Sunday, 1 March 2009

Going unplugged

Right, that's it. I'm burning all my social-networking passwords and logging off.

Ok, not really. (Plus, that "click if you forgot your password" button makes such drama impossible.) But this is how I felt after reading a great piece by Make Travel Fair's Stephen Chapman entitled Unplug, Enjoy The Journey & The Experience Of Travelling. As the name suggests, it encourages people to turn off their computers, forget the pressure of finding the "best" places in town, and rediscover the simple joy of unplanned wandering, or, as the Australian Aborigines say, "going walkabout".

The internet is, undoubtedly, an incredible tool for travellers - helping to enhance experiences on so many levels.
I'm continually advocating the use of travel networking to make contact with locals. Often, a quick search and an email exchange is all it takes to get a fast-track straight into a side of the country you may never otherwise see.

However, the net is not the only medium for achieving this. You can gain a lot just through simply keeping an open mind and putting your ear to the ground. Heavens, you can even go so old school as to ask people for tips in person. No online forums, no emails, no Tweeting.

Although I still love social networking, I do occasionally feel bogged down. The internet has become both my blessing and my curse. Last week I went to Uruguay and was shamefully concerned over whether my rural, beachside hostel had wifi. (It did. So many do these days). A second rush of guilt followed when I was sitting inside typing when the sun was shining and all the other backpackers were heading to the beach or on various excursions.

Yet it's this that enables me to do what I do and work remotely. I meet a lot of travellers doing the same thing - writers, the occasional professional poker player, and even the odd trader. It's something we'll all be seeing more and more.
But although this way of life has many good points it also makes it even harder to draw the line and switch off.

Any what about those who are travelling to take "time out" on a gap year or a career break? With more and more now packing their laptops, "getting away from it all" is not what it was.

I talked with a backpacker the other day about her pre-email travels in Asia. "I used to have to go to the poste restante every month or so. The feeling of getting a letter had so much more impact. It felt so special. I just never get the same buzz from Facebook."