It’s becoming somewhat of an old fashioned concept to find a traveller who doesn’t care if the next hostel has free wifi or not.
I think that’s sad.
Should that really the deciding factor in picking a hostel? Lack of bed bugs, fungus free showers and a thriving social atmosphere would all appear before wifi on my personal list.
Admittedly, that’s probably because I haven’t ever carried anything that connects to wifi in my backpack.
When I was in Peru for two months, I didn’t even have a mobile phone. Heck, even on my most recent trip to Central America, where I took a phone, I couldn’t get any signal. (Until the last day, where I dropped it on the floor in the airport. Suddenly, full signal.)
It’s just another thing to lose
What with keeping track of my money, cards, passport and friends (I kid), thinking about whether my laptop is safe in my room or if my smartphone has been nicked out of my bag just adds an extra level of stress to an already stressful experience. I’ve been trying to think of anything else in my backpack that I would be genuinely upset about if lost or stolen. I’ve had my camera stolen before which was a crappy experience, I lost two weeks’ worth of photos and it completely ruined my Full Moon Party experience. In the grand scheme of things though, it wasn’t that devastating. If it was my laptop that was stolen/lost/broken, that’s a lot more money to consider.
We met up with friends who had their iPhones stolen in Vietnam and the hassle they were going through just didn’t seem worth it. Whilst there was the normal stuff to think about like police reports, insurance and ending the contract, they were also having to block bank accounts, change passwords and cancel all kinds of contracts. Mobile banking seems like a great idea until your phone ends up in the hands of someone else.
I also really like sitting on my backpack. Any train station, bus station, waiting to check in at the hostel, you’ll usually find me perched on top of it. No more instant sofa if it’s carrying precious cargo. I have a hard enough time keeping that bottle of alcohol I’ll inevitably end up with from smashing. Same goes for my hand luggage. This summer I dropped three whole bottles of beer on it and the bottom was normally swimming in trail mix crumbs.
On the group tour of Central America, I knew exactly where to head to find the rest of the group – where ever the free wifi was available. It’s also quite a similar sight to see in hostel lobbies and common areas, everyone with their heads down, absorbed in their phones and laptops.
Have you ever tried to approach a stranger who’s staring directly into their screen? Probably not, because it’s damn intimdating. They might be busy. They could be composing an email to send to loved ones or researching how to get to their next destination. They could be writing a blog post! But they could also just be wasting time on Facebook until their mate comes down from the dorm. You’ll never know because they’re giving off the whole “London Underground Reading My Book Leave Me Alone” vibe. Subsequently, you feel awkward sitting in silence with your beer in a room full of people and whip out your phone as well. And so it repeats.
Don’t even get me started on phones at dinner.
Internet cafes, word of mouth and a sense of direction
They’ve never let me down before. Internet cafes are in abundance in any “backpacker” area and I’m normally pleasantly surprised by the cost per hour/half hour/ten minutes. The exception to this seems to be on islands and anywhere where there is only one cafe in town, then they can be quite pricey. Until this trip (more on that later) I’ve never had any problem taking myself off for half an hour to an hour, skyping, emailing and researching in the nearest cafe. Vital knowledge: How to get the @ key in any kind of keyboard set up.
When your fellow travellers are feeling more sociable (see above), they’re the ones to head to for the most up to date information and reviews, not guidebooks or even the internet. A bedbug infestation might have only just set in at your next hostel of choice but luckily that couple at dinner showed you their bites and you knew to stay clear.
Taking that word of mouth advice and heading off to the hot springs that no one else knows about, you’ll need a map. Before Google maps, there were also maps. Paper maps. Hand drawn maps. I’ve normally got a guide book and these nearly always have maps of at least the central areas of a town. I’m blessed with an alright sense of direction (too many summers spent getting lost in the woods) but if all else fails, ask someone for directions. That’s pretty easy even if you don’t speak the language.
But this summer, something started to change
The tour I was on was so hectic, I barely had time to go to the internet cafe. Or at least, I had the time, but I thought it was best used doing something else (*cough* beers at a sunset bar *cough*). I was travelling through places so quickly that an hour at an internet cafe in a town we were only spending the night at felt wasteful. I’ve always travelled a lot slower so an hour catching up on sensible life things wasn’t that much of a problem.
Free computers at hostels and hotels were next to useless. By the time I had painfully stabbed out a three line email to my mum, including two computer crashes, I was too infuriated to do anything other than back up my photos (an essential) and get the hell out of there. Cue guilty feelings for only skyping home once.
I noticed I was starting to rely on other people’s access to the internet. Sometimes all I wanted to do was send a quick “happy birthday” to my best friend which just didn’t warrant a trip to the internet cafe. Going through so many different countries, I also made frequent use of someone’s currency converter app – it was an absolute gem.
I was also jealous of how connected everyone else was. Through Facebook and messaging services like Whatsapp, they could keep in contact with anyone we met on the road and could arrange meet ups in seconds. Unless I did it over the course of a week, I had no access to continuous contact with people.
What should I do?
I really like the disconnected feeling leaving the internet behind brings. The important news filters through just as well as it would at home – for example, we were in Thailand when there was that awful shooting on an island in Norway and it was also the day Amy Winehouse died. We heard about the shooting as soon as it happened but we had no idea about Amy Winehouse until a few days later, and I like that kind of filter.
Do you think I can reap the benefits of having internet access when I want it without the negative aspects as well?
More importantly, do you really think I can look after a laptop/iPad/phone for that long?!