Backpacking and the curse of Facebook

I’m leaving the trail. The time has come. I need to escape Backpackistan for a few weeks, to feel the wind in my hair and get the hell away from my laptop. Every where I turn I see the same thing. Travellers glued to iPods, kindles, laptops, phones… All so far from home and yet determined to remain a part of it. Not that I judge them for it, down-time is important, crucial if you are to remain on the road without going insane. I just feel that many backpackers are lazy when it comes to their downtime; rather than reading a book, or chatting to the fellow adventurers within touching distance, they feel the need to post wild status updates on Facebook, to ‘like’ their friend’s recent activity or check out Tinder to peruse the local talent.

In the beginning, when I first hit the road nearly seven years ago, I would rarely check Facebook. I would send an email once every couple of weeks to my folks, that was about it. Over time, my writing has changed, evolved into something I am proud of. I have developed the skills, I hope, to share my adventures with those who would listen and to hopefully inspire some to travel themselves. I love to write, I hope to continue to record my little adventures with the hope that I don’t die on one of them.

One thing I have learned on my travels is that I am almost always inspired. The hustle and bustle of big cities, the laid-back backpacker ghettos, the extreme sports, the extreme people, the new crowds every day. There is so much colour, so much life on the road that I am almost always reaching for my tattered notepad to capture a key moment, record a new friendship, immortalise my feelings on a new place. When it comes to turning on my laptop, to write up my notes, to work on a new article, I have started to notice a pattern; I am distracted by Facebook, Twitter, emails from potential partners.

The support I have received online has been extraordinary. Since I first re-launched my blog in August I have landed freelance work with two amazing companies, been hired as an ambassador for South America Backpacker Magazine, received sponsorship from clothing and gear companies and, most importantly of all, developed a loyal following online. My readers are some of the most amazing, diverse, inspiring people I have ever gotten to know. I have received messages from people asking for help with everything from choosing a good backpack to travelling around India solo as a female nomad. Hearing about people’s travel plans, their aspirations, their hopes, never fails to enthuse me.

Lately, I have noticed more and more people at hostels with a slightly drunk, almost zombified, look upon their faces as they stare at brightly lit screens. I fear I may be edging closer to joining their ranks. I have decided to head into the hills, I have a treasure trove of articles ready – thirty titles and counting, all are stories which need to be told. Some are funny, some dark, others useful and one or two, I hope, inspiring. Travel blogging is what I want to do with my life, I love to travel and I love to write. What nobody told me is that, doing both at the same time whilst also managing a successful blog is actually a huge time commitment. I have decided to step back, to work on my articles, and to spend less time glued to a screen replying to potential gear sponsors. The time for global domination is near but it is not now. At some point, perhaps near the end of April, I intend to settle somewhere for six months and to give full-time travel blogging a real shot. To see if I can actually make some kind of living as a writer, my dream (other than joining the army) since I was a kid.

The point of this article I hear you ask? Two points I suppose, the first; if you are an aspiring travel writer; for the love of god, write. Write at every possible opportunity, record everything you can, if something sets your imagination on fire, write it down, even if it is upon a tattered napkin. Record the details as they come and then weave the story together later. Be realistic with what you hope to achieve, if you want to run a successful travel blog (something I feel I am on the verge of) then you have to treat it like a full-time job. Unless you are exceedingly lucky and someone actually pays you to travel you will need to consider planning some down-time (with reliable internet access) to work on your site, your social media presence, your brand. Over the last few months, I have worked hard on my online image. Now, I feel it is more important to actually travel – to get out there, get amongst it – and to record what I find so that I can write about it later.

The second point, if you are a traveller, as many of you are, perhaps think carefully about how you spend your downtime. I understand there is a certain comfort in keeping in the loop with events back home, staying in touch with friends, but do you really need to check Facebook every day? Ultimately, Facebook will be waiting for you when you get home, albeit with a totally new layout.

And so, I shall be dropping off the radar for the next couple of weeks, I will be hiking deep into the jungle, machete in hand, in search of the legendary Lost City in Sierra Nevada. I shall be journeying into the hills, above Minca, to laze around in one of the biggest hammocks in the world. Over Christmas, I plan to stay in a decadently opulent ex-cartel mansion, a brand new hostel, helping them with their marketing. I feel I need to step back, to stop being blinded by this bright screen, in order to give full justice to the events which I am witnessing, the people I am meeting and the places I am exploring.

As a wise man once said, “Too often. . .I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.”

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  • Hey Will, I just stumbled across your site today. I really love your writing style.
    Having backpacked in the days before Wi-Fi and smartphones I get tell you that times are definitely changing. It was a lot easier to meet new friends back in the 90’s and 00’s because everyone chatted on buses, boats and in guesthouses. Nowadays, people just reach for their mobile devices and an imaginary wall goes up.
    I’m guilty of staring at my phone too – but I’m constantly trying to push myself to engage with strangers.
    Of course there are huge upsides to technology but it is definitely changing the way people travel and interact. Let’s hope the spirit of low budget travel can survive this new era.

    • I agree Pete, it can be quite disheartening to walk into a wall of silence in a hostel common room. I do my best to engage other travellers and locals alike but it can be really challenging at time.

