Travelling Without Connections: Part 3

I have, in fact, spent time away from my computer!

The Attempts

Having talked about the gut-wrenchingly scary moments of lacking an Internet connection, there are some fairly unorthodox ways both Amelia and I would try to get WiFi connections.

  • I stood on top of a bench in the middle of a national park to get a good connection.
  • At my hostel near Yosemite, I sat in a public toilet for an hour because the WiFi connection was the best in that spot.
  • Amelia would hang out in certain shops on Franklin Street (Chapel Hill’s main street) to ensure she stayed connected to UNC’s WiFi.
  • In a hotel I stayed at, I was forced to restart my iPad once an hour since the WiFi connection would short out after a certain period of time and would refuse to let me back on without a restart. Annoyed me to no end but I was too lazy to dig out my laptop from my suitcase.
  • During my stay in Miami, the WiFi suddenly stopped working when I needed to print my bus tickets and I spent a solid hour trying to figure out how to access the tickets on my laptop when I only had the link in my emails. I forgot about the hotspot feature of my phone completely and am embarrassed at how long it took me to remember its existence.

I’ve also revelled in the lack of connection. The four days without a SIM card meant that I controlled communication with my family, and to avoid my mum’s nagging I would just refuse to turn on the WiFi during the times I knew she’d be awake. Being able to shake off my family’s protective blanket and be on my own for the first time in my life granted me an enormous sense of independence and freedom.

From my own experiences and my chats with Amelia, it’s become clear that millennials tend to rely on a WiFi connection a lot, preferring to stay in touch rather than let go of the responsibility to keep in contact with our friends and family back home. Amelia named at least three connective devices that she brought with her – I myself had four. It’s uncommon to leave laptops and tablets behind at home, even for short trips. I consider it a gift that I’m able to stay so close to my family and friends, even though my reliance on this technology has proven to stress me out remarkably during various situations.

Travelling Without Connections: Part 2

Yosemite’s a reception dead zone – oh WiFi, where did you go?

The Fear

My unsettling experiences of lacking WiFi are mirrored with my friend Amelia’s, as I’ve said in my previous post. But despite our difficulties in finding a connection, this isn’t a regular occurrence in America: there’s a Starbucks at every corner, free WiFi in almost any cafe or fast-food restaurant. Amelia didn’t buy a SIM card for her smartphone whilst she was in America and is an exception. In the Facebook group for that semester’s exchangees, with over 70 members, there were several posts debating which phone provider to use, sharing family plans, which phone plan would be best; to the best of my knowledge, very few people didn’t get an American SIM. In our conversations throughout the time we’ve known each other, Amelia’s mentioned that it was challenging to go without one and only have to rely on free WiFi – she would feel stressed when she went outside her “safe” zones of the campus and town of Chapel Hill.

During some of my travels, I came to view free WiFi as a blessing; specifically during my holiday to Yosemite. Yosemite and my hostel received absolutely zero reception (at least for my AT&T SIM). I relied on free WiFi completely for three or four days. In addition to this, my monthly plan needed renewing and I could barely find a place that received even one bar of connection in the park. I stood on top of a bench for five minutes whilst calling my provider to renew my pre-paid SIM. I would say this this moment was one of the most terrifying of my life: I had only a small window of time to call AT&T to renew my plan or I would risk not having data and minutes for another two or three days. That the last bus of the day was to arrive at any moment during my call had me shaking with worry that I wouldn’t be able to renew my plan in time. This heavy reliance on Internet has me worried for how I’m to travel to other, more remote places in the world. My talks with my tutor revealed that people used to travel and not keep in touch with their friends and relatives, whereas now we stay tightly connected to everyone back home and are constantly updating people on our journeys. I simply can’t imagine not having the ability to let my loved ones know where I am in the world; where a lack of connection worries me, people used to revel in it!

Knowing Amelia and I went through the same trials together gives me a modicum of reassurance, that I’m not the only one so attached to the Internet. Even now, we rely on the Internet to talk, regularly using Facebook messenger and Skype to talk to each other. Amelia’s said she even uses FB messenger to chat to her friends at home in England, even though she’s got her English SIM back and has been home for some time now!

Travelling Without Connections: Part 1

My victory dance when I activated my American SIM.
Time seems to drag ever so slowly when one has nothing to do. I’ve discovered that this also goes for when one lacks a connection to the Internet. During the planning stages of this project, I was sure that I had spent over a week in America without a SIM card in my phone – and thus without a guaranteed connection to the Internet.

I unearthed my folder of American adventures – a plastic sleeve of all the documents I’ve accrued from my exchange. I happened to have kept the receipt from AT&T from when I bought my SIM. It’s dated as the 19th of August. I arrived in America on the 15th of August. Though I could have sworn I had suffered longer under the stress of not being connected, it was only for four short days. How could I have been so wrong? Was it that my mum’s constant nagging about getting a SIM card seemed to have gone on for a longer period of time? Did the lack of available WiFi so distinctly affect me that my memories are distorted?

My generation is used to having access to the Internet 24/7. In terms of travel, almost a third of Gen Y uses only the Internet to plan their holidays and adventures. We’re more flexible in our plans and travels, as well (Kim et al. 2015). But as a result, we experience anxiety when we are without an Internet connection. I felt this stress very soon after landing at LAX: the LAX airport WiFi wouldn’t let me FaceTime my parents, and texts weren’t guaranteed to go through without me re-sending them several times. I broke out in a cold sweat when I realised I couldn’t immediately reach my parents to let them know that my plane had landed. My British friend Amelia, who I met on exchange at UNC, also experienced this – twice at two different airports – and describes the scary feeling she got when realising she couldn’t easily contact anyone.

And so for the next few blog posts, I will strive to tell more of the highs and lows connecting to how we as Gen Y deal when we lack connections during travel. Telling it through this blog is an obvious choice for me – my entire travel experience is laid out here, neatly categorised, easily available for further reading and references. Along with this reasoning, the best way to tell this sort of story is through the use of a blog. Blogging has grown popular and is easily accessible; book publishers have even started experimenting with digital storytelling with great success. Meg Cabot’s The Boy Next Door, published in 2002, is written in the format of emails. The use of a digital platform such as a blog enables its creator to look back at their work, giving them a definitive record which can’t be lost (Kirk & Pitches 2013).

Kim, H, Xiang, Z & Fesenmaier, D 2015, ‘Use of the Internet for Trip Planning: a Generational Analysis’, Journal of Travel & Tourism, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 276-289.

Kirk, C, & Pitches, J 2013, ‘Digital reflection: using digital technologies to enhance and embed creative processes’, Technology, Pedagogy & Education, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 213-230.

The Need for Permission and Rules

This was fine to share on Snapchat with my friends, but should I have uploaded it to my blog? I can’t quite decide.

In public spaces, we have to be conscious of others. Public spaces and their peace hinges on us knowing the rules of behaviour. And one of these rules revolves around the ethics of photography or videoing others without their permission. I’m not talking about up-skirt shots (which shouldn’t exist in the first place), but the accidental appearance of you or your friends in the background of a tourist’s family photo, or a street photographer capturing you sitting pretty under a tree. Continue reading