I couldn’t believe it. The bus I’d just dragged myself and my heavy bags to twenty minutes ago pulled up to the very hostel I’d walked from to the bus station. I could have gotten picked up right at the hostel front door. I sheepishly watched a couple of people that I recognized from the hostel board the bus.
This hostel had free Internet and we had all spent the last few nights on our laptops and phones instead of talking to each other about our upcoming travel plans. This communication would have saved me the sweaty walk to the bus station and given all of us instant friends for the rest of the bus ride. My hostel mates and I – still strangers – nodded at each other. I looked back out the window and watched the city transform into the forested countryside as the bus turned south toward the remote West Coast of New Zealand.
I don’t know what it was like to travel before the time of the Internet and constant connectivity. Being connected all the time has dictated the way I travel these days.
Each day I can tell people back home what I am up to and booking my next flight or bus ticket doesn’t even require me to get up off the couch in the hostel. I can easily sit in front of my computer or phone and plan all my travel without having to talk to or even look at another person. I don’t have to ask about other people’s experiences in a place. I can simply look up the reviews and recommendations online. I can now travel without experiencing people at all.
Almost all hostels have some form of Internet. I am as guilty as anyone else for connecting as soon as I set my bags down on my new bed. There have been days that I haven’t even talked to another person at a hostel because I am too busy working on photos or writing a blog post or buying tickets for the next leg of my travels. But what I see all too often is that I am not the only person who does this. When I am actually socializing with other people in three-dimensional reality I observe other people doing the same thing.
When you walk into a hostel what do you imagine seeing? I think the romantic idea of staying in hostels involves groups of people from around the world talking, playing games and sharing food and photos. After all, hostels are some of the few places on earth were people from dozens of different backgrounds and beliefs can come together and share a peaceful space.
In the hostels that have free unlimited internet access, I usually see almost everyone tucked away behind their laptop or tablet. Nonetheless, if there are a number of hostels in one city that are about the same price I always try to stay at the ones with free Internet. Looking back on it now I wonder what kind of experiences and relationships that I have missed out on.
Hostels that have pay as you go Internet still have everyone staring at the screens of their device, but this only lasts until their short Internet session expires. Then they go back to other hostel activities, such as actually getting to know some of their fellow travelers.….or, let’s face it, hunting down another hotspot or coffee shop.
I know I have missed out on many personal connections because the people around me or I have been stuck in front of our computers. These days I make myself be more conscious of the time lost on the internet and I’m learning something I want to pass on: next time you are at a hostel and find yourself checking Facebook for the twelfth time in the last hour look around you and think of the real human interaction that you are missing out on with people from all over the world. Here is a request to myself as much as it is to every traveler who stays in hostels: take the time every day to put your computer down and learn about the people sitting around you. Isn’t that one of the reasons we are traveling in the first place?
Ben Adkison is a professional mountain guide and freelance photographer and writer. When he isn’t roaming around the world he calls Missoula, Montana his home. He picked up his first SLR camera years before his first and only photography class taken at 12 years old. Photography has taken him on many adventures since then. His photos can been seen at www.benadkisonphotography.com and follow his blog Why Not Go Now?