Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Skype. The list of social media sites is almost endless, not to mention regular texting and the age-old art of a phone call. The possibilities to stay connected to the family, friends and the world are seemingly endless. In countries like South Korea; that boast the world’s fastest Internet speeds; it’s not uncommon to board a subway car during rush hour and find each and every person from all generations staring down at a screen. In today’s society we thrive on being connected, the ability to have an almost instant connection to anyone from anywhere in the world, or to use the internet to search any topic or answer a question in a matter of seconds. We are so glued to our devices and rely so heavily on that connection that going off the grid seems almost impossible and somewhat terrifying.
Recently, while traveling through South Africa with friends, we decided to stay at an ecological camp for a few days along the Orange River, which creates a natural border between South Africa and Namibia. As we researched accommodations, the biggest question beyond cost is always, “Do they have Wi-Fi or internet?” I will be honest and say we didn’t choose this camp because we are all environmentally conscious, or loved the idea of organically prepared meals, but because it was the most affordable accommodation in the region we wanted to stay for a few nights before crossing the border into Namibia. Upon arrival, not only did we confirm that they did in fact not have internet connections or cell service, but even more rustically no power supply in our individual sleeping “shacks”.
Our friendly hosts showed us to our shacks and nicely told us to put down our tablets, pack up our laptops, and take pictures but plan to upload them at a later date. For 48+ hours my iPhone, which is almost always glued to my palms was nothing more than a reading device and a flashlight to find my way back to my bed after the sun had set.
Being off the grid can be equally tough and rewarding. Yes, you may feel like you’re missing out. How can you share the river kayaking experience, or the beautiful moon at midnight if you can’t instantly upload a photo to Instagram? What if a friend sent you a message and you won’t see it for two more days? Will they think you are ignoring them because you didn’t respond soon enough? All these thoughts crossed my mind. Then one day I left my phone in my shack and enjoyed the warmth of the sun, I watched and listened as people went about the day cooking, sunbathing, and reading books. At dinner we sat and enjoyed a meal by candlelight and had real conversations, not once did someone look down at a screen or type a message to someone else. Late at night, we sat around a fire and talked and laughed and the thoughts of “What will be my next Facebook status?” ceased and everyone was present and in the moment.
It’s the moments like those brisk nights in South Africa that make travel rewarding, allow you to think, reflect, and enjoy the world around you with your friends without the buzz and beeps of your smartphone in your hand. Next time you travel, whether it’s down the road to a coffee shop or half way around the world to a remote camp in Africa, try turning off your phone. Go off the grid, whether the grid is available or not. Instagram and Facebook will still be there when you return and reconnect. Your friends will understand and maybe even applaud you for not responding to their message within 30 seconds.
Travel is an amazing opportunity to explore new cultures and meet new people, put down the phone/tablet and enjoy where you are with the people you are with. You’ll be amazed the things you can see when you look up from the screen.