What I Learned Traveling Off the Grid

“Travel is the only expense that makes you richer,” but at what point do we miss out on the richness of travel because of our mobile devices, our cameras, and a desire to share the our travels with the outside world? Between trying to take the perfect shot of the exotic plate of food in front of you and the urge to get wifi to check in at a far-flung destination, we often miss out on the true essence of travel: being out of our element in foreign lands.

As an avid traveler and photographer, I will admit that I, too, had fallen victim to this cycle of travel. I was constantly looking for wifi to stay in touch with people or trying to get the perfect photo of the back alleys in Burma, the cafe in Vientiane, or the mosaics in Macau instead of living in the moment. The worst part of this is that I did not even realize what I was doing. It had become second nature to me after traveling in Asia for several years. Unless I was writing in my travel journal and thinking about my trip, I was more worried about getting the perfect photo than stopping to smell the roses, so to speak.

All of that changed when I shared e-mail correspondence with a friend of mine who had just gotten back from a fourteen day trip to South Africa where he did not use his phone and did not take a camera with him.

He urged me to try traveling without a camera because, with Google Earth and Google Images, you can find any photo that will remind you of where you have been while you also retain the memory of actually being there in the first place. This e-mail came on the heels of me reading an article  about how taking photos of things harms your memory of those things. I wanted to see if there was any merit to this method of travel.

With this in mind, I went to Taipei with the intention living in the moment during my visit with old friends. Other than using wifi for directions and snapping a few photos with my phone (on airplane mode), I was going off the grid. Almost as soon as I arrived in Taiwan, I knew this was going to be a special trip.

The stairs leading to the peak of Elephant Mountain (像山) in Taipei

I even left my headphones at home and I immediately noticed things about Taiwan that I had never seen before once I got on the bus to Taipei from the airport. Posted signage banning live birds from being brought onto the bus and some of the Japanese-language signage near a shipping facility were two of the highlights of this ride, but more insight was yet to come.

With my friends for the next few days I was able to notice simple things that I had not noticed in the past because of my preoccupation with my camera and my desire to share my travel experiences with others in my photos.

The sounds of hustlers in the streets hawking their goods and the sizzling of saucepans at the night market I experienced last week would have certainly gone unnoticed had I been trying to get the perfect ISO or white balance setting for a photo. With my electronics tucked away, all of my senses were heightened and I was able to capture my trip using all of my senses.

As I stood next to a putrid tofu stand in the light rain, everything about the city seemed to come alive- shopkeepers scrambled to clean up their stands while bikers raced to the nearest overhang. All the while, Chinese-language neon signage glistened in the street gutter as the rain subsided a few minutes later. This kind of experience is what I had been missing while staying connected on my trips.

I had these kind of experiences during the entirety of my stay in Taiwan. I visited beautiful cliffs in Keelung and, instead of trying to get the best photo, I spoke with my friends about them and we took time to hike cliffside trails and breathe in and think about the fresh Pacific Ocean air.

While climbing Elephant Mountain, I noticed etched stairs which denoted the mountain’s name and the distance to various points on the mountain. They had certainly been there prior to that day, but I never noticed because I was too worried about getting the perfect photo of Taipei 101 from the stairs.

These were certainly good experiences, but nothing prepared me for what I saw during my last night in Taipei at the city’s oldest jazz club/bar.

IMG_6091
Elephant Mountain’s staircase. 

 

Ever since my last visit to Taipei in 2015, my friends had wanted to take me to this jazz club called Blue Note. Luckily for us, our schedules aligned and we made a reservation for the bar on a Saturday night to catch an incredible four piece band that would end up playing for two hours or so.

About halfway through the evening, I took my eyes off of the band and realized that, while the saxophone and piano players were in a deep musical conversation, half of the bar was either in deep conversation with another person or a game application on their cell phones.

Instead of living in the moment and feeling the joy of the music, all they were doing was living inside of their cell phones.

Once I arrived at the airport on Sunday night, I found it incredibly easy to write an in-depth journal entry about each day of my trip through Taiwan. That would not have been possible had I had my camera with me for the duration of the trip or had I been searching for wifi at every moment.

It might seem like blasphemy to even suggest, but try traveling without your camera and your wifi the next time you travel. You might get a more wholesome experience. It helped me live in the moment instead of being captured inside my devices.

Advertisements

Reflections on Tokyo

Greetings, everyone. I am sorry it has been so long since I have posted on my website, but it has been for good reason. Over the past two weeks, I have been in the process of moving to Japan and have been without internet, telephone, cell phone, or other means of communication for quite a while. I finally have access to a cell phone and thought it was important that I post on here now that I have a little bit of free time. 

Last week, I had orientation in Tokyo for three days to prepare me for the work I will be doing in Kobe-shi for at least the next year. It was a very insightful event where I learned a ton about Japanese schools and the job I will be doing in just a few weeks. More than that, I made new friends and caught up with some old friends of mine from Tokyo in my free time. Nothing really beats that type of experience. Lots of Australians are also on this program, so it is interesting to discuss the differences between Australian and American English while bonding over what surely will be an unforgettable experience both living and working in Japan. 

On my second night in Tokyo, I met up with an old friend and ate some yakitori and enjoyed a few Pocari sour drinks, all in Japanese. Neither of us could believe it had been two years since I was in Japan but we both could not believe that I did not speak Japanese at that time. The rain that evening as we went back to Shibuya Station on the Yamanote Train really brought back memories for me; strolling through an elusive Tokyo before the 2011 earthquake. I’ve attached a picture to give you a feel of how great Shibuya square looked as we strolled back to the station. More photos and posts to come as time permits. 

One Minute at the Jefferson Memorial

Good evening everyone! I have finally completed my YouTube profile and look forward to sharing my GoPro videos and videos from my Sony HX20V whenever I get the opportunity; preferably in far off and interesting places while I live in Asia for the next year. My first video is a GoPro high speed clip that I recorded at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., yesterday while sitting on the steps. Six minutes of video footage have been compressed into one minute, so see what it is like to sit on the steps at the Jefferson Memorial. Full HD is available. Please join the conversation on twitter: @erik_abroad.