Imagine yourself lost in the middle of Paris. You traipse down a cobbled street and stumble across a perfect little patisserie, where you sit for hours over macaroons and steaming cups of espresso, watching the locals drift past. Or you might be at the top of Machu Picchu, your arms outstretched as you gaze over the magnificent view. Or maybe you’re lounging on the golden sands of a beach in the Caribbean, listening to the hush of the sea’s waves.
These little moments make travel romantic, and I refuse to believe that, with the rise of the internet, these moments have simply disappeared. We just need to learn to detach ourselves from our phones to fully appreciate them.
Believe it or not, I have travelled without the internet. Three years ago, I went on an expedition to Madagascar and didn’t take my phone. Our group leaders had phones, but it was a rare moment when we had signal, let alone WiFi. I didn’t have any contact with my family for three weeks.
These little moments make travel romantic, and I refuse to believe that, with the rise of the internet, these moments have simply disappeared
Instead of Google, we relied on guide books and maps. There were days when we were travelling for hours on end. Rather than scrolling through social media, we played games, spoke to each other, napped and sang along to the radio. One of my favourite memories is driving through the Malagasy rainforest in a minivan and singing along to ABBA. If I’d had my headphones in, I would have missed out on that moment.
We didn’t have Trip Advisor, so every time we booked a hotel, it was a bit hit or miss. We read the description in the travel guide, and prayed that it wouldn’t be infested with cockroaches (we weren’t always so lucky). There were moments when I desperately wanted to call my family, and times when I would have liked to have my phone for safety reasons.
But, having said that, my expedition to Madagascar was possibly the best three weeks of my life, and I’ll never forget it. Disconnecting from my phone meant that I could truly experience the culture and people around me. I remember the smiling faces of the children at the orphanage we visited, the song the local men sang at our campsite, and getting up at five in the morning to help the women cook breakfast over an open flame.
Disconnecting from my phone meant that I could truly experience the culture and people around me
A lot of these people live in a world without the internet. They are incredibly connected to each other, their work and nature. They don’t need phones to be happy – and neither do we. But I’ve also been on the other side of the spectrum and I know that the internet can be incredibly valuable to travel.
When I went to Barcelona for a few days last year, we planned the whole trip meticulously. It was such a short trip, and we wanted to pack in as much as we possibly could. We found an incredible hostel on Trip Advisor, and Google maps was ever our friend. We still got lost – the internet hasn’t solved the fact that I am incompetent at directions – but it gave us a little help, so we didn’t waste too much time.
Next time you’re lost in Paris, at the top of Machu Picchu or lying on a beach in the Caribbean, realise how lucky you are to be experiencing this little moment of romance and adventure, and resist the urge to reach for your phone
The internet is fantastic. It’s invaluable when you’re in an unfamiliar city, where the streets all look the same and no one seems to speak English.
But, in Barcelona, we still made sure to switch off from the online world, and this is what made the trip great. One morning, we got up at 5am and took ourselves to the beach to watch the sunrise. We sat together on the sand and watched the dark sky fade to pink and then blue. We took photos, but we didn’t touch social media.
The internet is a safety net. It’s wonderful. The dangers arise when we don’t know when to switch off the WiFi, stop swiping through social media and power off our phones. Next time you’re lost in Paris, at the top of Machu Picchu or lying on a beach in the Caribbean, realise how lucky you are to be experiencing this little moment of romance and adventure, and resist the urge to reach for your phone.