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Are the latest and greatest upgrades in technology bringing us all closer, or pushing us further apart? This is a topic that we’ve been talking about for a few months now, and is one that is constantly on my mind.

As digital nomads and travel bloggers, having a solid wi-fi connection is a necessity for our career, as is having our computers, camera, iPad, etc., and there are days when this need for internet and electronics drives me crazy. For us, and also for those who don’t work online, is it really important to be tweeting and Instagramming every moment while travelling? Does the world need to know what we’re all up to at all hours of the day?

What happened to sitting around a hostel table and having real conversations with other travellers, rather than having virtual ones? Why not gather around a campfire on the beach, rather than at a restaurant where one can Snapchat their food? How about sending a postcard home, rather than sending an email? Why not ask the local people where to find the best places to eat, rather than checking out reviews and lists on Trip Advisor?

backpackers in tajikistan
Chatting with fellow backpackers at a guesthouse along the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan – no internet here!

On one hand, I love how the internet helps to bring people closer together for various causes and to share important information with one another. I also love how we can now recommend, review or report to the world about great hostels that benefit the community, an awesome tour that is ecologically sound, or scams to watch out for when travelling. There are many local businesses thriving due to the wonders of the world-wide web. Nowadays, you can find locals to stay with, cooking classes to join or farms to work at, all while helping out the local economy.

casa particulares in trinidad cuba
Friendly families who owned the casas that we stayed at in Cuba – it’s great to be able to promote them.

Obviously, I also appreciate that the internet has provided us with a location independent career! 🙂

The flip-side is that I feel like the internet (at times) can prevent us all from interacting with the residents of the city we’re in, and with our fellow travellers.

Nick and I (as bloggers and as travellers) really started feeling this way during our trip to Cuba a few months ago. In that country, internet and wi-fi is available, but it is quite scarce, unreliable and you wait in long line-ups to purchase “time cards” just to get online. So, prior to leaving, we decided that we were going to have a break from the internet while in Cuba and pretty much go offline.

Panic!

We weren’t sure how we would react at first, but to our surprise (and delight) we were happy and felt free! We could fully be backpackers, not backpackers and bloggers, just regular ol’ travellers. After all, that’s who we are first and foremost, and adventure is what drives our passion for travel writing.

caving in vinales cuba
Exploring caves in Cuba.

Instead of spending a good chunk of the day blogging and working online, we spent those hours in Cuba playing card games, having mojitos at taverns, chatting with the owners of the casas we were at, or just simply hanging out and exploring the cities and their surroundings.

We also found that by not having wi-fi readily available, it really made us have to go back to the basics. How did we get around the world before the abundance of wi-fi? In Cuba, we couldn’t book our transport online, and we couldn’t check out Google Maps for directions. Instead, we relied on our feet, mouths and hands to figure out how to get around. We had to walk to the bus station to sort out tickets, ask locals for directions when we were driving our scooter, and use our hands for charades when our limited Spanish abilities failed us.

renting a motorbike in vinales cuba
Being able to explore Cuba by motorbike was so much more fun than being online!

Rather than checking review sites for the best spots to eat, we asked our casa owners or just wandered around until we found a restaurant that looked fresh, affordable and local.

Instead of always having the answers to everything on our devices, we had to use our brains and really think things through. The other backpackers we spoke to in Cuba had the same feelings as us on this matter. Discussions around the table were lively and opinionated, as opposed to a question or thought being brought up, only to be immediately answered by a Google search on someone’s smart device. Who needs a brain when you have search engines?!

It reminded us of how things were when we first started backpacking in 2008/2009 (which really wasn’t all that long ago). All we had then was an 8.9″ travel-sized Acer Netbook and our point-and-shoot digital camera, nothing else! No backpackers had iPhones or iPads back then, and hardly any guesthouses had wi-fi available- we had to go to slow internet cafes to send an email, which often had long lineups.

is technology ruining travel
The back in the day way of taking notes and writing…in a diary! No blog here 🙂

In Cuba, we had our guidebook for basic information, but without having internet, we had to get more creative and remember how to figure things out for ourselves, which was actually a strange feeling at first, but ended up being a breath of fresh air.

This feeling was incredible, and I think our Cuba trip did wonders for us.

Not having to write about what we were up to, not having any deadlines to meet, having to figure things out the old school way, and just being off the grid was refreshing! So incredible in fact, that we’ve decided to make this a yearly thing. At least once a year, we’re going to go on “holiday” for two weeks or so, away from our computers and our gadgets, just to travel.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we love our website to pieces, and I especially love social media, but after returning from Cuba we both felt rejuvenated as backpackers. I think it’s very important to keep our love for travel a priority, and our adventurous spark shining brightly.

backpacking mozambique
Sailing deserted islands in Northern Mozambique, and camping on the beach – epic!

