This handy companion has rescued us from muddy farmer’s fields and dodgy roadside terrain on many occasions, and in places where, even now, I’d say internet access would be difficult.
When I compare this well-researched “always on” guide to the grammatically suspect and often unreliable entries made to 21st century online travel sites, I think we were better off.
Especially when the unsuspecting traveler is exposed to helpful online gems such as: “Apparently Rome hasn’t discovered building maintenance yet. The collarsewing [sic] was very run down and had no refreshment stands or cleaning crew every kind.”
No shit, Sherlock – it’s probably because he’s 2000 years old and, uh, that’s sort of the point.
I think we should ask ourselves why these people are allowed to go out in public, let alone comment on a site that gives travel advice to others. It’s true that today’s online travel services are more accessible and plentiful, but sorting through the dross to access authentic reviews can be exhausting.
OK, I hear you say, that’s all well and good, but what about navigation? App-based map harvesting is surely our saviour? Well, yes, they are invaluable if you have to be somewhere at a certain time, and that works for me especially in my daily life. But, if you crave spontaneity in your travels, paper maps might be your go-to.
During our winding journey through five European countries in 1984, our Collins Road Atlas of Europe and michelin the guides have always provided reliable advice. Any unintentional diversions were our own mistakes and this was often when we enjoyed unique cultural experiences. If we had looked at a phone card, rather than looking at the people and places we passed, we would have mostly missed these interactions.
Also, and on a more practical note, these maps were always available, regardless of internet coverage. And, they could not answer us, or demand that we “turn around as soon as possible”, if we passed the suggested turn without informing our electronic guide of our intentions.
However – and I think this is the deciding factor – my final argument for off-grid travel is that you are always present. At the tourist sight, without looking at his phone to post a selfie; at the restaurant, with your real friends rather than online; and in almost all other situations, where you will experience the places you are in rather than the one you left.
So if I could have given my advice to those young people on the ferry, I would have told them: if you want off-grid experiences, turn off your smartphone, ditch your travel and social media apps, and learn to read a map.
You’ll no doubt get lost on occasion, and traffic jams won’t update instantly, but you’ll discover people, perspectives, and places you might not otherwise have seen.
And, you might find out what a vacation should really be like.
Steve Willis is the author of Europe above the handlebars (Distributed books).