During my recent six month holiday, I discovered how travelling without modern travel gadgets can lead to a negative experience. Especially in today's techie world.
Many years ago I started my travelling days as a backpacker and look back favourably on those journeys. It was pre-internet so it felt like I was a true adventurer, discovering the world for the first time. Each day was a surprise and never knowing where I was going to stay. You simply rocked up to a city and then looked for accommodation!
Even though mobile phones were introduced later, making it easier to stay in touch, I resisted bringing that phone with me on a backpacking trip to Spain ten years ago. I was in shock that everyone I met was travelling with their phones or small laptops. It saddened me because I would see people sitting in the backpackers more concerned about Skyping with family and friends back home or watching a movie rather than stepping out the door and experiencing the city, life, culture and food.
Is a mobile phone essential
But it soon became apparent that it was essential to travel with at least one travel gadget. Basically I needed a phone, mainly for the sole purpose to pre-book my backpacker accommodation in advance. What I discovered was that backpacking had changed a lot. Backpackers were now pre-booking their accommodation online, and as a result the backpacker hostels were often full before you arrived in the city. I could no longer travel spur of the moment. I had to pre-plan. Relunctantly I ended up buying a phone card so that I could reserve my bed at least five days in advance.
Is a laptop/tablet essential
On my recent six month holiday around the world (2017), I thought that a smart phone would be sufficient as my only travel gadget. Plus it would help keep the weight to a minimum in my backpack. As phones now have internet capabilities, I don’t really need a laptop/notebook/tablet. Plus the backpacker hostels will have computers or I could go to one of many internet points. How wrong I was.
It was frustrating to say the least, especially if you want to do some work while you are travelling, like being a digital nomad. Internet points/centres are few and far between and when you did find them they were expensive. Plus most backpacker hostels don’t seem to offer desktop computers anymore.
Travelling without travel gadgets - the beginning!
Lucca, Italy. Absolutely gorgeous medieval town but will be known, for me, as the start of unfavourable experiences with using public computers. Firstly, the internet point was poorly set up and non-ergonomic. I had to sit on high chairs with the computer in a tight box with no room to lay your notebooks etc. Obviously designed to encourage customers not to sit for hours on the net!
However, I could finally start on typing my first blog of the holiday, once the staff eventually got the computer working. It took a while for me to get started as everything on the internet is written in Italian. Then I discovered they use Open Office instead of Microsoft for documents. Never heard of Open Office before but apparently is more popular than Microsoft in Italy. This then lead to using the Google translator to learn the Italian words for open/close/save/cut/undo/copy/paste etc. Eventually I had to Google how to save the typed document as a ‘Word compatible’ document on my USB flash drive. Eventually with success.
Unfortunately the troubles continued. The following day I went to a different internet point to post the completed blog onto my website. But when I opened the document from my USB flash drive, only one page was saved. Couldn’t work out where the rest of my document was because Open Office is all written in Italian, so I had no choice but to retype the whole blog. Thankfully I had it all handwritten in my notebook anyway. But so annoying.
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The rest of my journey
And so that set the pace for the rest of my six month, laptop free, journey.
- Siena, Italy. The hostel here had computers. Yay, free internet. I spent some time typing up my second blog in Open Office when a fellow traveller said – “why don’t you use Google Drive?” Doh! So much easier than deciphering Italian in Open Office and I can access the document from anywhere. Also meant no more flash drives!. Thanks Sal for teaching me how to use Google Drive. It was a life saver for the rest of my journey.
- Biassa, Italy. The hostel is located in the hills, about a 10 minute drive from Cinque Terre. As internet is difficult to get in the hills, the hostel uses satellite connection. It was totally unreliable and so slow. After two hours, I gave up typing my third blog and adding content to the website!
- Naples, Italy. The hostel offered one small laptop for guests to use. The only problem was that every time I sat down to use it and was in the writing flow, someone else needed to use it too. So I gave up some of my day time touring activities to use the laptop during the day while everyone else was out sightseeing. The only time I had it all to myself!
- Sorrento, Italy. No computers at hotel and the WIFI was extremely slow, so I went to the local newsagency. It was €5 per hour. Too expensive plus was awkward to do work with shoppers walking past you all the time.
- So then I moved to another hostel in Sorrento that did have computers. It took me two hours to work out how to upload photos from my camera because they had a really weird program on their computer.
- Ischia, Italy. The hostel computer took two hours to upload 8 photos! Then my SD card caught a virus from the computer and become corrupted. I felt like dying as I couldn’t open any of my precious photos. Thankfully a fellow traveller was an IT guru and uncorrupted the SD card within 30 minutes. Phew!
- Brussels, Belgium. Finally a chance to use a computer for free at my friend’s house. However, Hotmail locked me out as I was signing in from a different computer, yet again, and sent a verification code to alternative email address that is now defunct, Hence, I was unable to get the code to be able to reset the password. So annoying as it took four days of arguing with Hotmail to fix. Four days of no access to my work lifeline. Sometimes their security measures are way over the top and don’t make allowances for all types of scenarios.
- The Hague, Netherlands. Thought I would get a lot of work done using the computer at my cousin’s house. Only to find that she has a Mac computer and I’ve never used Mac before. Took a while to learn all the differences with Microsoft!
- Los Angeles, USA. Staying at a friend’s house so I thought once again, I should be fine in using a friend’s computer. However, he had a work laptop and I had limited times in which I could use it.
- Hawaii, USA. Every hostel that I stayed in had no computers, only free Wi-Fi as usual. There was one exception in Maui but none of the staff could figure out why the computer wasn’t connecting to the internet!
- Everywhere. I was making small videos at different locations until I realised that I need my movie editing program on my laptop to cut, splice and render it before uploading. Oops, overlooked that one!
My conclusion - to be or not to be with travel gadgets?
So that’s it. I’m done with trying to stay connected with the world without my own IT gadgets. I have finally relented.
I’m going to purchase my own small, portable Notebook/laptop. But lots of research to do first. It will have everything I need such as documents, photo folders, movie editing program etc. No more corrupting my SD cards or USB flash drives which happened twice on this holiday. Instant downloading and sorting of my photos from my camera/phone. Ittook me 2 weeks solid to sort out 6 months’ worth of travel photos. I can even download Lonely Planet ebooks instead of lugging a couple of heavy books around in my day pack. I will be organised and free!
And so, I have finally morphed from a backpacker to a flashpacker, travelling with travel gadgets. I can sit in any café around the world and connect as most cafe's have free Wi-Fi these days.The next holiday shall be a breeze!
Are you happy travelling without modern travel gadgets or do you prefer to travel with technology?