When I traveled alone in Italy last year I took a smartphone. I had initially wanted to go with nothing more than an old Nokia mobile for emergencys, however I changed my mind and bought a second hand Iphone4 to take.
I bought a data package off a website, (I couldn’t phone out or text, but people could call me and I had data for email and internet). My intention was that I had an inbuilt camera so less to take, google maps so I would never be lost, google translate for if I ran into communication problems and facebook messaging for chatting with my children.
Every morning at 7.30am Italian time I would wake and message my family before they went to bed. Sometimes we would use the camera in facebook messaging but sparingly so my data would last. It was via this that I watched my son blow out his candles and eat some birthday cake from the other side of the planet. (I am sure I don’t need to put into words how this pained me greatly 😦 ).
I set up a facebook group before I went so that only the people that enjoy looking at other peoples travel photos would have to endure them flooding into their news stream each morning. I ended up with 42 lovely ‘friends’ that wanted to be a part of my ‘Andrea in Italy’ group. Each evening part of my ritual became, writing in my journal, gluing bus tickets and entrance stubs into my scrapbook, and loading some pictures onto facebook from that day. It was joyous to wake up the next morning and find all the likes and comments from my 42 friends cheering me on. It felt like I was part of a parade, with me being the drum major and my followers being the band. I felt supported and connected and there the problem lies.
I did not feel alone. I almost felt like they were all there with me. I wasn’t really travelling solo. I realised this when my phone was going flat one day and my charger was not available to me. I started to feel quite stricken and tearful. The second time this happened, it was really clear to me. I had become artificially comforted into feeling like I was travelling with a group. I really felt my aloneness then. It can be a sad place.
Friends have told me about their solo travels without technology since and I had heard that Ed Sheeran is currently travelling solo without technology. I now have enormous admiration for them and see ‘smartphone free’ travel as the next frontier for me. I am quite surprised at how seduced I became, so fast, when I was hungry for company…