Traveling in the Internet Age

Traveling doesn’t feel like it used to. I remember visiting Mexico or Hong Kong on family vacations as a child and having a sense of wonder and newness, but now they feel like rather similar places with different food. Some of this may be growing up, but a lot of it is how I’ve started experiencing travel in the always-connected, staring-at-my-phone world. So much of my day has the same routine as home (checking email, Facebook, the news, messaging the same people, and thinking about my future) that no wonder I feel like not much has changed. I’ve been experimenting with ways to fix this and fully be present when traveling. Here are some techniques I’ve found —

Disconnecting

The first step is disconnecting from the world. I’ve banned myself from using all non-messaging, maps, and journaling apps anytime during the day (i.e. social networks, email, shopping — anything I would stare at in downtime to escape my so-called boring situation). After I wake up and before bed, I’m allowed to use my phone with abandon. This has gone a long way to keeping myself from following the same routine I do at home.

Being in the moment

I recently finished Dr. Rick Hanson’s fantastic Buddha’s Brain, which contains several techniques on how to be in the moment and better build positive memories. A couple have worked really well for me.

  • Be curious and focus on the positive — rather than being bored in museums, trying to be curious about each piece of work and finding an interesting or positive aspect of what I’m doing. This has been great for keeping me engaged and from escaping the moment through my phone. Train breaks down? It’s more time I can examine the countryside! Missed a flight? I can take time to talk to the juice vendor to learn about his life! It’s been tough to remember to do this, but slowly it’s becoming a habit.
  • Body scanning — as I’m walking through a museum or looking at sights, I try to relax my body and focus on how it feels from time to time. “Focus on your emotions and body sensations, since these are the essence of implicit memory,” Hanson says, “Let the experience fill your body and be as intense as possible.” This both allows me to focus on how I’m feeling *right now*, but also seems to help create stronger and more vivid memories of the experience.

Remembering and invoking these techniques throughout the day has further helped me experience each moment of my travel, and perhaps more importantly, helped create and cement very vivid and positive memories.

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