When I went abroad this summer, I was excited for the experiences, history, culture, and the Instagrams. My packing and preparation list included clearing storage on my phone and bringing multiple chargers to ensue I never went without 50% battery.
As soon as we touched down on European soil, I was mesmerized. I saw beautiful sights and panoramic views that would take your breath away.
I made friends through the guise of technology. We shared posts and memes that made us laugh, and so it went.
But on a night out with these friends, my phone was stolen. In one moment, my world was suspended. I lost my means of communication. But more so, I lost my camera, music, Instagram and Facebook accounts. What was the point of traveling the world if you can’t post about it online??
That night, I sat with the same friends, now sans phone. They continued on sharing their own digital language, while I sat silent and observed.
That’s when I decided to change my perspective: Losing my phone would be a blessing instead of a curse.
The next day, I ventured alone into the center of the city. I bought a 20 euro go-phone only slightly more evolved than the first prototypes. I gave my parents and my tour director the number, then tossed it into my bag to be seldom used again.
I also bought a disposable camera (after a VERY difficult search). I took pictures of the landmarks around me, but without the modern security of viewing the results. I warranted some interesting looks with my yellow Kodak camera and blue brick phone, but if anything it encouraged intrigued conversation.
I took myself on dates. I went to museums and cafes and found parts of cities hidden shy behind their lack of media exposure.
When I stopped looking through the lens of my phone, I started actually see what was in front of me. I met hidden cracks in monuments that no one else ever came close enough to appreciate. I concentrated on the details more than vast exteriors.
I began to use more than just my eyes to influence my thoughts. I smelled, touched, and tasted what was around me.
While people were photographing the iconic views of Europe, I wandered off and found real, honest, places.
Instead of collecting pictures, I began to collect stories.
I went off on my own, uninhibited by the inability to check in with anyone. I sat in restaurants and spoke to waiters and other solo travelers. I asked for directions on the streets, even if I already knew the way.
I laughed and shared stories with people from every country and walk of life. My extroversion was rewarded with my own private diary of human interaction…. And drinks. Do you know how many free drinks you get when you let human paths intersect instead of just run parallel?
And so it went. My trip became the journey of self exploration I was yearning for. I lived for moments instead of images. I actually took in my surroundings and the beauty around me rather than constantly searching for the most scenic view.
My experience was mine and only mine. My memories belong to my head, heart, and the sporadic journal I kept to chronicle my days.
I’m better because of it. When I returned home to a cacophony of friends and family asking about my time abroad, I was able to give a genuine answer.
I was alive- not through a lens, but through my experience.