      A certain cohesiveness seems to disappearing from the wider backpacking community. Once the unknown person next to you could become a new friend and possibly a tap of valuable information, that seems now often over looked in favour of getting information solely online.

      Let us band together, chat and keep the community strong, perhaps over a beer!

  • Avatar Matt says:

    Hey Will, I love your site and your insight! I think many of us are now realizing the dangers of overusing social media and our devices, which takes us away from our actual face-to-face conversations with those around us. I like what you have decided to do.

    I am an aspiring travel videographer/blogger, and your site is definitely inspiring. If you get a chance, check out my site : I’m trying to write and post as much as I can while I continue to practice the art of filmmaking. Here’s a link to a travel video I made from this summer:

    The video fits along with my site name: Break Your Boudaries. I saw you reply to someone above about getting a domain. Do you think it would be a good idea for me to ditch WordPress and do the same? Let me know what you think.

    Thanks for your time.



  • Great read. You are right. Travelling seems to be directly connected with web presence and how much you can put yourself out there infront of the masses consistantly. Wastebook is exactly that. I wonder how many kids will grow up thinking its the real world.
    I am still into writing everything in my journal, collecting bus and train tickets, postcards and other momentos.Being able to hold a physical item is much more satisfying than a virtual one 🙂
    What most people don’t realise is that once you are dead your digital life also dies.

  • Avatar Katherine says:

    Great post! I deleted my Facebook about 4 years ago. Now that I’m on the road again, I re-made one about 2 weeks ago. It’s much easier to keep up with friends back home and the people I’ve met while traveling. I prefer emailing but people hardly ever answer my emails. I just have to work at not being sucked into checking FB instead of writing (easier said than done sometimes).

    I definitely haven’t mastered balancing work-related things with actually being able to get out and explore. But you gotta pick your poison. I’d rather be glued to a screen writing travel articles than glued to a screen in some cubicle doing work that doesn’t interest me in the least bit.

    • totally agree with you on that – ultimately, at some point you need to make the conscious decision to either be a digital nomad (and to spend time on your laptop!) or to go home… I would rather be a nomad any day.

  • Amen! There’s far too many people out there who are glued to their phones, and can’t have a conversation at dinner without seeing their recent Tinder matches. It’s a damn shame. I’m definitely at fault when it comes to this as well though from time to time. It’s all about balance in my opinion. Knowing when to focus on the NOW, and live in the present. Then there are times when you can connect with people back home, and update social media.

  • Avatar Shiatsu Dave says:

    Spot on. Even though I am currently landlocked, awaiting a breeze to move me onwards once more, I never have internet access at home. I can get importantly emails on my phone, and can use my computer to write offline. There’s plenty of free wifi places to hack to send and receive, and guess what? Nothing happens on Arsebook.

    Once you’ve gone through the re-posts, the pictures of crawling offspring, pets, and meals (who started that one???) there isn’t a lot to see. Famous for 15 seconds.

    However, it can be fun to use to provoke acquaintances, so it has its place. Log in Log Off Drop Out, maaannn!

    Keep on keeping on


    • Ha, arsebook… I’m not quite sure what the functions would be but it sounds amazing! I have unfriended people who have upload pictures of their breakfasts… seriously; who cares!? Keep on adventuring buddy! 🙂

  • Avatar Tara- Hippie Hits The Road says:

    Oh man, it’s so true what you said about people being glued to Facebook and their technology when they travel! Last summer on my first backpacking trip, I just had my iPhone, and only used it for pictures and to arrange meetings with friends or send the occasional email home.
    Now I am attempting to be a full time blogger, and, like you, fear that I may join the zombie ranks as I try to keep up with my site, promote myself, and engage with other travel bloggers. I’m still trying to find a good balance, which I imagine will take quite some time.
    I really like what you said about writing all the time. I definitely have a tattered notebook jammed full of napkins scribbled with notes. I’m always trying to write down things I see or feel that move me. I’ve found the blessing and the curse of this is often when I’m writing, people start talking to me about what I’m writing. It’s great because I have met some amazing people, made some great friends, and had some epic experiences because of this (plus, hey, a little promotion never hurts). The downside is I often only get my thoughts half-formed before someone starts talking to me, lol.

    • You should print out some business cards, they are a cheap way of shameless self-promotion and actually an ace way to stay in touch with cool people you meet on the road; I had some with my email and CS details even before I started blogging 🙂 How are you finding the blogging world? Your site looks ace! Are you on Triberr yet? 🙂

  • Avatar Nathalie says:

    This article is really inspiring and I hope you found what you were looking for when you decided to unplugg. I would very much like to become a full time travel blogger and I intend to follow your advice! Cheers!

  • Avatar Frank says:

    Good post, very true. There’s a pleasure that comes from getting something on paper (so to speak) and feeling that you conveyed the scene or emotion of a place/event. Writing can be very satisfying. Time spent on Facebook, or any social media, is a vacuum that sucks up you time with little end result.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  • Avatar Manuel González Allen says:

    It’s sad to hear we won’t hear from you for some time to come, but I believe you’re making the right choice. What’s the point of travelling if you’re always being bombared with information about the world you’ve left behind? It stops you from connecting, right? We’ll see you when you come back, Will; stronger than ever!

  • Avatar Lissette says:

    Keep up Will!!!
    I love your writing!! I feel like I’m there and I can make it!

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