Traveling for a Selfie

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.

The Point and Gawk.

The Point and Gawk.

The Air Hug.

The Air Hug.

But Can You Make It Inappropriate?

But Can You Make It Inappropriate?

Miniaturize It.

Miniaturize It.

Nonchalant.

Nonchalant.

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!

Phuket, Thailand

IMG_7756
Travelling in Southeast Asia is a bit different from traveling in Europe. There may be visa requirements for Canadian visitors to several places, like China, Vietnam, and Japan. I visited Phuket for a few days with my two friends, Jed and Will.

The Man With the Golden Gun, The Beach and The Hangover were added to my ascetic list of research homework for the week prior to my trip. And what a trip it was.

It began with my graceful acceptance of the award for most prodigious accommodation locator ever. Yes, in my head, the age old phrase “nanananana” rang loud and clear, but on the outside, I was a perfect Kate Middleton. My travel companions had fought me right up until the morning of our flight because I got them to agree to stay at a cheaper bungalow hotel on Patong Beach. What they didn’t know is that not only would it save us a small fortune each, but also that it would be a beautifully decorated hotel serving free breakfast and situated directly on Patong Beach!

Across the street from the hotel.

Across the street from the hotel.

On our first day in Phuket, we decided to hop on a boat tour to the Phi Phi Islands. We arrived at the dock at 7:00 a.m. As we crammed ourselves in between the coffee machine spewing sugar-water and the complimentary cheesies, one of the guides was blaring on about sea urchins and the astonishing protective capabilities of a pair of rentable flippers. We sipped the coffee until we were amenable and then quickly boarded the speedboat. Being the eager beavers we are, we volunteered to sit at the nose of the boat. We took our seats across from some first-timers and hid our phones in the cabin as we anticipated it would be a wet and bumpy ride. You have no idea. I flew out of my seat at a height that may have caused passengers of other boats to think I was parasailing; a height that would enable my 5 foot self to complete a slam dunk; a height that, upon landing, would easily shatter my tailbone; I think you get the point.

Screenshot 2014-08-27 01.03.42
As we pulled through the bay entrance, a narrow opening in the circumference of a towering limestone slab draped in trees and stalagmites, all of that jabber about broken tailbones seemed to disappear. Despite our guides’ stolidity on their hundredth visit to paradise, my eyes were wide open so as to survey every glimmer of the fluorescent turquoise water, every rumble within the caves, and every flutter of a fish fin. Every sight and creature was exotic and new and wonderful. In all my excitement, I failed to notice that a first-timer lost his cool on the way to the bay and the wind had forced a generous serving of his own white, lumpy vomit into his face.

No matter. I was lost in the Andaman Sea … No, literally. My friend and I decided to grab a pair of flippers and head from the reef to the shore of a tiny, untouched beach and the boat nearly left us there! Before we noticed our boat was leaving us, however, I caught a glimpse of a Moorish idol, also known as Gill from Finding Nemo!
IMG_7755
After feeding all our bananas to the monkeys who scaled down the cliff side for a visit, we headed to the Phi Phi islands for a meal of our own. Following a capricious dining experience with one very welcoming and well-off cat, we sped off to the island of Khai Nai for some dessert.
Screenshot 2014-08-27 01.03.17
I just want to take a moment here to stress the ecstasy inducing experience that is eating tropical fruit from Thailand, especially pineapples. To this day, it is the first euphoric memory and the first word that comes out of my mouth when anything Thailand is asked of me: pineapples. I sound ridiculous, I know, and I downplayed my reaction at first so as not to draw any unnecessary attention. It was only after I saw other people pretending to be part of certain tour groups in an attempt to get more free pineapple that I began realizing the significance of what I’d just discovered. Anyway, here one is.
IMG_7779
Aside from offering mouth-watering tropical fruits and a backdrop suitable for world-class yoga, Thailand also offers some much needed travel perspective. It is not uncommon to feel that the air is tense in many countries in Southeast Asia. Even in Singapore, one of the safest and least corrupt places I’ve been to, it’s easy to feel like you are walking on eggshells where the government is concerned. In Thailand, corruption is infamous; bribery of government officials, drug abuse and prostitution form a lot of the hearsay. While I was out enjoying Bangla Road in all of its Aussie-clad glory, or being treated by a humble worker to a tour of a temple in Phuket’s Old Town, I couldn’t help but contemplate the impact of my visit on Thai culture and politics. Should I avoid putting money in the pocket of government tourist companies? Or a bar owner that seems to be running something a little more dodgy upstairs? Or a Thai “massage” establishment? As it turns out, there is good and bad wherever you go; my resolve is to be well informed, responsible and respectful. Today, the Thai military leader has become president, presumably leading to a less corrupt reformation of the Thai government.