Cannot compute!: Is travelling with technology a good or a bad thing?

When we decided to go travelling, over a year ago, I pictured us exploring the world, and documenting it as we went. I knew I didn’t want to be a ‘travel wanker’ on Facebook, constantly updating every other day with pictures and statuses, transparently trying to prove the worth of my travels, or at least, trying to make friends at home jealous. 

But I knew I wanted to write, take photos, take videos, and diarise what we were doing, learning and feeling about travelling, as we went. So, I did what any wannabe blogger would do, and rushed out to buy a netbook. A slimline white Samsung netbook – light enough to carry, and good enough to watch some TV on, during low moments.

However, when we were about to leave England early January this year, I suddenly got cold feet. Not about travelling, but about whether I wanted to be anchored and wedded to my laptop for our 18 months away. I kind of like the liberation of being sans technology, and when me and Sam went to Costa Rica for 3 weeks last spring, I didn’t check my phone once (despite good wi-fi everywhere) and I really loved it. So we decided on a halfway house, of bringing smartphones with WordPress installed, and a bluetooth keyboard, for blogging. And I have to say, I don’t regret my decision at all! 

We have episodes of our fave shows like Community, New Girl and Family Guy, and some films, saved on SD cards to watch on our phones if we want. And if we feel the need, we can Whatsapp, Skype or Facebook message friends from home and new friends from travel. And of course, our Smartphones have become SO MUCH more important, in terms of emailing hostels, looking up bus times, checking Trip Advisor for good restaurants and activities in upcoming cities…

But crucially, there’s nothing I can’t do on my phone, that would merit my laptop. It seems on the surface like a subtle distinction, but I can honestly say I feel freer without my PC. Not only do I not have to worry about it breaking as my bags get chucked around hostels, buses and boats, or stolen on a night bus, but it also means there’s less for me to hide behind.

It’s definitely true that modern travelling has become less social. You go into a hostel now and often people are heads-down on phones, laptops and tablets, not talking. What would once be a topic of conversation is now a question for Google, and what would once be a spare evening to socialise is now an evening to stay in, have a ‘quiet one’ and watch something. I’ve met people who are openly anti-technology, or anti-Facebook / Skype when travelling, as they think it’s sucking up time that could be better used elsewhere exploring things.

I have some sympathy with this view, as I do think it’s tragic that we don’t communicate as much, especially when sharing something as great as traveling. And some of the best impromptu conversations I’ve had, have resulted in shared tips for cities and countries, travel plans borne, and friendships cemented. But that’s not to say there isn’t a time and a place for technology.

Sometimes you need the comfort blanket. The night in watching Forrest Gump under the duvet. The group Whatsapp with your work mates that makes the distance across the globe feel smaller. The voyeuristic status update-checking to make sure your old life is still plodding along at roughly the same pace. Familiar faces, voices. A million books at your fingertips to escape into. The comfort and safety in knowing you can get a grasp on where you’re going next, ideas on what you should do, how to get the best deal as a consumer, and the comforting voice of a thousand reviewers who’ve been there before you.

Sometimes these things come from real voices and people you meet, sometimes they come from online. Either way, I can’t help but think that more information has to mean a better deal for the modern-day traveller; a chance to maximise your adventures. And as long as you don’t use a screen as an excuse to build a barrier between you and the outside world, I can’t see how it can be a bad thing.