#Travel smart - leave your phone behind

#Travel smart - leave your phone behind

I roamed the streets in Nakano, a neighbourhood in Tokyo I'd never been to. Though only a station away from the entertainment hub of Shinjuku, the area looks different from the bustle of touristy areas in other parts of the city.

The quiet alleys oozed with small local joints, old-fashioned stores and Japanese-style town houses. The natives walked back from the grocers with a handful of bags and grabbed their bikes home. Striking street art in a hidden corner was possibly an unexplored gem.

These rare sights of the laid-back Tokyo scene caught my eyes. I took out my mobile phone to take a snapshot. I selected some of the photos to post on my Instagram account.

I treat the photo streams as my personal visual journal. I set the account private allowing followers who only I know in real life to see it.

One of them, a few seconds after, "liked" the picture and gave a comment with cute emoticons.

The next day, I felt like a ramen mission in Harajuku. After waiting in a long line and managing to pick my choice in a vending machine, I was seated in a small private booth. I placed my order on the counter. My bowl of ramen, extra slices of pork and a half-cooked egg were served. I took a couple of photos of it before slurping.

While I was enjoying the meal, I put down the chopsticks to respond to an incoming comment on Instagram.

The Japanese noodles didn't taste as good as I expected.

It was because, I at once realised, I wasn't fully there.

With modern-day technology, we are unconsciously glued to our devices. We have become very much concerned about sharing (showing off, in fact) what we do to the virtual world.

As a trip begins, we can't wait to tell the world that we are going on a fancy #getaway.

Picture one: packing with open suitcase, filled with a camera, clothing and accessories

Picture two: checking in at the airport

Picture three: shoe selfie with a carry-on

Picture four: boarding pass and passport in front of the gate

Picture five: business class Champagne

Then follows a tonne of holiday snaps -- featuring must-visit spots, hip cafés, mouthwatering meals, holding a glass of Frappuccino, a cone of Hokkaido soft-served or chocolate-dipped strawberries. A pose of triumph with the "orange bags" from some luxury fashion store.

Is this called travelling?

I think not.

The real meaning of travel for the digital generation may have been lost. With social media, we miss -- without even realising it -- the real wonders the world has to offer, instead becoming obsessed with creating a picture-perfect life online.

We go to a foreign land repeatedly to do the same thing we do in our home country -- merely with different sights and unusual backdrops. Therefore, we aren't really going anywhere.

Mobile devices and social media have changed peoples' relationship with travel. Instead of taking a moment to stop and experience the journey with all the senses, we look at it through our smartphone cameras. We can, nowadays, barely remember those moments because we rely on our devices to keep those memories in the form of a digital diary. We can revive those favourite travel memories only by scrolling through camera rolls.

If social media is here to connect people together, then it fails to connect its users to enjoy their direct experience -- to relish the moment right before their eyes.

Genuinely, travel is to explore, embrace and be engaged. Each moment in another country can be a magical discovery. Eating and living like a local and befriending new people can turn into a once-in-a-lifetime treasure. All it takes is to open your mind, your eyes and put away your phones.

It dawned on me, also, that I have been missing a lot. Despite how many dream destinations I have been to, if I'm not allowing myself to authentically see the world and enjoy the real moments, then I am never really travelling.

To get itchy feet on my next voyage, as an experiment, I vow to unplug and learn to travel.

Without social media, travel -- and life per se -- can be very much more real.

Pimchanok Phungbun Na Ayudhya is the editor of Muse.

Pimchanok Phungbun Na Ayudhya

Muse Editor

Pimchanok Phungbun Na Ayudhya is the editor of Muse.

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