Technology & Travel: How To Travel The Filter-Fee Way

Enter Hanoi, Vietnam — a temptress of a destination that envelops your senses, and surprises you around every turn. It’s diverse. It’s noisy. It’s colorful. But mostly, it is alive with a thrilling energy that will intoxicate you.

Photo: Emma Cunningham

Never has a place captivated me so quickly and so fully. From the first minute a motorbike whizzed dangerously close, Hanoi (almost literally) swept me off my feet.

Being it one of Southeast Asia’s most infamous backpacker locations, I was anxious and eager to get to my hostel (mostly for a beer) and meet other travelers to explore Hanoi’s Old Quarter with.

Photo: Emma Cunningham

I took one look around the common area of my hostel when I arrived, to see just about every guest sitting in silence, fully occupied with some sort of technology device during (get this) the hostel’s happy hour. GASP! Even the hostel bartender was on his phone.

There we all were — millennials from every corner of the planet, in a country with history so mind-bending you still can’t understand even after extensive college research papers on it, with a population of people just outside the door, dreaming of what it’s like to own a flip phone, let alone an iPhone 14 or whatever fucking number Apple is advertising this year — uploading selfies to Instagram, scrolling through Facebook, typing pointless blog posts, swiping left and right on Tinder, mindlessly refreshing and refreshing and refreshing.

I wanted to throw up.

Don’t get me wrong, using the internet and social media while traveling has its positives, of course. I for one, wouldn’t have an ability to share my experiences in the way I do, nor would I have an audience to view it. And Google Maps has saved me a time or two from wandering down roads that teeny, solo blonde girls should not wander down. Then there’s sites like CouchSurfing and Hostel World, that I use religiously for trips, and messaging services like What’s App, which has allowed me to stay in touch with dozens of people I’ve met in countries all over the world — so for that 2017, I thank you.

Photo: Emma Cunningham

But the meaningless gadgets, apps, likes, selfie sticks, perfectly curated captions and unrealistic photos are irrevocably morphing the sacred world of travel. It has all created a new breed of travelers, “photographers”, Instagram models, and videographers, who enjoy instantly publicizing their trip and life more than the experience itself.

We millennials will eat squid, snakes and scorpions, hang off edges of cliffs, wear revealing clothing in countries where it’s wildly inappropriate, and even strike up a conversations with an authentic looking locals — all for that “post-worthy” iPhone photo that we can then blast out to our followers. I can pathetically admit that I am just as guilty as the next “Generation Y” backpacker and am starting to feel, man…enough is enough, everyone!

My big eye-opening experience was when I found myself exploring the notorious, Instagram-able, Victoria Peak in Hong Kong, which provides jaw-dropping views of a city that will leave you questioning if you should board your flight out. When I reached the top, there were two Australian girls quickly changing their outfits and swapping hats, saying to each other, “Is it cute? Can I post that one? Wait, wait, let me turn this way! Now take it. Okay, one more!” Meanwhile the sun was setting over Hong Kong and they were missing the entire thing.

These are the same type of people who say, “I just use social media for travel inspiration and as a tool for the places I want to visit,” but then those people arrive at Bondi Beach and take the same picture of “The Ocean Pool” that everyone else has already posted to Instagram. Or they’ll buy an Aztec sweater, head to Alberta, Canada, and snap selfies with the turquoise water/enormous mountain backdrop (we all know the infamous spot I’m talking about here), leaving them unoriginal, and traveling for mainstream reasons, not for inspiration or authenticity.

Photo: Emma Cunningham

If you come home from a trip and all you have to show for it is a picture of you in a floppy Indiana Jones-looking hat, or whimsical sundress with some serene backdrop, you need to rethink your priorities for your next trip.

It’s disgusting that people have become more concerned with quantity rather than the quality of their experiences. How many pictures did you take? How many “likes” did that one picture get? How many landmarks did you see? How many countries did you go to?

NOTHING about taking photos and posing in front of beautiful scenery challenges the way we think or view things. Sitting in a hostel common room with your headphones in, won’t bring new people into your life. NO Snapchat video can justify your epic adventure, nor does it matter if it has the right filter or geotag. And you need serious, SERIOUS psychiatric attention (or a slap across the face) if you’re searching for wifi in the Swiss Alps or at the beach.

Using this much technology when you’re traveling, and being so caught up in it seems fundamentally against the concept of travel in general. Where is the space for unfiltered life, Millennials? Life without the lens. Life without the audience. Traveling for the sake of travel.

I know it seems prehistoric to us, but there STILL is something beautiful about hand-written postcards and journals, physical maps, polaroid cameras, taking a bite of your exotic food before taking a picture of it first, strolling down pretty backstreets without someone taking a picture of you doing so, and most importantly, screen-less conversations.

Real travel encompasses loneliness, it exposes your underlying fears, it breaks your heart and makes you want to cry tears of gratitude and tears of terror. Real travel is exploring the people, the culture, the beauty and yourself. Real travel is raw, euphoric, mind-bending, and filter-free. Real traveling is not trendy.

Travel with intention, not just to be a spectator of the world but a participant, not just to look and see but to give and receive. I promise if you do so, you will discover something far more profound that no Instagram picture can capture.

Emma Cunningham


World traveler, writer, adventurist - you can typically find Emma out on the road, headphones on, suitcase in hand, hanging on every note the world has to offer.

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