I took a few photos from the cab from the airport, with the intention of uploading them on various social networks once I found internet connection in the centre of town. After the usual chit-chat on arrival at my hotel, I asked the staff if there was anywhere around that had wifi. The answer was a firm ‘No’, and it was explained to me that I could use internet on a few select computers at a communications centre about 10 blocks away. This was step one of my technology fails in Cuba.
Once I got to my hotel room, I took my phone out, switched it on, and waited for reception to arrive. A few bars climbed up the half-pyramid of signal, so I tapped through to messaging and wrote a text to my friends who were at a hotel a few miles away up the beach. Send. The progress circle started turning, so I walked away while my phone did its thing and sent the message. I came back 10 minutes later, and still the progress circle was going round and round. Hang on, does my phone not work at all? This was step two.
Unplugged from the Outside World
I panicked more than I care to admit at this point. I racked my brains for any other way I could contact the world outside of shouting distance, and failed to find an alternative. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to actually accept that I wouldn’t be able to update my Facebook status to let everyone know I’d arrived safely, update my blog page to tell my readers I’d arrived in Cuba, or take plenty of toes-in-the-sand beach Instagrams.
Then, I took a step back. Is this is what it’s really come to? Is the first thing I think of when I land in a brand new country? ‘How can I tell everyone else about it?’ You do realise people traveled without phones or wifi before, Emma, right?! I had this quiet talk with myself whilst sat on the bed in my room, and since then, my outlook on travel and sharing has drastically changed.
I know some of you might be thinking how pathetic it is that I even had a panic at all, and I wouldn’t blame you – it totally is. Who the heck is this tech-crazed millennial going on about her first world problems anyway? Seriously? That said, I dare you to tell me you've taken a trip in the last 5 years and not shared your experience on social media or online. We've all been guilty of it at some point, haven't we?
Can Travel Bloggers Unplug?
This problem applies especially to us travel bloggers. Before I started travelling the world for my job, I would post photos to Facebook in order to save them somewhere on the internet, but that was as far as my social sharing went. Now, rarely a day goes by when I don’t share something of myself online about travel. In some respect, sharing our experiences is part of our job; we take it upon ourselves to inspire other people and we do that through publishing our travels on our blog and social media.
But have we gone too far? Have we forgotten how to travel without telling the world about it? Are we worried that our memories aren’t enough, that we’ll forget our travel experiences if we don’t document them online? In short – are we too connected?
I spent a week in Cuba without checking social media, and even though it was alien at first, I quickly took to life offline. Having no phone to find my friends in Varadero was a bit of a nuisance, but I kept reminding myself that plenty of people have done this before, and I simply had to use the resources around me and find ways of locating them – and I did without much hassle at all. I was immersed.
Instead of using a device strapped to my hand, relying completely on this little box to help me out and share my experience, I connected with the people and place around me. I relied on what Cuba could give me to get me around, instead of what my phone and Google could provide. I took time to let my travels in Cuba absorb me, and let the laid back, Caribbean way of life creep into every inch me. My experience was personal, and I quickly relished in the thought that I was keeping those days that I had to myself, only to myself. Every ray of sunshine that touched my skin was mine, and stays firmly printed in my memory because I wasn’t distracted by an device buzzing in my pocket – because it was back at my hotel, out of reach.
After this experience, I can’t help but urge you to travel in this way yourself, even if it's just once. Take a week where you get off your phone or laptop as you travel, and be plunged into the world around you. Let the only thing you share your travel experiences with be every piece of your senses you can possibly connect them with. Let your eyes see more, your ears hear every detail, your nose breathe in every scent, and your tongue taste and fingertips touch.
It’s a huge irony that it took disconnecting myself from social media and my phone for me to actually connect much more with the place I was travelling in. I’m sure, like me, you’ll share pictures and updates with other people when you return from your trip, but that’s okay. We still live in a modern world, after all. There are many advantages to being online (and for bloggers our jobs rely on it), but the point is you took some time to share that experience deeply with your own self, and not the rest of the world, if only for a short while.
Time to experience life off the grid.
About the Author
Emma is a travel writer from the UK, and has been on the road since 2009. She's trekked through deserts in South America, jumped cliffs in Southeast Europe, and sipped tea with the locals in her favourite country – India. Emma works as a travel writing coach through her own website, Gotta Keep Movin', and you can connect with her through Facebook and Twitter.