Challenge Yourself to A Tech-Free Travel

Disconnect from your phone and social media, and stop scouring for Wi-Fi spots. Going tech-free might just change the way you travel.

Next time you go on a trip I want to set you a challenge. Before you board the plane, if you must, take one final selfie at the airport and post it on Instagram. Let Facebook know you are going on holiday and inform your friends on WhatsApp that you will miss them very much and you’ll be back soon. Then, when you’ve completed all your social media obligations, turn your phone off…and don’t turn it back on until you disembark on the way back home. Try it. You’ll thank me.

I still remember a time – and it really wasn’t that long ago, so don’t even think about calling me old – when the first thing you packed after your passport wasn’t a smartphone. Tablets were something you took if you had a headache and, if you really had to go online, you could sometimes find one or two beaten-up old computers in your hostel. If the internet was working, of course.

explore, travel, challenge yourself to a tech-free travel

Do you know what people used to do in those long-gone and barely imaginable days before iPads were born and when a Galaxy was still a collection of stars? People use to talk to each other. Do you know what else they used to do? They used to talk to strangers. People even used to make new friends. And it used to be quite fun.

I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me I need to join the modern world. You’re going to tell me I need to catch up and stop living in the past. Well, I have a smartphone and I’m as addicted as anyone. But I have realised that switching off and doing a bit of disconnected travel is a far more enriching experience.

For some, the first and most difficult step on the road to rehabilitation might be beating the overwhelming urge to whip out your device to snap a picture of your grinning face in front of whatever temple, statue, monument, palm tree or post box you come across. This and the need to share on social media images of every sandwich or plate of chips you order. Your whole trip becomes dominated by the quest for selfie ops punctuated by frantic searches for a Wi-Fi hotspot to upload and disseminate the photos at the earliest chance (although for the more dedicated this won’t be a problem because you will already have acquired a local SIM for just such eventualities).

Here’s a suggestion: instead of travelling for your friends, travel for yourself. Live in the moment and avoid turning your holiday into a fishing trip for ‘likes’. I’ll tell you a secret, most people who click that little heart or thumbs-up symbol don’t really care where you are, it’s just a lazy way to say “I’ve seen your post”. If you want photos, take a camera – but try looking at what you are visiting before you rush to snap that shot. You will see so much more.

explore, travel, challenge yourself to a tech-free travel

But phones can be useful for other things, right? GPS certainly makes finding your way a lot easier. Well, let me tell you a story. A few years ago, I went to Chongqing in China to see a couple of old friends. When I arrived, instead of taking the subway right to the door of my hostel, I decided to walk. I had my phone to guide me so I wasn’t afraid of losing myself and I thought this was the perfect way to become acquainted with an unfamiliar city. Two hours later, with no wrong turns or the need for any backtracking, I arrived at my hostel and suddenly realised that I had no recollection of anything I had passed on the way because I had spent the whole time with my head down following a little dot on a screen.

Try this instead – use a map (that’s the old-fashioned version of GPS, it’s made of paper, it doesn’t run out of battery and most hostels or guesthouses still provide them). You’ll find you understand a city much better by navigating it yourself and you’ll see much more than I ever did following my dot. Or try something else. Put the map in your pocket and get lost. This is the best way to explore a city and you never know where you’ll end up, what you’ll find or who you’ll meet. Go on, be brave!

explore, travel, challenge yourself to a tech-free travel

Now let’s imagine you take my advice and try a map. You find you quite enjoy it.  You start to feel more confident so you put the map away and go freestyle. You get lost and it’s liberating. You uncover exquisite old shrines hidden down tiny back streets and you come across quaint alleys which exude so much authenticity you can smell it with every breath. You end up on a street corner sitting on plastic chairs eating delicious street food and having a beer with some friendly locals. The places you’ve seen are not in the guidebook but you love the thrill of adventure and discovery.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day it takes you a long time to find your way back to the hostel and by the time you arrive you are sweaty and exhausted, your legs ache and your feet are sore. All you want to do is curl up on a sofa with your phone and turn to your friends back home for comfort. But you need to resist! The world is small enough as it is and it is harder and harder, no matter the distance you travel, to experience the sensation of being somewhere truly far away and exotic. If you take your friends with you in your pocket, you won’t even know you’ve been away.

explore, travel, challenge yourself to a tech-free travel

We travel in search of something fresh and new. We need a break from our usual routine and that means the people we leave behind too. Of course, you miss your friends and they probably miss you; but they will still be there when you go home and you will have even more to talk about when you see them again. Most of us spend all our time stuck in an office in front of a screen for eight hours a day already so don’t waste your holiday doing the same. Go and talk to the guy over there in the guesthouse bar instead. He’s probably had a day just like yours and you’ll have lots in common. I’m sure you’ll get on really well.

If you can bring yourself to leave your phone switched off, you’ll find you live your trip much more intensely.  Once I managed to extricate myself from work for two weeks and booked a flight to Myanmar. It was my first time in the country and I had no idea what to expect but I decided to tell my colleagues a little white lie. I announced that for two weeks I would be completely out of contact, with no phone signal and no possibility of Wi-Fi, and that they would have to deal with any issues by themselves until my return. I switched off my phone and for the whole time I had no calls or messages, I didn’t check social media once and after a few days I no longer even had any desire to. In fact, the only contact with the “outside world” I had was one day when I saw the weekend’s Premiership football results scroll across the screen in a café where I was eating lunch. I was totally out of touch for the entire trip and it left me free to concentrate fully on everything I was seeing and experiencing. My memories of that trip are much more vivid than more recent trips when I allowed myself too much phone time. When I got back nothing had burned down and nobody had died. And it was probably the most refreshing holiday I ever had.

Give it a go. It won’t be too hard after the first day or two. And I think you’ll enjoy it.

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