Think back to the 1800s, about a century before the invention of the Internet; before electromagnetic and electronic technologies; before Faraday, Marconi and Bell. During this time, horses enabled long distance communication and travel. Fast-forward to 2014, an era of micro-absorbent travel towels, and apps that carry everything from your guidebook to your flight documents to your public profile displaying your every setting, meal, view, friend and feeling. This, my latest entry, spawns from the recent outburst of social media in travel.
I am aware of the irony involved in addressing this topic in a travel blog. I am not ashamed to say that I peruse the pages of countless explorers, artists, activists and foodies to help me make the most of my own journeys. I am definitely no stranger to Facebook or Instagram. And, I am the last person to turn down a good travel app – maps, currency exchangers, and restaurant locators to name a few. That being said, I think that a line must be drawn somewhere between being resourceful and feeling empty without a selfie from every place that you visit. Despite powerful marketing attempts to turn us into mindless, hash tag-posting consumers, we should pocket our cellphones, digital cameras, netbooks and earphones to be where we are!
I’m talking about REAL experiences from the very REAL life you are living right now! I speak for the senses you use to taste the fresh lemon sardines in Vernazza, Italy, to see Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia Museum in Spain, to smell the sea saltpans on the Mediterranean coast in Malta, and to rub the statue of St. John Nepomuk for good luck on the Charles Bridge in Prague! We should value the immediacy, engagement and authenticity of our REAL travel experiences, rather than feel tempted to impress and stalk users of social media platforms whom we often don’t even know!
All too often, I see tourists browsing through photos and scouring the streets for cafes with free Wifi to post the latest on their travels. In fact, it happens so often that we have even developed signature poses for these photo updates.
I’ll admit that I am the aforementioned tourist sometimes, sacrificing quality real time to send a message to a friend telling him/her what amazing thing I saw/did or to take a perfectly timeless photograph. But somewhere between another weekend in Paris and a day avoiding the rain in Belgium, you will experience the be all and end all of travel experiences; something so staggering that all you want to do is engrave every second of the moment you are in into your mind forever. Sitting thousands of metres atop Mont Blanc just before snowboarding down to the bottom or paddling through the caves in the Malta’s Blue Grotto were some of the many moments that have caused this for me. I know what you’re wondering now, Did I order an extra side of cheese with this post? The last thing I want is to drive you away with quotes about the enriching experience of travel that ring true as the word ‘yolo’. All I’m saying is, you can google a photo, snag one off a friend, check who tagged who and when another time.
As I said, the Internet and social media have their perks. We are able to purchase tickets and even select our preferred seats on nearly any plane, bus, train, or carpool out there. We are then able to flip through photos of countless bedrooms, lobbies, and dining areas until we have selected our accommodation, all at the tap of a button. Before we arrive, we can reserve day trips and tours to island hop or parasail or visit a famous sight/museum/building. However, is it possible that travel has lost its spontaneity because of our meticulous online planning? Why not show up and familiarize with the city before deciding where to stay or what to do? Or, instead of e-reviews, why not rely on the recommendations of friends who have traveled or lived there before?
Meeting new friends is another of many aspects of travel affected by the internet and social media. When all is said and done, there should be a happy balance between real presence and virtual presence; convenience and spontaneity.
I hope this provided some food for thought for those of you planning on “checking in” from wherever your next trip may be and a reminder to everyone to live the moment!