Photo by bredgur.

It’s been over 200 years since Lewis and Clark set out on an expedition through the uncharted American west, thus leaving their mark in history as two of the world’s greatest travelers.

WHAT AWAITED THEM included hundreds of new unidentified species, the Colorado Rockies and some 50 Indian tribes. Almost two hundred years later, Christopher Johnson McCandless took on a similar expedition, trekking through the great unknown of the Alaskan wilderness.

Unfortunately, his journey didn’t have a happy ending.

What do these two stories that are separated by 200 years have in common?

The absence of technology.

In the last 30 years, technology has revolutionized the world and continues to evolve every day. This is certainly the case with travel as every travel gadget we could dream of (and many we’d never dream of) seems to exist. Technology like OnStar, the iPhone’s Toilet finder app and of course Twitter, have changed the way we not only plan trips, but how we actually travel.

Imagine this scenario:

You’re walking down Champs-Élysées on the way to meet fellow travelers at a restaurant you picked from your trusty guidebook. Upon arriving, you find the restaurant no longer exists. Your French is rusty, so you conveniently pull out your iPhone to quickly find a new restaurant to rendezvous at.

Better yet, you tweet your 1,000 followers, one of whom has a summer apartment located right on Champs-Élysées, and they save the day by directing you to another hidden Paris gem.

We’ve all got stories about how technology has “saved the day” or how it continually provides convenience while on the road. However, in a time when travel is meant to help us unplug and enrich our life, has technology — initially meant to connect us — actually disconnected us?

Photo by Giorgio Montersino.

The question that we have to answer is whether technology actually impedes our travel experiences and causes us to miss things we may otherwise not have missed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson stated: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”.

Can we honestly leave a trail and experience the world if we’re as connected traveling as we are when we’re at home?

There are places and people we could be missing out on because of technology. Travelers are often so entertained by the sights and sounds of a place, that having another distraction such as an iPod, phone or other form of technology takes away from being able to fully take in a place, causing us to miss moments we’d otherwise capture.

Furthermore, imagine how much we may be missing if we head in 30 minutes early each evening to get our daily technology fix. On a two week trip, that adds up to an extra 7 hours of sightseeing and culture we could be experiencing instead..

If traveling solo, technology can be an easy comfortable companion. Let’s be honest, how many of us sitting by ourselves at a bar have pulled out some electronic gadget to make us appear busy? Our gadgets in effect become our other half. We’re much less likely to connect with people while traveling because, first of all, we’re not initiating contact with others and secondly, others around us are a lot less likely to approach a “busy” person.

Photo by Stinkie Pinkie.

One of the joys of travel, and especially solo travel is the organic connection that comes from meeting and interacting with other people.

Locals are a window into a culture. You can always go back and revisit Auschwitz but you can’t always go back and relive a conversation with a Holocaust survivor.

As travel is meant to connect us with the people of the culture we visit, technology often disconnects us, because we’re instead choosing to connect with home, rather than connecting with locals and their culture.

So where’s the line? At what point do we put the technology down?

This issue remains different for each person but consider leaving it at home the next time you travel to see how unplugging changes your travel experiences.

Community Connection

Still not sold on the benefits on unplugging while traveling? Check out The Joy of Traveling Unplugged and 50 Most Inspiring Quotes Of All Time as well as Matador’s focus page on Slow Travel.

Do you try to unplug when traveling by leaving your gadgets at home? Please share your thoughts below.