Traveling in a Transparent World

Historically, travel has been a private experience. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Not long ago, travel was a private experience. Someone who joined the Peace Corps would depart for foreign soils knowing they would only hear from family occasionally, only after a carefully-penned letter crossed whatever pond, made it through whatever undependable postal system, and landed miraculously at their hut. Someone who set out to walk the Camino de Santiago was unheard of for days. Climbing a mountain? Friends never knew whether or when you reached the summit, until you were home, sharing stories over a granola bar.

Even when you think you’re alone, someone could be taking your photo
and posting it publicly. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Once upon a time the daily trials of travel were yours alone. No one at home knew when your passport was stolen or when you were delayed at the airport. No one suspected how your paradigms were shifting, the tectonic plates of your being crashing into one another, transforming you. No one knew you had pan au chocolat and espresso for breakfast.

If you haven’t been paying attention for the past decade, let me be the first to tell you: travel has become transparent. 

As the product of social media, you are fresh meat. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Nowadays, travelers tweet from Trinidad. They Facebook from Fiji. They Google+ from Germany. A dear friend publicly posted recently from the summit of Kilimanjaro. With a single Facebook post the day you arrive in any given city, you can find lodging with friends, or friends of friends. Lost passport? Surely someone on your friend list can advise you, and if not, at least make a snarky comment about it. And even if you are not socially plugged in yourself, the people you meet on the road probably are, which means what you do, say, experience, eat and explore almost inevitably enters the public space. 

In many ways, the ability to stay in constant contact is a good thing. We can immediately tell loved ones when we arrive at our destination, safe and sound. We can report timely events as they happen, and share our experience with the world. And, family and friends feel like they are never far away. They can make destination recommendations minute by minute to help us find the best street food, the greatest little inn, a charming, hidden diner or the friendliest pub.

Social engagement can help you find the best places to eat when you travel.
Photo by Charish Badzinski

Much of this information we share willingly. Most of us probably don’t think about the larger implications. 

Yet, when it comes to social media, it’s important to remember that we aren’t merely a client; we’re the product. Social media makes its profit by using information about you, and they want as much of it as possible. That means when the people you meet along the way post photos, everyone can see those shots of you flirting with cute boys at the hot springs. Or posing jokingly on the Mayan ruins. Or terrified, about to bungee jump. And everyone can see and weigh in on your experience. Not tagged? Doesn’t matter. Particularly with the facial recognition tech that is emerging, what could once be kept hidden in relative obscurity is now available online for anyone who knows how to search for it: relatives, clients, employers and dating prospects.

I once ate this: grilled cheese on rye with bacon. Now everyone knows.
Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Many travelers have embraced the age of travel transparency. But for those who have not, what can be done to preserve the purity of travel? If we are never truly alone or alone with our travel companions, can we really call it “getting away from it all?” 

It is unavoidable that we will experience travel in ways that some might find offensive or perceive to tarnish our personal brand. Perhaps they disagree politically, socially or morally. Often a poorly-timed photo can be misconstrued, particularly where professional and personal “friend lists” collide. 

When it comes to social media, perspective and perception matter, and could have implications
for your personal and professional reputations. Photo by Charish Badzinski. 

Most importantly, at what cost have we embraced this connectivity? Are we forced to stand back when we might otherwise leap in? 

Along the way to being totally connected, have we lost the opportunity to process new experiences and formulate original ideas? 

Do you embrace or reject travel transparency? What measures do you take to protect your privacy? 

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Charish Badzinski is an explorer, foodie and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations. 

Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Creative Commons License
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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