Disconnection is Disconcerting

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Traveling without WiFi? Good luck. While travelers used to go without, these days it seems essential for every step of the journey. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Traveling without WiFi can be Challenging

Loads of travelers purchase an expensive international calling and data plan while they roam. Others buy cheap phones and sim cards at their destinations. I’ve found a phone company that allows calls and data over Wi-Fi both when I’m home and abroad, so I have found it to be a great solution to my communication needs when traveling. My phone works as it normally does, as long as I have Wi-Fi.

And there’s the catch.

I’ve been shocked at my inability to get dependable Wi-Fi on this trip, in particular while in Spain. I don’t know if I’ve just had a string of bad luck or if the Wi-Fi is particularly poor here, but my phone calls are of terrible quality, and often get disconnected without warning. And I have found that emails I’m sending are not going through. It’s a nightmare. Periodically I’ve been able to snatch Wi-Fi long enough to upload a short video to Instagram or some photos, typically after multiple failed attempts and the exhaustion of my patience.

And my final stay here in Valencia actually has no Wi-Fi whatsoever. None.

It strikes me as unthinkable that in today’s world someone would run a guest house with no Wi-Fi. But mainly, I’m concerned because it’s having an impact on my ability to deliver on a few projects that I have to work on while traveling, which I often do, as a so-called digital nomad.

It’s never been this hard.

When I first arrived here in Valencia, I had to contact my guest house owner, and did so via a café nearby which had Wi-Fi, where I ordered a snack and took a little time to catch my breath after a long day of travel. Since then, I’ve been popping over to the café to check emails and such. And I just discovered this morning, to my dismay, that some emails are not getting through.

When I’m not at the café, I’m completely disconnected.

No calls home.

Client calls go to voicemail.

Text messages hang in the ether, somewhere between wherever I’m roaming and a satellite in the great beyond.

I can’t research the current or next leg of my journey, or look up and book hotels, or even plan a travel route in town using Google Maps.

I can’t check in for my flights.

Can’t check my bank balance.

Can’t access online tools I need to do SEO work.

And I can’t blog or update social accounts, so instead I’m writing this blog post in a Word document and will have to post it later, when I have a connection.

I understand that this is the very essence of a first world problem. Yet, it feels like everything has come to a halt.

This morning, without my usual electronic connection, I found myself just staring at my phone.

How did I get here?

I remember when I got my first cell phone. A client had a spare that was on their plan, so I just paid the extra for the second phone. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be that reachable. When the plan ran out, I ditched the cell.

What seems like a lifetime ago, people used to travel or join the Peace Corps and you might get a postcard from them, or a letter, months later. Other than that, you were left to wonder what they were up to, and if they were okay. To some degree, that’s the kind of wandering I dream about. To some degree, I think it’s the kind of travel that benefits us most.

But now, it seems, everything is intertwined. As a traveler, you have to have a cell phone, and you have to have international data. To go without is—like running a guest house with no Wi-Fi—unthinkable. And as a result your entire circle of friends and frenemies knows practically every step you take, every bite you eat, every sunset you watch. WhatsApp keeps you connected to your hosts and friends, or Signal, or whatever app you use. Mom can see how you’re looking via FaceTime. Everyone can watch you live from check-in to check-out with Facebook, Instagram, and who knows what else.

I’ve bought into it because it’s a marketing necessity. But I’ve also bought into the smartphone culture because being disconnected seems like it simply isn’t an option anymore. Especially if you’re a digital nomad.

Disconnect the digital, and you’re just another lost person, aimlessly wandering the globe.

(And what would you stare at when you’re bored or don’t want to talk to the person next to you?)

I’m taking this as a lesson. A reset. A moment to reflect.

What if I spent less time on my smartphone? What if I did less online? What if I thought about things instead of googling them? Would it make me sharper by making my gray matter work harder? Would I be happier? Would I rediscover loads of time I didn’t realize I was wasting? Would I make more real-life friends and fewer online ones? Would I write more?

Or will everything I have to do on a daily basis just take longer?

For now, It’s uncomfortable…. disconcerting. It’s disturbing enough that I’ve actually thought about booking a different place to stay….if only I had the connection to do so. Luckily, I have just two more nights at this stay before I’m on to the next place.

I think they have Wi-Fi, but I can’t go online to check.

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Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog, she applies her worldview to her business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.

Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.

Find Charish on Twitter: @rollrbaggoddess, on Facebook at @rollrbaggoddess, and on Instagram at @rollerbaggoddess. You can also read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.

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