The biggest mistake people make when they leave home

“If I had a single piece of advice for people when they come to Africa,” Simon said, “it’s leave home at home.” Then he swerved to avoid a huge overloaded lorry that was laboring uphill. We were surrounded by millions of acres of Del Monte pineapples, and the roads were lined with sellers offering the fruit, and the in-season mangoes. We had our own bag full right behind the seat.

I am in my third week or so of being in Africa, having ridden for eight days with Offbeat Safaris on the North Mara Conservancy, taken a side trip for four days to Ol Pejeta Rhino Conservancy. Much of the time I had no wi-fi, and when I did I wrote.

And sometimes I checked stats. This is what Simon means: my readership on Medium plummeted from 81k or so before I left for Kenya, to about 66k now.

Like a phone call from the office about an emergency that you can’t possibly do anything about until you get home, sometimes checking on your stats, or reading about the news back home (omg coronavirus!!!!!) can completely and utterly derail your trip.

The trip that you saved up for, worked hard to create, and are now on.

And for which in some ways you aren’t in the least bit present.

Simon, who works for Etrip Africa (which is run by a Wyoming boy who now has an outfit based in Arusha), said that he sees it all the time. A client or client family is traveling with him on safari. Dad or Mom or both touch base at home.

Something has happened (something is ALWAYS happening, get over it) and now they can’t let it go. It’s like an earwig that has burrowed into their brains.

They can’t see the elephants. Can’t be in wonder about the rhino baby. Can’t even see the crocodiles lying in stealth in the rivers.

They’ve allowed home to hijack their wonderful vacay.

The whole point of a vacay is to be on vacay, not to state the obvious or anything.

This is my eighth trip to Africa, starting twenty years ago in 2000. That far back I hardly had any kind of device. Now I most certainly do, and make my living primarily by writing. In the four trips that I’ve taken with Etrip, they have sent me gorilla and chimp tracking, rafting Class V rapids in Jinja, Uganda, up Kilimanjaro right to the top. They fired me over to Offbeat Safaris for eight days of breathtaking riding to observe the world’s most magnificent mammals, and they’ve put me on camels three different times to explore Tanzania. And this time I was able to do some serious research at conservancies which are changing the conversation about what is possible for Africa’s dwindling rhino population as well as the needs of her burgeoning population.

NOT ONCE did it ever occur to me to worry about what was going on back home. First of all, I’m not rich, so being able to do this kind of thing in the first place is a massive gift. Second, I have no interest whatsoever in having something over which I have no control at all control my attention span while I am in Paradise.

The compulsive need to be at home while you’re away robs not only you but also those you’re traveling with of the very joy and wonder you’re paying so much to witness.

Back in late summer of 2013 I was in heavy training to climb Kilimanjaro with ETrip. DirecTV called, and the man harangued me for a good long time about buying the NFL Season Ticket. I was curious, in that way that people will stare at road kill to figure out what died, to see how far he would go.

I explained to him that I would be spending most of the season in Tanzania.

No matter, he said cheerily. If you have a device you can watch the games.

Um, I said, so you’re saying that I can spend nearly twelve grand to LEAVE America, LEAVE my life behind, CLIMB this mountain, SEE amazing wildlife, but you think that what’s more important is being able to watch the football games?

You got it! he said, clearly ready to write the order.

You’re out of your mind, I said, and hung up.

Yet. As Simon and I can both attest, I have seen people stand in the most gorgeous areas totally engaged with their Candy Crush games while giraffes are licking pellets out of the eager hands of other tourists.

I have watched families march up Macchu Picchu, watching their devices, stumbling over the smooth rocks and arguing about the kids’ test scores while they waddle by wonders of ancient ruins.

Guides like Simon feel badly for folks who can’t let go of home, for “home” and the troubles of the office mask the very magic he is determined to show you and me.

This piece

Has technology ruined the travel experience?

Posted: 02/03/15 | February 3rd, 2015 On the first Tuesday of each month, Dave Dean from Too Many Adapters shares his…

by a Millennial traveler gets right to the heart of it. I’m not pointing this at any particular age group, nor am I saying that if you and I make our living writing while traveling that tech is stupid. What Matt’s article points out is that devices are here to serve travel, not replace it. Big diff. He says, quite rightly, that while there are times he might miss the days of no phone, he likes being able to better manage his experiences with one. Point taken. However, Matt also knows that when we don’t turn them off, it can and does cost us our experiences.

To wit: on the small plane en route to Maasai Mara, I sat next to a lovely, tall, thin, blonde Millennial woman who never even let me open my Kindle. I bring one when everyone else is engaged with their devices. We spoke at length. She is a former professional ballet dancer, PhD student in computer modeling, and working on wildlife conservation by using technology. She was fascinating. And she wants me to visit her family in Seattle. Absolutely right I will. I would have missed out on meeting her had I hid in my Kindle. She was a gift.

You and I pay dearly to witness Paradise, whether that’s in Africa, on a beach in the Bahamas or on the steppes of Central Asia (trust me, there’s Paradise out there too, I found it last fall). You and I pay dearly to be crammed into the tiny planes and jammed busses that deliver us to the wonders of the world, alongside fellow travelers whose stories might well blow us away.

But we pay far, far more dearly if we are always and forever intellectually and emotionally back home, compulsively worried about things about which we can do little, which drain the life blood out of the very vacation we take to escape that very thing.

The off button exists for a reason. Use it. And be where you are, no matter what is staring you back in the face.

Photo by Uriel Soberanes on Unsplash