Data Dependency: How it’s rapidly changing our travel experience

If you haven’t traveled recently, you are forgiven for not understanding what I mean by the term “Data Dependency”. In lay terms, it’s the utter addiction to being digitally “connected” regardless of where your are in the world.

By way of background, my first major trip abroad was to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Europe in 1991. There were no smart phones back then and the Internet was something futurists simply referred to as the “World-Wide Web”. For Heaven’s sake, it was a time when the now defunct fax machine was being heralded as the most disruptive technology of the century!

There is a need to feel connected back home when traveling abroad

Fast forward to 2017 and it’s hard to disconnect from the “World-Wide Web” otherwise now known as the Internet. If you are under 20 years old, the thought of taking a holiday and not being “plugged in” is considered an anathema.

Based on what I witnessed during my recent European vacation, I would argue this has also become challenging for the 20+ crowd of savvy smart phone owners. Getting access to free wi-fi is the new cat and mouse challenge of the 21st century with the prize going to the person who can track it down first  – and with the best bandwidth.

Although most Canadian Internet providers do provide us with the option to purchase a $10 per day international phone package [this only includes up a maximum of 100 Mb of data], there are still plenty of folks hungry to hook up to the digital highway for free – mainly due to the cost savings.

Millions of people have become data dependent

That’s why regardless of where you go in Europe, or anywhere abroad for that matter, you are likely to find foreigners seeking out the “free wi-fi” at local coffee shops and restaurants. We have all become “data dependent” seeking out every opportunity to connect to the broader world where and when we can. Enter a restaurant and first question you might hear a potential patron ask is not whether there is seating available, but rather if there is free internet and what is the password.

Sadly, I must confess that I have become part of that increasingly prevalent cohort. Count me in as one of those people who miss reading the Vancouver Sun or Globe and Mail at the click of a button.  Ditto to listening to CKNW or News 1130 at the click of a button.

Travelling is wonderful, but it should not come at the expense of being able to easily and inexpensively remain connected back home.

The fax machine was considered a game changer when it was introduced back in the 1980s

For the younger set, being connected to friends on Snapchat and Instagram is now a right of passage. Offer them a trip to to visit some of the planet’s most beautiful and historical cities and you are inevitably met with the question “is there access wifi there?”

While there are a lot of downsides to being plugged in during your vacation, I am the first to admit it can also serve enhance and enrich your experience.

For example, were it not for Google Earth, tracking down my hotel in Venice would have become a Herculean effort. Rather, I just logged on before I arrived and had the chance to “virtually” walk my way from the water taxi to the hotel. This visual cue was all I needed to safely and quickly disembark from the boat and make my way to our final destination – which I also just happened to book online.

Accessing the internet on our cruise ship was possible, but it cost around $40 for only 350 Mb of data

No doubt there is a lot of charm and nostalgia regarding the “good old days” of travelling pre-internet. You know, like your kids actually asking questions about the type of granite and marble used to construct the Vatican. However, the reality is we are in a very different digital world which offers many benefits few could have imagined prior to when the fax machine was invented.

Most of the planet is now clearly data dependent, requiring the ability to tap into the digital world including Google Maps and Trip Advisor. You can either fight this new reality or embrace it. I’m in the latter category of people who have begrudgingly come to believe that our new reality means easy access to the internet – even while on holidays.

While plugging in to the digital highway might seem like a horrible thing to do during your vacation, just take a deep breath and realize it’s 2017 and this is now the new reality.

PS My Samsung smartphone died a couple of weeks into my vacation, so this gave a whole new meaning to being data dependent! Thank heavens I had brought my laptop!