Nobody is going to argue that the Internet hasn't revolutionized travel for the better. Cry about pricey international data plans all you want, but no traveler would trade Google Maps for asking a random person on the streets of Bratislava for directions to a hotel they booked sight unseen from a guide book after spending an hour on the phone with an airline representative asking, "Wait, so did you say there was a 10am flight on Saturday or Sunday morning?" before blindly accepting the quoted ticket price as what they actually have to pay.
Multi-airline rate comparisons? Flexible date pricing? Third party discount sites? HAHAHA!!!! (Awwwww... *pats millennial heads.*) Those were some dark, dark days, kids. No one wants to go back to that.
Even so, for all of the ways in which they have improved our travel lives, the Internet and social media have come to define, control, and consume us. And it has ruined many things in our hyper-tech-enabled lives, including the actual experience of experiences. This is how.
Vacationing used to be about getting away from work. Now it's just a tacit agreement to work remotely.
The first and most obvious drawback of our perpetual connectivity is that we’re never really on vacation anymore. Sure, you might be taking paid vacation time from work, but you’re still expected to check and respond to emails, hop onto conference calls from the beach, and address any emergency situations as they come up ("emergency" being relative to whatever industry you're in and rarely ever actually urgent).
We have lost the ability to be lost in the moment
And then there's the selfie-stick-crowded skies: the personal obsession with incessant documentation. Taking an endless stream of selfies (Here's a hint: no one cares what your shoes look like on the ground of wherever you happen to be standing. Seriously, how did this become a thing?), choosing the perfect filter for your Instagram post, getting all your tags just right to maximize the number of tumblr re-blogs. You, as a human, are a nothing more than a walking brand, and that brand must be in constant communication with the world. There's nothing quite like getting lost in the moment, but now, instead of having an actual experience, you're just collecting Snapchat stories. Everything is experienced through the screen of your cell phone, and nothing is actually experienced -- as they say today -- "IRL."
There are no "undiscovered places"
Maybe this isn't something to bemoan so much -- people seeing and appreciating amazing things is an objectively good thing, right? But fuck it, I hate sharing, and I'm sick of everything being ruined by floods of tourists with no research skills beyond Googling some website's latest interminable click-bait-gallery-slide-show of "the world's best undiscovered/most remote [somethings]." Everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- has already been thoroughly documented, photographed, hashtagged, Tweeted, Instagramed, Facebooked, Tumbled, breathlessly blogged, and listiclized for posterity. There is nothing left to discover. There is literally nothing left.
We forget how to be by ourselves
ALONE. It's apparently the most terrifying word in the English language. In a world so connected, we can’t POSSIBLY do anything alone! So we rely on social media interactions to shelter us from being really and truly by ourselves, because traveling alone is obviously the worst possible thing in the world.
We also forget how to talk to other people
This is something that is actually happening in our brains as a result of social media. Think about that. We don't even know how to talk to people -- as in engage in real, actual, human-to-human conversation -- anymore, because we're too busy posting to Instagram and checking in on Facebook, our faces bathed in blue light as we expertly ignore the world happening around us. The "social" part of social media is so LOL.
Now imagine a trip where you don't talk to anybody outside of your group -- no interesting shopkeepers, no friendly bartenders, no attractive people who just happen to be sitting next to you in a Parisian cafe where you're pretending to read Proust in order to appear learned -- how are you going to actually learn about the locales, the culture, country? Ahh right, you can read about it online, I forgot.
We don’t know how to find food without consulting an app, instead of just following our noses
One of my favorite travel memories is when a boyfriend and I spent a day in Florence. We were hungry and wandered around the side of the Uffizi looking for food when we stumbled across a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we ate Italian cheeses and drank Italian wines and had an incredible experience of which I have absolutely no photographic documentation. (Yes, I realize many of you doubt that actually happened as I have no pictures -- but it did!)
Nowadays, whenever someone travels to another city (and I am guilty of this too), a call goes out to Facebook: "Where should I go?" What we’re really asking is, of course, what is the best of the best of the BEST? What are the places that Bourdain and all the other food celebrities and listicle writers are buzzing about? What are the places without which my experience will be absolutely incomplete?
And let's not even forget the, "Oh, but this place only has three stars on Yelp" ratings-fascism debate certain to ensue as everybody struggles to agree on a restaurant. Another symptom of our inability to get lost in the moment, or even to find such moments without Internet aid.
We no longer know how to simply explore
Here's a challenge for you: pick a country. Pick a city in that country. Book a flight to that city and stay there for seven nights. Go to that country without planning anything in advance -- no must-see sights, no must-eat restaurants, no group tours or pre-planned activities, nothing. Don't do any kind of Internet research before leaving: no "Best places to eat in Madrid" or "Best snorkeling in Bora Bora" or "How to live like a local in Istanbul when you're only there for three days." Just go where the wind blows you once you arrive.
Did you just break out into cold sweat at the thought of traveling without a plan? Of all that precious time wasted trying to figure it out as you go? The anxiety of not squeezing the most out of every single second with an action-packed itinerary hitting on all of the "bests" and "mosts" as told to you by the Internet?
Without getting too preachy, the true spirit of travel lies in discovery, right? And the secret to "discovery" doesn’t lie in online checklists. It's in wandering around and ducking into whatever places seem like they might be cool, picking up a the local paper to see what's going on around town that day, talking to some locals and getting their recommendations of what's worth checking out (and what isn't).
Look, I get that my view is just one perspective and that people travel for different reasons and that it's stressful and a lot of folks need structure to feel comfortable. I also get that some people are only in it to check things off a bucket list and/or eat at every Hard Rock Cafe in Europe, and that some are just natural planners. And yes, while certain activities -- like, say, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro -- require extensive advanced planning, most do not. All I'm saying is don't let your obsessive Internet research become a burden. Do not become a slave to your Tripadvisor itinerary. You can't do it ALL in six days. And even if you could, your friends don't really want to follow it all anyway. Seriously, they don't.