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Cutting the Cord

Okay, on my last trip, May 2014, as i was sitting in JFK and about to board my plane, just finished a conversation with my wife who was not traveling with me, and I shut down my laptop, my iPad and my iPhone, and I had this strange emptiness over come me. Here I am in JFK, packed with folks and I suddenly felt lost in the wilderness. I immediately flashed back to hitch-hiking through Europe in the 70's with no technology, just land lines, and a pen and paper. Writing letters and post cards to stay in touch. I was traveling on the cheap so no phone calls home. Is it possible again? I wondered? Strange, I think I could handle it, but, not sure folks at home could. Ya know, older now, there are responsibilities, but still, I miss it. Anyone else pine for this?

Posted by
15272 posts

Call us Luddites but we don't pine for it because we haven't bought into the obsession with being connected! We've yet to travel abroad with a phone, and our only concession to communication technology is an itouch for checking email when we have free internet. Friends and family have been told in advance of the trip that if there's an emergency, that's how to contact us but otherwise we're off the grid. Love it!

Our basic, pay-as-you-go phones also don't work in some of the remotes places we visit in the U.S. either so we don't rely on them. Being this disconnected doesn't allow us access to the sorts of tools many other travelers use but I guess you don't miss what you've never had?

Posted by
2081 posts


I dont call home unless its an emergency. no one of my family/friends have my cell phone number. They do have my email address, but again, no urgent emails.

Im always sending back post cards from each place i stop so they can get an delayed message from me. So far no one has complained about me not calling.

happy trails.

Posted by
5697 posts

We take the phones, but they are in vacation mode (no service/no fee) so they're used for emails from free-wifi hotels. Any emergencies that require a decision within 24 hours are left to the kids (27 and 33) ... and there haven't been any. But some nostalgia for the unconnected simpler times.

Posted by
208 posts

My last trip of 17days I used skype to call twice but that was all. When I travel to europe I usually go alone and give a list of hotels I have booked. If I'm needed, they can call and leave a message at that days or the next days hotel. I do carry a cell phone to use before I get there and for when I return, but it is never turned on while there. Just got back from a week in Alaska and had no way to get in touch with anyone for 5 days. That's just the way I have always travelled on vacation. I leave the phones, radio, tv, laptop, off and enjoy where I am and what I am doing. Nothing irritates me more than watching people on vacation, who can't put their cell phone down to enjoy the moment. If you were hitch-hiking in europe in the 70's, that probably puts you in your late 50's or 60's. Bet you enjoyed that travel even more than now. Rather than having the trip planned like we do now, you probably got out of bed and then decided what to do or where to go that day. That's the way I did it in the 60's and sure had fun. Parent's might have been worried at times, but a phone booth call once or twice always worked. Since that call was usually collect, they didn't want me to call more than that. LOL!

Posted by
1514 posts

We could easily travel without being connected, and in fact generally do. While I will fire off an email once or twice while in a wifi zone, that speaks more to availability than need.

No kids, so nothing necessary there. My parents are in their mid-70s, and I used to leave a list of places we had booked "in case you need to call", but I don't even do that anymore. My mom says there's no need - if something happens she wouldn't call anyway. When I return they'll still be dead (her words), so enjoy the trip.

And I have a job that I turn off at quitting time.

Posted by
106 posts

I have a sort of funny story. I was staying with my then six year old granddaughter while her parents made a once in a lifetime trip to Paris. To avoid international calling charges we were really minimal on the contact. Unfortunately there was an incident with a library book (checked out to my Daughter in Law) that was accidentally destroyed. I took the book to the library and was happy to pay for it. Well after I left the Library, the librarian had forgotten to tell me we could keep the book. She called my Daughter in Law in PARIS and described the entire incident. Sheesh.

Posted by
2559 posts

For me it's enough to be far away from my everyday life and stressful job when I travel, really does clear my head. I travel alone and do call my parents every few days because we are close and miss each other, and they worry terribly, no matter how competent I am or how many times I've travelled alone. At the end of the day I do like to play Scrabble with my friend and post an update and photos on Facebook periodically--that way no one expects to get texts from me and I don't have to explain it all when I get back. So, I suppose I'm ok with just a frayed cord, can't cut it entirely.

Posted by
14208 posts


All that electronic gear you mention above, I don't have with me when traveling, wouldn't know what to do with it anyway, andcertainly, do not want to be responsible for it, since they are the first things aside from cash that thieves go after. Except for carrying a cell phone (only to be used in dire emergencies), I travel now pretty much as I did in the 1970s, almost in same way as you. Yes, it's still possible; whether you choose to do so, is something else. I still write post cards, sometimes a letter or two, use phone cards or internet cafes to stay in touch, rely on pen and paper to record, (3x5 cards), communicate, etc

Since you were a backpacker 40 years ago, you know what you did to communicate back home, regardless of frequency, and, above all, what it was like to travel that way, especially when you got to a hostel, checking in w/o reservations, meeting people, etc.

Now, all of them at the hostel are too preoccupied looking at their electronic equipment.