Obviously there is a want and a need for internet and to be connected with friends and family, but I believe that it’s important to find a balance between our devices and our experiences. So, in the end, I think that internet availability both helps and hinders. It definitely makes travel smoother, easier and provides great advice and tips. While at times, it can make us all a bit lazy, unadventurous, and disconnected from locals and fellow backpackers.

Your turn! Tell us what you think about the internet and being connected 24/7 – is it a good thing, or a bad thing for travel?

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26 thoughts on “Modern Technology: Is It Helping or Hindering Travellers?

  1. I love going off the grid! I do this sometimes when I travel or go home to visit family. I agree it is refreshing. I often go offline also when I have a tournament for ultimate frisbee on a weekend. I’m usually too tired to bother with my phone on those weekends anyway!

  2. I’ve thought about this topic a lot lately. It’s crazy. I started traveling in 2004. I never traveled with a cell phone or a laptop. Smart phones didn’t even exist then. Traveling was all about figuring it out on your own. It made things difficult, but exponentially more memorable and rewarding! Because that was the norm for me early on I didn’t travel with any gadgets (aside from an iPod) until I took my 12-month trip in 2013! And it really changed a lot about the way I travel. No longer did I have to wander around aimlessly looking for a restaurant or ask my fellow travelers which sites they recommend. Now I had TripAdvisor. I found I spent fewer nights and rainy days playing cards with my boyfriend, opting instead to binge watch shows on our laptop. I totally enjoy the convenience of technology. And it has led me to find things I wouldn’t have otherwise found. But I kind of miss the simplicity and challenge of my early travels…

  3. Great post, something that is conscious with me often. I do struggle to find the balance. TripAdvisor for me has never been my go to source so can skip out on that.

    I use social media to keep in touch with friends more so than promote myself, I find it weird not contacting friends even for a couple days. Though, like you in Cuba the week in the Mongolia desert let me be free.

    I think as long as you are conscious of your phone usage you can find a balance. If you are talking to someone new, you should never be looking at your phone as they should be full of interesting new stories. If you are looking at your phone, you are either disrespectful or more likely need to find others to talk to that interest you.

    If you are with friends, using tech is fine as you know so much about each other already. Explained that badly I think haha

  4. I think, like anything, there are good and bad sides of being connected and online. I think especially when travelling, you should be offline as much as possible but that’s obviously hard when it’s your job. On the flip side, because it’s your job you can do what you want when you want!

    It’s definitely a balance I’ll be paying close attention to when we attempt job freedom and constant travel at the end of this year!

  5. Ah, the ‘Good Old Days’! Looking back through the prism of time it’s easy to remember them so fondly. However, we usually forget that without fast email, Google translate, review sites etc, we probably spent/wasted an inordinate amount of time trying to find our way around when traveling. Sketchy hotels, bad restaurants etc are great stories to tell, but I kind of like the stories we have now (not saying the internet can’t steer you wrong!). I definitely don’t miss lugging around that huge Fodor’s guidebook!

    However, I do agree that there needs to be a balance struck between having your face down looking at a screen versus eyes up enjoying the sights – and people – around you. I love to use the tech available when it’s needed – for navigation or translation for example – and then just simply put it away until needed again. Any email or social media updates can wait.

    Great article. Cheers!

    Dale Hampton

  6. Agree with Dale. Technology, especially the internet, really helps us as full time travellers. Especially having sites like Airbnb and being about to book apartments/hotels from abroad. When I first travelled to Europe by myself at 18 the first thing I did was walk around trying to find lodging with the help of my Lonely Planet guide. This was in the 80’s. Now, well, nobody would dream of doing that.
    I get what you say about the negatives, but most of that is about self control. Most young people spend way too much time on their smartphones and I once had to give my son shit for texting when we were on an outing. Very disrespectful having someone texting every 5 minutes with their friends.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  7. Hi Justine,

    This is exactly how we feel! We had nothing but a tiny netbook laptop, but there was never wi-fi anywhere, we would have to actually hook it up to the internet cable! I miss wandering around aimlessly at times, and playing cards rather than watching movies on the laptop. But, on the other hand, i love being able to know that where i’m eating is a good spot, and i do love watching movies! Thanks for the comment.

  8. Hi Jub,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree, when people have just met someone and they are on their phones, or searching on the internet, I find that very rude. Obviously you should be interacting together!

    Cheers.

  9. Hi Dale,

    Thanks for the great reply 🙂 It is nice to have tech for sure…and then put it away, like you said! I think this is something that people struggle with – always needing to be updating the world/social media. We struggle with this as well.

    Cheers.

  10. Hey Frank,

    Thanks for the comment. It’s true, it’s about self control and will power, but the internet / social media is just so addicting! Finding a balance is important. I do love being able to book apartments online, for sure!

  11. I’m strongly on the side that technology HELPS. I couldn’t have done a full year of travel alone without it, particularly since I’m very close with friends and family and needed it to stay in touch.

