In 2017, if you go anywhere without posting it on Snapchat, you might as well not have gone. Snapchat stories and geotags have changed the way that tourists catalog their trips. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m one of those people. However, this weekend while I was in Paris I had to deal with a millennials worst nightmare: being in one of the most amazing cities in the world with NO CELLULAR DATA. I know it seems dramatic, but honestly, it really changed the way I experienced the city. When I was rushing to pack for Paris the night before, it didn’t even cross my mind that I should check to see if my Italian SIM card would work in Paris. It wasn’t until I landed at Charles de Gaulle airport and received 5 text messages in Italian about how I couldn’t use my phone in Paris that I began to worry. I was in Paris to meet my brother and his fiancé, but I wasn’t staying with them, so once I left the airport, I would have no way of contacting them after we established where we were meeting, so I waited under the Eiffel Tower like a lost kid in the grocery store for 30 minutes.
The next day, I was hesitant to start my day, because I didn’t want to end up somewhere unfamiliar with no knowledge of Paris or the French language. I realized how much I relied on my phone to feel safe. Part of me thought that not being able to use my phone would force me to be spontaneous and explore, but, in an environment that was completely unfamiliar to me, it just made me nervous. I found myself going from one place that offered free wifi straight to the next. I also stayed in touristy areas that I could pronounce where I knew I could find a cab and wifi. The avant-garde Paris, the dirty, seedy parts of Paris, and the indie artist side of Paris all slipped through my fingers, while I clung to the Louvre, the Champs Elysee and the Eiffel Tower. Even at night, I couldn’t bar hop because none of the cab drivers knew where I wanted to go and I couldn’t use my phone to Google the address.
Something similar happened when I traveled to Venice with a group of 4 friends. We had booked an early train because we wanted to be back in Florence, which meant we had about 40 minutes to explore. We went to the busiest square in Venice at the height of Carnivale, and when we got to the other side, one of our friends was missing. He had no data and there was no wifi in the square. So instead of getting to see Venice, we spent the whole time looking for him, until he found wifi and was able to call us.
The thing about technology is that it takes the guessing out of travel. You know as long as you have service you can use Google Maps or Uber to find your way home. With thousands of reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor and Google, it’s easy to tell what the best restaurants are and where the best shopping is. You can know exactly what time a club will be busiest, or when a popular attraction will have the shortest line. When you have a lot of time or you’re in a familiar environment, letting go and being willing to guess and have things go wrong can lead you on amazing adventures. It can be freeing to disconnect from the virtual world and spend all your time reveling in the wonders of the city around you. When you’re abroad and don’t speak the language, too much guessing can be unsettling. Maybe while I’m here I’ll find a way to experience something somewhere in between.