Modern Technology: Is It Helping or Hindering Travellers?

Nick Wharton Author Bio Picture

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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Nick Wharton Author Bio Picture

Written by

Nick Wharton

Nick is the co-founder, editor and author of Goats On The Road. He contributes to numerous other media sites regularly and shares his expert knowledge of travel, online entrepreneurship and blogging with the world whenever he can. He has been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and has more than 10 years of experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Nick's advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and he spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging. Learn more about Nick Wharton on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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