  12. It’s been ages since I ditched my phone, but I remember my study abroad days 10 years ago when discovery felt monumental, and it was just as easy to say “Meet you at Los Gatos at 10pm” to meet up. I was recently on a roadtrip and, because of limited time, was on Yelp and Google Maps waaaay too much – ick!

  13. Great to know! I live in London, though I’m originally from India and I’d never heard about this!Maybe this yr I can gather some friends and head up to Edinburgh! Tks for the tip!!

    It will help me for my next journey…..

  14. I like maps. I like being offline. I find, actually, a guidebook tends to perform better and more quickly – unless you already know the place – than online. I also prefer dictionaries to Google Translate. I think the problems you identify are digital nomad ones, but I definitely prize being offline, and I think it’s especially important for couples or families travelling together.

  15. I remember when Stephen and I first backpacked Europe in 1998, we had a printed list of all of the internet cafes in Europe. Yes, you read that correctly. The list only took up about 4 pages and we would drop into a net cafe about every two weeks to tell people we were alive!

    On the bike trip we just finished, we managed to strike a balance when it came to depending on being online. We used WiFi when it was available, but we didn’t have cell service, so we couldn’t access anything on our devices when we were riding our bikes or exploring cities. That way, we were able to plan ahead (and post a blog post for every day of our trip) but we also had to think on our feet almost every day.

    But the reason I definitely wouldn’t give up the internet altogether is that I never want to have to rely solely on Lonely Planet again!

    J

  16. Cheers “Goats on the Road”!

    The only piece of technology I always take with me is a camera. Few years ago, in a 4 month trip to Indochina and West Africa, I only took two compact cameras (Sigma DP) , one being a backup. No cellphone, no laptop, no hard drives. I didn’t have any problems. Occasionally I will use internet from coffee shops or hotels and make phone calls home from public paid phones.

    It is not only a freedom from digital disconnection, but also freedom from worries about safeguarding your laptop, cellphone and so on. Plus, travelling light makes a lot of difference.

    Being connected with the place you are in, is the most important. Anything else can wait!

  17. I agree that guidebooks are better than finding out information online, usually anyways! Many of the problems are digital nomad related I suppose, but we’ve met and seen many backpacker who are constantly on their devices, rather than just interacting with actual 3D people! lol

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  18. I love that you printed out a list of the internet cafes 🙂 That’s funny. We don’t have cell service either, which is great (I think), so we only use our devices when there is wi-fi – great that you’ve been able to find a balance.

  19. Hey Nick and Darlece,
    Thanks for the thought on tech helping or hindering. It’s good that you guys brought up both. I think as bloggers it’s easy to get carried away by the “need” to be and stay online. A lot of times I found ourselves wasting time trying to get connection and waiting for something to upload or download especially in locations with unreliable wifi. In the meantime while we’re sitting around waiting for a good connection we sometimes miss the whole point of travel and that’s to explore and be where we are at.

    The whole idea of being offline helps with our own interaction with locals like you mentioned. Instead of looking at reviews from tourists on Tripadvisor it’s sometimes just easier and better to ask who ever is next to you (local) about where they eat. Not just what they recommend (because sometimes locals give tourists answers they think they want them to hear) but where they actually eat.

    Whether or not we’re on or offline life in the physical world will continue to happen. You’re thousands of followers on Instagram or Facebook can wait and there’s a difference between what’s important and what’s urgent. I think we get confused about the two. We think something being important means it’s also urgent. So in our confusion we try to prioritize everything hahah

    If you’re going out of your way to be somewhere, be there. There’s always time to catch up on an email, there’s always time to write that blog post, and there’s no better time to be where your at than now!

    Great reminder for ourselves and for others. Thanks for the post again 🙂

    Regards,
    Mark

  20. Hey – great article about Cuba, that’s the way to do things in my book!
    Have to say I’m from the old school – I’m 60 and traveled the world in the late 70s as a 22 year old with a backpack and a few Lonely Planet books as my only ‘connection’ to things – these were like indispensable bibles to every backpacker – much as iphones are now I guess (without Google tho…). We just used maps, locals, sign language and good old human connection. Catch up with people back home was done via old fashioned letters or fancy, folded and glued, blue ‘aerograms’. We asked people to post mail to us at a forward destination so when ever we arrived at a new major town or city the first stop was the post-restante section of the local post office – the queues were always long as it was often a month or two before you could get mail..forget phone calls, the cost of an international call was reserved for medical emergencies only! (and the phones were often devices built in the 1920s).

    With photos it was 35mm film only of course. Keeping rolls and rolls of film in your pack was essential and it took ages to get to a trustworthy place to get them developed – alas, sometimes heat and humidity had played strange tricks on them.
    Anyway, the thing is that I travel a lot now but not with a back pack and LOVE my tech stuff but I still use folding maps, ask locals, switch off completely for extended periods and get ‘into’ the scene as much as possible – I find the magic dies if I hide behind my technology too much – it is an addiction in many ways (but if you’re a professional blogger you have to have it for sure) that travel itself does not necessarily need – but then, I’m old.

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