Today’s guest post is by Shawn Stafford of rerunaround. Shawn fondly remembers the unblemished, frontier days of exploration — before Internet or Facebook existed. He challenges us to ask if ‘journey’ in the post-technology world is only confirmation or actual discovery.
You kids listen up while I ramble on about what it was like traveling back in the olden timey days. Speaking from personal experience, there is a world of difference between “pre” and “post” Internet travel. You know, night and day, cats and dogs, all that sort of thing. Technology has performed a nearly complete overhaul on our lives. I’m not talking about sex with robots or anything like that. I’m referring more to the ocean of information and instant communication that we’re all doggy paddling in. The classic travel experience we romanticize in our imaginations doesn’t exist like that anymore. We all have visions of unraveling the mysteries of exotic, distant lands while somehow simultaneously unraveling ourselves. Unfortunately, you’re just going to have to unravel yourself in the privacy of your own bathroom, because the rest has already been done for you. These days we travel to confirm what we already know. Not to genuinely discover the unknown. By the time we arrive in a new place we’ve already seen so many pictures online, or read so many descriptions, that all we’re doing is confirming it all. Checking it off a list with a few pictures, a healthy nod, and maybe a few minutes of whimsical self reflection.
Gone are the days where you could walk down the streets of a foreign city, turn a corner, and suddenly be genuinely amazed to see a fantastic plaza or sculpture. One you never knew existed. You know where they all are now, that guide you googled listed out for you all six of the must see spots. In the early 90s I traveled a fair bit to countries far away from home, and it was an entirely different experience from traveling today. I can remember actually using a globe in a public library to see what countries surrounded India. Or another time, when a friend and I decided to get from where we were (Alaska), to somewhere warmer and cheaper — Which a friend of a friend assured us was probably below Mexico — we had next to nothing telling us what to do. Literally, we had a little bit of cash in our pocket, a small backpack each, and one of those folding road maps of North America. The damn map didn’t consider Mexico part of North America though, so before long we were just blindly walking, hitchhiking, and taking cheap buses in a generally southerly direction. I was quite pleased with myself that I had gone to school on that one fateful day in the fifth grade where we had to colour the countries of the world in on a map. My memory from that map was pretty much the best info we had. It helped too that I’m seriously good at colouring.
Beyond the logistics of traveling without infinite information, I found the biggest difference and loss to be the detachment. When that person came up with the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” they didn’t mean being away from Facebook all afternoon. Pre-Internet travel meant going weeks, or months, with no communication with any of the people in your life. Sure, if you went someplace nice you could make collect phone calls. The really distant, unique, and challenging places left you truly isolated though. Then it really was about discovery and adventure. Can you really say that you’re completely in a different place if you check in on your friend’s Facebook status before going to bed? If you post pictures of your lunch on Twitter? You’re just physically in a different location on the planet, but you’re still connected. How can you genuinely understand what parts of yourself are made up by the people you care about if you can’t ever be completely isolated from them? To this day, nearly twenty years later, I still have gaps in my life from when I was isolated on some foreign trip or another. Pop culture references, moments in friend’s lives, even just general news items from that time don’t exist for me. Instead I have a completely different world of memories and events from those times.
Several times I’ve been tempted to try and travel nowadays with no connections. Bring no gadgets with me, and not use any Internet or the such while gone. It’s so hard to do now. For all the value I think there is in doing a trip the tough way, it sure is nice to get an email from a good friend while you sit in a cold tent in the middle of nowhere. I tell ya though, there’s really something great about being on your own and figuring it all out for yourself. Sure you’ll have rainy afternoons where the loneliness will be absolutely crushing and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ll also have brilliant moments of independence and adventure where your only complaint will be having no one to tell about it. You’ll be completely untangled from everyone else and left with just yourself. So if you have the means to travel completely unplugged, I definitely recommend giving it a try.
What do you think? Have you unplugged and why? Is there a benefit to doing this?
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