Too Connected When You Travel?

Admittedly, I am a lucky guy; I get paid to travel the world. As an author, (I am always researching!) but more so as the Event Director for the around the world travel adventure The Global Scavenger Hunt. I am seemingly always on the move, and I notice things.

One awful trend I have watched evolve is the rise of a virtual wall of technology. And the unintended consequences of this techno barrier separates not only travelers from each other, but travelers from the main reasons why we travel in the first place — to immerse ourselves in other cultures and to trust strangers in strange lands.

Let me explain further.

What I have witnessed, be it at hostels, rustic eco-lodges, resorts, chic boutique or upscale 5-star hotels alike, is travelers not so much traveling, but alone immersing themselves in a self-imposed social media e-bubble. Call it the Wi-Fi Lobby.

Decades ago, the grand lobbies of the world’s glamorous hotels were wild scenes–some would say romantic–where fellow travelers from around the world coming and going mingled together. Everyone talked to each other and exchanged ideas, suggestions and winks. You made fast friends and met future mates too…travel and otherwise.

Nowadays, travelers are still hanging in lobbies in far flung destinations, but instead of mingling they cocoon themselves off: Instagraming and Tweeting followers, Skyping or FaceTiming their friends and updating Facebook. In effect, they are maintaining existing cyber space relationships at the expense of kindling real-life new ones. We have traded face-to-face social interaction with remote social networks. The magic of travel dissipates.

Sadly, this e-bubble doesn’t just occur in the lobbies of hotels and hostels around the world. It occurs more frequently now during our travel and explore times too. With Smartphone’s in hand and earbuds firmly inserted, travelers today are living in a post-tourist world where they are only physically there and decidedly not mingling or immersing themselves (asking directions, learning about the destination, listening to indigenous sounds, talking with locals). The immediacy of technology is affecting the travel experience.

Make no mistake, I am no Luddite. The communication and technological advances of the last decade have been nothing short of marvelous and revelatory. Yet, when that technology builds walls between people, instead of breaking them down, it becomes an issue.

We have become dependent on travel apps to tell us what to see and do, where to stay and what to eat and how to get there–rather than actually exploring and discovering those things on our own. There is noticeably less personal interaction. There is a TMI overload (over 17,000+ travel apps…and growing) that leads to an overwhelming type of traveler paralysis. Oddly, the same group that eschews guidebook orthodoxy doesn’t have a problem crowdsourcing information.

It seems that information comfort (or at least the perception of knowing something) has replaced good old fashion DIY independent traveling. Yet real discovery occurs only when you venture outside your comfort zones–exploring terra incognito.

It is hard to get lost when your Smartphone’s GPS won’t let you. It is hard to allow absence make the heart grow fonder when you are connected 24/7. Can’t read the menu? There’s an app for that. Why leave home if you are not going to open yourself up to new tastes, new ideas and new people?

Indeed, the certainty travel apps and our personal electronic devices offer us has replaced sweet serendipity. The essence of traveling.

From where I sit today (in a cafe in Laos) it looks like it will only get worse; with GPS tracking algorithm-based systems like Google Glass and so-called augmented reality (AR) travel apps coming on line offering travelers omnipresent connectivity–a never-ending stream of “vital” information answering your every travel-related question. Indeed they will anticipate your needs. Is remote control tourist next?

So, what to do?

A growing backlash is brewing (aka off the grid vacationing), like the Slow Food Movement of the 80’s backlash against fast foods. It will address the paradox of our era: the more we are connected 24/7, the more we desperately want to unplug. Indeed, we do need to unplug (or at least shut the damn things off for a while and stow them) when traveling, to enjoy the moment and the serendipity of travel.

We will see. What say you?

By William D. Chalmers  – Copyright 2000-2016, GEA, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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10 Politically Incorrect Travel Hacks

People tell me the craziest things. I guess I seem a sympathetic listener? They divulge their best travel tips to me at travel and adventure trade shows across the country, international travel markets, at book signings, and I hear them from fellow travel writers and arm-chair travelers alike. Most are wholly unsolicited. And most of these chestnuts I have of course heard before. Originality is sadly rare in this field. Everyone wants to reinvent the wheel every few editorial cycles it seems.

As the Event Director of the annual world travel championship, The Global Scavenger Hunt, I get to see great travelers in action every year while they interact with the world first hand as they circle the globe over 23-days of the competition. They each have to use their own skill sets, innate travel savvy, chutzpah, and acquired Travel IQ to overcome the challenges we lay before them on a daily basis if they have any hope of winning and being crowned The World’s Greatest Travelers.

Over the last decade, I have noticed that each and every participant comes with their own sure-fire set of tried and true travel tips. But how they compete and how they finish in the event reveals to us whether or not their methods are as tried and true as they believe them to be. And trust me when I tell you that everyone has their own set of travel beliefs.

Of course we all know the commonsense ones, like: Don’t eat where you sleep. Don’t wear shorts riding an elephant. Don’t talk-back to customs or immigration officials. And never present yourself at a car rental desk after a few drinks on the plane. Duh, right?

But here are the ten worst politically incorrect travel hacks that I have personally ever heard over the years presented in David Letterman Top Ten List style for your enjoyment:

10. “If you’re going to buy drugs on the road, buy them from a Westerner not a local!” Okay, but my guess is that you might be being cast in the new reality-television series Locked Up Abroad!

9. “You know Bill, counterfeit hundreds are everywhere. When I get one I either spend it on a hooker, tip really big, or buy something worth $10 to get $90 back.” I see, musical currency.

8. “I always drink and then refill the vodka and gin mini-bar bottles with water, every time!” That explains my water-downed drink last night.

7. “I always get a room at a full hotel or table at a busy restaurant because I flash a $100 bill noticeably in the face of a desk manager or maître di…then when I get what I want, I just smile, say thank you and shove the bill back in my pocket.” And you admit this in public you lousy jerk!

6. “Whenever I can’t find an available hotel room I just head to the Red Light district and make an arrangement with a local sex worker—they always have a room. I don’t have to have sex.” Right, you’ll just play cards; maybe strip poker.

5. “I never pay my mini-bar bill! At checkout I simply say that I did not consume it. I blame it on them: an inadvertent keystroke entry, a restocking issue, maybe the maid drank it or the restocking boy.” Beware: I heard this from a traveling salesman (aka road warrior).

4. “Years ago I used to sew any contraband I didn’t want customs to know about in my kids jackets—they never check kids!” Nice helicopter parenting here—to get them out of jail!

3. “Once I was running late for a flight and couldn’t find a parking space, so I just left the car at the terminal departure curb. Yes, it got towed away, but it was cheaper than missing my flight.” A smart business calculation if I ever heard.

2. “Whenever I check a bag I always pack a starters pistol in it. Hasn’t been mishandled.” Remind me to never fly with you!

1. “When I travel I don’t make eye contact and never talk to strangers, you can’t trust anybody traveling.” WTF!? If you can’t trust strangers in strange lands why travel? But, the avoiding eye contact works really well jaywalking in Manhattan. I am just saying…

So, what are the worst pieces of travel advice you ever heard?

By William D. Chalmers – Copyright 2000-2016, GEA, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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