Friday, May 2, 2014

Disconnected travelers

I didn't intent to take a break from blogging this past trip. It wasn't a conscious electronic departure. Ample internet access was available as cafes and on a tablet thing when my dear friend Jaana was around.

On my last two trips, I've been deeply annoyed at wifi's pervading presence in guesthouses, restaurants, dive shops, bars and even places of worship. In the latter, I can assure you users were not communicating with the divine.

Yeah, it's great we can stay connected with friends, family and colleagues while we're away from our for-now homes but I fear there's a disturbing trend of travelers that aren't engaging with the locals or their fellow travelers.

It used to be easy as a solo traveler to meet new people or invite yourself to share their table. Now, when an ENTIRE table has their faces lit up by computer, tablet or phone screens, I'd rather dine, drink, explore sites, sleep alone than feel like I'm intruding on their electronic time.

An uneasy feeling of loneliness and isolation sets in as travelmates ignore you in favour of sending gang emails, updating statuses, posting photos or applying for jobs back home when the very people they are electronically "connecting" with are sleeping!

Such is the blessing and curse of the internet's popularity and deemed necessity.

I acknowledge I could not travel without it but I long to travel alongside people and connect face-to-face. To hear their stories first hand, not a polished online version of it. To laugh at cultural missteps, share advice on that delicious restaurant, cool elephant rescue place, warn against a dodgy overnight train, not read Tripadvisor reviews.

Ironically/fittingly/fortunately email, facebook, couchsurfing facilitates meeting with locals, distant family, friends of friends and expats. An online community persists when it feels like there isn't one.

As surfer, host and traveler at large, I have contacted and been contacted by members of the traveling community. I have dispensed advice and sought it.

I connected a dear friend and classmate who would be living and working in eastern Africa for overlapping timeframes. My mother's cousin's best friend's son let us stay with him in New Zealand and I have since visited him and his new family in several Canadian cities. My cousin and I continue to celebrate her birthday outside this country.

Yes, the world is opening up, and there's no shortage of people who've been there to consult with, but I caution amongst these marvel of being connected, we're guilty of not connecting to those around us in real life.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I am personally glad you were able to connect with mother's cousin's best friend's son and his extended family and network of friends (like me), electronically, but more importantly, in person.
    I remember the days of travel pre-internet and gadgets (yes, I am that old). A good friend of mine asked me to keep her watch for her. I asked how she would know the time. She replied that she was travelling solo and needed to meet people, and what better way than to ask the time. Needless to say, she had a great trip and met lots of fascinating people.