Travelling Low-Tech

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Last summer, I took the trip of a lifetime to Europe, which has become the stylish thing to do nowadays, particularly for post-grad twenty-somethings. While making the trip might not have been remarkable, the promise I made to myself was.

I, probably like many Americans approaching middle-age, realized that over the past few years I had grown hopelessly attached to my cell phone, email account, Facebook page, and all other means of communicating with people that excluded looking them in the face.
Cell Phone Cameras

Instead of feeling nostalgic for a time long ago when technology didn’t reign as the Communication King, I decided that I would make a lifestyle change—effective immediately. I would not bring a single technological device to Europe (except for a really, really outdated iPod Nano because those international flights can be torturously long without a little music. This might have been cheating a little, but I can’t say that I regret it.)

It was perhaps because of this that I was able to see everything as it was without any distractions.

I found myself looking around and seeing people’s faces for the first time in a long time. I chatted with a man next to me on the plane to Dulles and learned about his daughter’s upcoming wedding and her life of adventure and travel. He told me that most Americans don’t own a passport, that I am one of a small group and that I should take all the advantage that I can. I began to feel fortunate for my chance, and to appreciate the presence of those around me.

Once I got to Rome, my first stop of many, I was able to remember streets I had taken, where hole-in-the-wall bakeries were hidden, how to find my way back to my apartment. I didn’t need a map or an app for that.

Italy was a beautiful place, not just because it is beautiful inherently but because I could see the beauty. I could see and feel and smell and read and think during long train rides because there were no technological distractions. I felt free.

Rome view

I wrote more. I went for long walks.  I went to bed sooner and woke up earlier than I had in years. I compiled lists of places I wanted to see based on recommendations by people I encountered on trains, in stores, or on the street.

Travelling Low-Tech - Turn Off Your Cell PhoneOthers around me experienced Europe a little differently. Many (if not all) tourists carried cameras. I couldn’t help but think that those taking 300 pictures a day were limiting themselves to the view contained by their camera lens. I think they missed the real things they were trying so hard to capture. I felt determined to remember the Old World all in its entirety. I knew this was impossible–I was destined to fail–but I needed to try. I finally understood that Rome could never be contained within a memory card.I won’t be so bold as to claim that all things went smoothly. There were certainly times when having immediate access to internet would have made things easier.

I was afraid of the consequences of my decision when I planned an impromptu trip to Madrid. I had no phone, no way to find a place to stay, and no way to reach anyone should I need to be bailed out of a bad situation. Fortunately, I can speak a little Spanish.

I found a map of Madrid while in a train station in Rome. I bought a flight to Madrid at the airport (yes, people can still do that), and I was promptly crammed into the smallest airplane I have ever had the misfortune of boarding. Upon landing, I realized that the map showed that Madrid’s airport was many metro stops outside of downtown, where I wanted to be.

What followed were many, many metro line changes toward El Centro, all directions for which were in Spanish. I have never felt more proud of myself than I felt walking out from the metro stairs and intro the heart of Madrid safe and successful. I don’t know what I would have done if things had gone wrong. Luckily, I didn’t have to find out.
Bokeh en el centro de Madrid

My time without technology taught me that there are always ways to figure out where you need to be and how to get there without help from a device. By being forced to talk to people and ask for advice and directions, I was introduced to beaches I never would have found otherwise. I ate at some of the best restaurants only known by locals and with no outside signs. I was forced to keep my schedule open and to let my travels and my conversations take me where they would, and I was better for it.

Next month, I’m travelling to British Columbia to fish for a week. You can bet that I won’t have my phone with me.


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by Ed Kim

Ed Kim is a freelance writer for He lives in Boston with his wife and two young daughters. He can’t wait to show them the world.

2 Responses to “Travelling Low-Tech”



I like the article… but I travel with all my tech and you can get it from me when you pry it from my cold dead hands 🙂

Andrew Davison


A notebook, a pen and healthy confidence for asking questions of locals is probably all you’d need if you wanted to be a brave traveller 🙂

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