This blog post was also featured in TripZilla Magazine as “Should You Bring Along Your Smartphone When Travelling?“
It felt like 40 degrees as the sun pierced its rays on everything beneath it, including the helpless fabric of my bicycle saddle. I had just taken a photo of the crimson dome of a temple perched on a barren hill. My skin was desperate for a shade but I had to keep moving. I cranked the pedals and gripped the handlebars tightly, bearing the heat that slowly suffocated my lower extremities.
Minutes seemed like days as I cycled through the unpaved road marred by a whirlpool of dust. Everything around it was lifeless, except for the large snake that welcomed my offtrack adventure a kilometer away from where the temple was.
Two hours before my bicycle journey, I was in Nyaung U, preparing a survival kit that included a pair of sunglasses, sunblock, a bottle of water, a whistle, a notebook and a pen, a wallet, a camera, a map, and the most basic cellphone that existed.
The map told me – or so I seemed to understand – that there is only one straight road to my destination – New Bagan – which I should reach by lunchtime.
I made another stop to shake off the cloud of dust diffused by the wheels. I checked the time on my cellphone. It said 12 noon. I looked at the map illustrating that one straight road. With only a quarter of water left, the already draining journey had slowly incited distress and fear.
There was no sight of a door that I could knock on, a tree canopy where I could rest my head, or a water pump where I could get even just a few drops to stay hydrated. At that point, I only had two choices: to go forward or go back to where I came from.
Going back would mean never knowing what I’d see ahead. Going forward, on the other hand, would mean victory for the intrepid traveler whose journey always comes with a risk of not knowing how long one could survive – or in my case, how long I’d stand without seeing visions of Jim Morrison talking to a naked Indian.
Yet, I pedaled on, like a brave traveler should, and finally reached my destination after an hour – thirsty, exhausted, hungry, but ALIVE.
Whenever I recall this moment of adventure in my life – which happened 2 years ago in Myanmar -, two things spring to mind: how technology could’ve aided me or how technology could’ve hampered my journey.
During my most desperate hour, when my exhaustion was heightened by the sight of a humongous snake, a Smartphone could have possibly led me to a secret road where a shack (selling cold beer among others) stands hidden amongst the trees, eclipsed by ancient temples. But it could’ve also stopped me from taking the boldest leap of all – heading into the unknown with nothing but the most basic of survival kits.
Smartphones – with its ability to connect us to the world and give options for survival – can remove uncertainty, unpredictability, and that sense of wonder- qualities that usually make world travel one hell of an adventure. This goes without saying, however, that one should head out to the wild with nothing but granola bars. There is and should still be much emphasis on preparation and safety. But when it’s time to face technology while traveling, it’s really about knowing when to use it and when to put it down.
When you’re out in the most remote areas of the world, switch off the phone, the pad or the laptop, and see what happens. Your senses electrify. You will start to think, learn and survive using the very weapons you already have in you.
The April 2014 issue of Reader’s Digest reveals how powerful the human body is and what it can accomplish. The article talks about the existence of an “inner thermostat” that makes “lifesaving adjustments”. When the body temperature increases, the skin’s blood vessels release heat by dilating – the possible reason why I was able to survive 3 hours of unaided adventure under a blazing atmosphere.
“You wouldn’t believe how brilliantly designed you are” says the article; a kind reminder that there is a need to let go of that which makes our lives a little bit easier and to never under-estimate that which technology can never surpass – the human spirit.
Traveling with a Smarphone is not something I plan to ignore. I am, in fact, holding one now, but it does have its limits. It can Google when WiFi is available but can only take pictures when it isn’t. I still rely on my best weapons – a map, my whistle, and my primitive mobile phone that tells me that I should already head home.