During my travels over the past few months, I have noticed a trend. In today’s connected society and new, impressive devices, smart phones, and DSLRs, we are keen to snap photos and share them on our favourite social media sites. However, while taking in the views of the River Arno in Florence, it quite literally hit me when I was jostled out of the way by a group of 15 nuns on an organised sightseeing tour, who proceeded to reach their smartphones out in succession, snapping photos of the Ponte Vecchio and dashing away to the next sight without taking time to stop and look at it. I realised then that an epidemic of fast-food travel has hit us.
Don’t get me wrong - I love photography and enjoy social media. Photographing new places is a great joy. But over the past year in particular, I have been making a conscious attempt to stop, observe, and take in sights and the world around me first by taking a mental picture. I don’t want to have to recall my trip by having to scroll through my camera phone; I want to be an active participant in the world around me, and remember the experience and memories.
I have also been more consciously observing what others around me are doing. It’s a sea of smartphones snapping photos. People taking more selfies of themselves rather than the sights. Trying to manoeuvre around the masses of selfie sticks waving in the air. At a museum in Florence, I watched a large group of young people on a school trip walking past exhibits filming everything on their smartphones without stopping to read or take in what they were looking at. I saw others taking photos of relics where a sign next to it read to respect the sacred nature of the artefacts in the room.
I wonder how much the people around me are taking in of their experience. Travel should be about using all of your senses to interact with a new place and immersing yourself in the experience, rather than trying to cram in as much as possible to tick things off a list and take hundreds of snaps to post on social media.
The joy of travel comes from learning about a new place, a new culture, new people. On park benches, outdoor cafes, museums, and restaurants, on their own or with others, people are engrossed in their phones rather than their surroundings or company. Last weekend, while sitting in the hotel lounge with an incredible view of the Hong Kong skyline, I was enjoying lunch while taking in the view. A friendly waiter came by to inform me that they did indeed have free wifi, seemingly concerned that I was apparently the only one not using my smartphone and taking selfies with my lunch.
So, I’ve got a proposition for us. Let’s put down the smartphones more, enjoy our surroundings and make memories by being fully present when we’re exploring new places (or everyday life, for that matter). Take in new sights, meet new people. Let’s embrace ‘slow’ travel and observe the world through our own eyes and not just the lens of our camera. Life flies by quickly enough. Let’s slow it down by enjoying the precious holiday time we have by living in the moment in real life and not just on social media. Take the time to breathe, unplug, and enjoy the break that we have worked hard to get. Discard detailed itineraries and go with the flow. In essence, slow travel is the newest old way to travel and a luxury in today’s busy world.