Why I Travel Without Technology (Or Internet Connection)

Emily Woodhouse Comment and Opinion, Living Adventurously

In 2016, I spent 50 days cycling to Switzerland and back. I did it with no gps, no smartphone, no laptop and – in fact – nothing that could connect to WiFi. We had one standard, calls and buttons phone that was turned on every two weeks or so. Personally, I didn’t think it was anything very remarkable.

Since then, loads of people have reacted somewhere on the scale between surprised and horrified. Often it’s to do with the fact that we had no GPS telling us where to go – or even a smart phone hooked up to Google maps. We cycled to a border and bought maps for the next country over. Occasionally, when border hopping, we navigated entirely off reading signs and guesswork. Only a very few times off the angle of the sun.

This is literally all the “technology” we took…

But the other part of the reaction reveals an inability to go anywhere without said smart phone – or some way of connecting to the internet – as a way of solving all of life’s problems with a tap of a finger. I can see the merit of it and perhaps, as a non-smart phone user myself, it was easier not to bring one along…

Still, here’s my top 4 reasons not to take your technology with you on an adventure or holiday travel.

1. Switch Off

I mean this more than literally. Yes, switch off your phone, laptop, everything. Switch it off and leave it at the bottom of your bag for emergencies (or even at home). But better still allow your brain to switch off from a constant stream of information. Allow yourself to not be instantly contactable.

Whether this is from the minutiae of news global to your family, stop thinking about little things going on where you’re not. If you’ve never experienced this, I dare you to try it – even for a weekend.

I was recently at an adventure weekend, with a series of short presentations and workshops. Mid presentation, one of the ladies in the room ran out on her phone. A little while later, she came back in. A little while after, she was dashing back out again.

I am a strong believer in focus. If you’re doing something, do it well and give it the attention it deserves. You cn multi-task and do 1 million things at once, but you don’t get the best experience, or the best results out of any of them. This might mean letting some small bad things happen in order for you to do one big good thing.

For example: you might have to get back home to having missed some small deadlines or opportunities. If you’re an entrepreneur, maybe something went wrong in your business whilst you were away. But these are the sacrifices you make to have an amazing journey or adventure, instead of spending hours worrying and loitering around towns for free WiFi. Equally, if you’re contactable 24:7 then the people contacting you are going to have no incentive to solve problems for themselves. It’s far easier to ring you.

Live the moment. This moment’s not going to happen twice.

2. No Social

So… that’s supposed to be someone holding back the onslaught of digital distraction in a little force-field of nature… It’s been a very long train journey…

Most of us, I feel, have a love hate relationship with social media. On one hand, it is an excellent way to find people. Whether that’s with a view to building a following, or making friends with similar interests – it’s changing the way we communicate with each other.

On the other hand, it’s easy to feel obliged to report your every move to said audience. With social media, you have an audience and you’re life is a stage. A stage that you are constantly on.

One of the perks of not taking a smart phone with you on an adventure, is it’s much harder to make content. Hear me out. Another weekend I was on a guided trail run though sand dunes on a beach in Wales. We’d just been taken off piste a bit and I found myself wading through brambles. The girl in front of me was running along, face to phone, I think making an insta story. She couldn’t even go for a run without broadcasting it on social media. On the other hand, I was wallowing through brambles and then in awe of the view of the coast – and right out to Devon.

You could look at our two different approaches and say that I am losing out. I’m missing an opportunity for producing good content and updating my followers. I might have grown my audience by a few more if I’d filmed it too. But I didn’t – and I had a great time playing on the beach.

If you’re constantly trying to ‘make most of moment’ it completely changes the dynamic of an adventure. It’s no longer adventure for adventure’s sake. You are a reporter or a presenter, somehow always looking back at normal life or over your shoulder on the internet. If you don’t take the technology – make it a bit difficult for yourself, you capture discriminately. You are not obliged to record every moment.

3. It’s More Exciting Without

Your phone – or perhaps just instant access to the internet – is like a box of magic tricks. It can answer all of your questions with a quick search. Where, I ask you, is the fun in that?

When on the tandem, we navigate entirely using maps. I have the map bungeed to my handlebars and I shout directions. If we’re heading for a campsite, we’re heading for a green mark on the map. We can’t look it up, or find out its star rating, or whether it has warm showers, loo roll, spaces available for the night… We can’t see where the nearest shop is (or find out that they’re all closed on Sunday).

You might also like: The Complete Bicycle Touring Gear List – everything we took for 50 days on the road.

This might sound like a massive nuisance. Sometimes it is. But a story in which everything goes right, is a boring one. It’s what I call type 2 fun. When you show up at the campsite to discover that it’s closed and the next is 20km away, you have to improvise. If we’d just looked it up ahead and changed our route, we would have never ended up chatting to the door staff of a fancy restaurant or ended up in the back room of an equine centre eating crepes with the family. Or eating soggy burnt pizza because the only shop for 10 miles sold 4 aisles of coffee and frozen pizza only… and it’s hard to cook pizza with a camping stove…

Having an answer in your pocket eliminates the need to talk to locals, ask questions or stumble across things. This is where the magic comes in adventure and travel – even if it means a little discomfort as payment.

4. Prove it’s Not an Addiction

Please note: the above photograph is completely staged. It is me staring hopelessly at my Mum’s old smartphone whilst trying to make it function as a remote shutter control for my camera…

Some people are addicted to technology. Others are in denial. Others live in a liberated world with headspace and freedom. Have a look on a bus, or in a waiting room or on the street sometime. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re the only person not looking at or holding a phone (assuming you’re trying out my suggestions!). It’s weird once you notice it.

I guess some scientists noticed this as well because there have been lots of studies into how this affects your brain and how to spot if you’ve got a phone/scrolling addiction. In fact, if the idea of leaving your smartphone behind puts you into a cold sweat, you may well have an addiction. Be brave. You’ll be amazed how much space opens up in your mind to think, to focus and to be creative.