One of the big travel stories this week centered on a twenty-something couple enjoying the trip of a lifetime: a bicycle journey through Peru. Californians Garrett Hand and Jamie Neal, his girlfriend, were by all accounts having a great time on their adventure. They were posting regular status updates on Facebook until January 26, when they went silent. No more Facebook posts, no cell phone calls, no contact of any kind for over a month.
There was speculation in the media that they may have been kidnapped by gangs who target tourists. Family said that Hand’s bank accounts hadn’t been accessed in a month, and Neal’s employers at a San Francisco-area bike shop raised thousands of dollars in reward money. Missing posters were distributed, and an international search for the missing cyclists commenced.
Luckily, the pair was found, safe and sound, on a boat in the Amazon. Their adventure had taken them through remote villages with no access to the Internet, or even electricity. According to news reports, they were completely oblivious to the search efforts and baffled as to why anyone was looking for them.
When I read about this, I started to think about the nature of vacations, and long-term travel in particular. It’s one thing to jet off for a weekend alone, or even a week or two on vacation. But if you’re on a longer trip, how do you keep in touch? Do you check in via Facebook status updates and tweets, or are you old school and give your folks/friends back home a call? Or do you communicate at all?
When I went backpacking through Europe for a month after college, I established how I’d keep in touch with my family and friends before I ever set foot on a plane. My parents had our loose itinerary, and in the cities where we’d pre-booked our accommodations, they had the names/addresses/phone numbers of the hostels where we’d be staying. I told them I’d try to find Internet cafes to email them (I’m showing my age here; this was pre-smart phones, pre-Wi-Fi, prehistoric). The point is, they had an idea of where we’d be, and (roughly) when we’d be there.
But that brings me to a counter-point: sometimes, the appeal of getting away is just that, getting away from responsibilities and expectations. And checking in can be the last thing you want to do when you’re checking out of your day-to-day life for a while. When you’re an adult, it can be annoying to feel like someone is keeping tabs on you.
But with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, I feel like it’s become a lot easier to stay in touch without feeling like you’re checking in. You can post pictures or tweet about a great café you found or a museum you went to, and the date/timestamp will let everyone know that you’re safe and having fun.
This was an extreme case, where two governments (and a ton of resources) were involved in tracking down two people who didn’t need to be found. But just think, one Facebook post saying “Hey, we’ll be unreachable for awhile. Don’t worry” could’ve saved time, money, energy, and worry.
When all is said and done, risks are everywhere. You could encounter a dangerous situation while on vacation or just walking down your own street. You just never know. That shouldn’t stop you from living your life and having fun, but maybe we’d all do well to remember that being considerate doesn’t have to mean being in constant contact; it just means being aware that people are worrying about you, and doing whatever you can to lessen that worry.
Do you keep in touch when you travel, or do you get away from everything?
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