not behind a lens snapping away or on a cool new journaling app typing away, or if we’re not uploading to our blogs or social networks, we won’t be with it — we’ll disappear from our comforting circles and become irrelevant. But perhaps the art of travel is exactly that — letting ourselves disappear for a spell from the worlds we’ve known, and become irrelevant to them.
Isn’t the whole premise of travel to expose ourselves to new experiences, cultures, and environments? This can happen if we don’t let ourselves become caged in by electronic devices and instead open the senses, become intellectually curious, and touch in with innate empathy for people who may dress, act, think and talk completely differently from us, and whose dwellings are also very different from our own, yet the same somehow.
Travel can let us learn how small and insignificant we really are in the whole scheme of things, and to feel not only okay about that, but exhilarated and inspired. It can let us open to the organic moments and to the sense of belonging to that bigger Something. After all, no one needs to leave home in order to keep up with their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok feeds. But if we want the magical promise of travel to enter into us, we do need to sign off from all that, and turn off the computer, tablet and smart phone.
Tips for disconnecting
To limit your time online and get the most out of your hard earned vacation or holiday, consider these options:
• Pretend that you’ve stepped into a pre-digital zone. Your friends and family know you’ve gone away for a while — they’re not expecting you to “phone home” every instant, so don’t give into the idea that you have some obligation to. What might surprise you (and put a bit of a dent in your ego, but in a good way) is that no one will barely register in their brains that you have been away, and you will also find that you really didn’t miss much of anything at all.
• If you don’t really need your laptop or smart phone for work (and aren’t you supposed to be putting work aside while on your trip, anyway?), leave them at home. If you do need some kind of electronic tether, bring just one device, and leave it if you can in a safe spot while you’re out and about. If there is no such safe spot, turn it off and stuff it deep down in your day sack.
• Put away your camera for periods of time and let your thoughts, emotions and sense of wonder do the recording.
• Journal just before or after you sleep, and use pen and paper. Not every thought, setting and experience has to be blogged and bragged about. If you feel you have to brag all the time to the world about where you are and what you’re doing, it might be time to start doing a little introspection of why that is.
• Wander around and get lost. Check out that obscure little village, church or pub house. Order a refreshment and sit and look and listen to your surroundings. You won’t find on Instagram or Twitter the pleasure that will bring.
• Tell everyone in your circle that you’re going to be out of signal for however long you’ll be gone, and send your family, close friends and business partners your itinerary if they need to reach you in an emergency. If your itinerary is open, then check in online only every few days to let them know where you are and that you’re okay.
• Use an auto-responder on your email program to inform senders that you’re away. Don’t spoil an entire afternoon answering every email sent to you. Good chance if you save checking your email for when you get back home, it won’t take nearly as much time as you think to go through it. (Rule of thumb: The less email you send, the less you’ll get!)
• Go where there are few or no people from your country or language of origin. Spend as little time as possible in the major tourist spots. Pretend that you’ve disappeared. You actually have.
And doesn’t that feel incredibly liberating?
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