Posted by
14658 posts

To me the biggest annoyance is to receive calls on my mobile phone while I'm in Europe. Aside from the roaming charges, those calls often come when in Europe is sleeping time. So for the past several years, I remove my SIM card and load my Italian SIM card before landing and my American phone number stays dormant (with the American SIM in my suitcase) for my entire vacation. Lately I've been receiving a lot of calls from people selling stuff, so if I received those calls overseas the roaming charges would kill me.

Checking emails once in a while doesn't bother me, but I don't do so daily. But to me the best part is not to check US news online or on tv (like CNN international). I make it a point now not to be informed about American things and if I read newspapers or watch tv I just watch the local news (at least in the countries where I know the language, otherwise nothing at all). If something really important happens in America it will make the news overthere too of course, but otherwise you don't hear much about what happens in the US. And overall doing so taught me that the rest of the world dosn't really care much about what happens in America. So why should I while I'm there?

Posted by
162 posts

I have a cell phone which I don't use abroad unless I HAVE to. Once in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic I had to make an emergency call to get a taxi...I just imagined the signal going over the ocean, bouncing off a cell tower by my house, then coming back over the ocean to the taxi company, the meter running all the while. Oh well.
I do enjoy travelling with my kindle reader though. You can load all your guidebooks on one so its real handy for that. Plus it gives me something to do in the airport while waiting for delayed flights.
If I need to use a computer, I either use one provided by my hotel, or find an internet café.

Posted by
975 posts

I guess I'm the opposite. I was thrilled when my phone first started working in Europe, even more thrilled when I first got s smart phone and could use it for Internet on trips, and now excited to have my iPad with me when traveling. When traveling alone I might make a couple of calls home for 5 or 10 mins. No one calls me because everyone with my number knows I am traveling out of the country. But I like sending a few texts here and there, and still being able to stay connected to what is going on at home by checking my internet in the evenings on free wifi. I check nothing that has to do with my work, though.

Posted by
6443 posts

I pine for the days of less technology when our cameras took film, so everyone didn't take numerous photos including their "selfies" at museums and we could just enjoy the art & being in the moment. ...would love to receive a postcard! : )

Posted by
715 posts

It is wonderful to hear others thoughts on this. Just to clarify, my US sim is also put away while in Europe and I have an Italian sim for in country phone calls. People communicate with me via email. I can't go for more then a couple of days without checking my email, it is the nature of my job, unless I really am going to be out of touch. My colleagues know I will be slow to respond. Laptop is almost always with me because, well just because, but I never used it on the last trip, so, unless I am going someplace to stay for a while and write, then it will stay home from now on. ummm I think.

Posted by
2048 posts

Hi jkc, I leave the phone at home but take my I-pad. I love my digital camera (nothing fancy) and agree that selfies can be fun but not "me and Mona".

Posted by
5828 posts

RE: I pine for the days of less technology when our cameras took film...

It was a lot harder to travel light in those (film) days. I use to "budget" one 36X roll of Ektachrome per day of travel and was one of those OCDs who used a lead foil film pouch for my brick of film. Carrying an extra "chip" and charger takes up a lot less space than a brick of film.

It would be hard to give up E-mail and go back to postcards that when sent by airmail we still got home before the postcard. And remember the days where you had to treat your airline paper ticket like cash?

But all that said, who needs a cell phone for talking when on vacation. Talk less and enjoy more.

Posted by
5158 posts

We just returned from Italy a few weeks ago & I decided not to take my cell phone or any other hi-tech gadgets except for a small digital camara. It's amazing how dependent we are on technology!

I purchased a prepaid International phone card before leaving the states, then once I arrived in Italy, I purchased a prepaid phone card & used public phones to call home every couple of days.
The hotel staff were helpful if I needed train schedules, etc...

It can definitely be done!

Posted by
11613 posts

jkc, I do remember those days of arriving in a city and booking a hotel room from the train station's tourist info desk, talking to people on the train, and sending postcards with tiny handwriting to squeeze in more trip sharing. Postcards are way more expensive now, and emailing a note to several people at a time, with a photo or two attached, is real progress to me. So is not packing travel guides, alarm clocks, extra lenses - iPad and cell phone take care of all that.

Edgar, I remember the film bags and pine for the days when I took the photograph, not the computer. But traveling light means that my small digital camera and iPad have replaced a ton of stuff that I used to pack.

Still, I miss those days when adventure was around every corner and not every day was scheduled by super-economy train fares, hotels reserved in advance (why not, since I already have limited time in a place because of the train ticket savings), museum appointments, friends and family worrying about instantaneous communication, etc.

Posted by
11613 posts

And I agree with Roberto about news - I figure if it's really important someone will tell me.

Posted by
14208 posts

True, on the weight of film, especially if you were going to Europe for 6-8 weeks and all those rolls of 36 exposure film you had to carry, let alone the cost buying it, even at wholesale. You had to "ration" the film esp on an outing where you realised you didn't bring enough and film was nowhere to be bought. No such concerns at all with a digital, even a simple basic one, sure advantage of technology.