Managing technophobe travel

2022-01-07 @Travel
From WordNet:

    n 1: a person who dislikes or avoids new technology
    [ant: {technophile}]

I began writing this at the central bus station on the 31st. Then I continued on the shaky bus ride. Though notably difficult with a paper notebook, it’s manageable with an awkwardly positioned tablet and keyboard.

I was driven by the year-end urge to process much draft material, yet evidently haven’t resumed until now. Though at a remote location over a few days without internet access, nothing but my own indifference strictly inhibited me from writing offline. But I enjoy that sort of inconsistency and unpredictability with internet technology.

When I speak of being a technophobe, the definition clearly doesn’t universally apply. However, in many ways, I am one, the extent manifesting uniquely from one specimen of technology to the next.

You’ve heard me speak enough of the underlying motives: the preference for a more conscientious, spontaneous, offline, if not entirely unplugged existence, which technology often subdues.

Occasionally I entertain the prospect of travelling even further disconnected, though not without certain skepticism. However, a recent conversation with a technology-light traveller/friend reaffirmed my faith in the technophobe ways.

The comforting thought: all of this was already practiced not long ago. None of it is uncharted territory.

My phone is already a mere dumb phone, which I more often than not leave at home. I think I could get by entirely without one.

Over the last five months I can’t recall a single call/SMS transaction that couldn’t have been circumvented by alternate, not too difficult to arrange means.

Actual calls I could initiate at home on the tablet computer (over VoIP); or by borrowing a phone. And need I remind you, not long back in history, we got by without any mobile device.

So my dumb phone is a mere step away from a phoneless existence, but what about travel without a computer? In my case, that implies my tablet.

Travel without any computer or tablet

The prospect is possible, although somewhat contingent on 1) the kind and 2) the duration of travel.

It’s not for the ‘hardcore’ digital nomad who needs, or simply wants to constantly be connected, whether for obligation or pure entertainment.

It’s more for the spirit desiring and capable of remaining offline for longer periods, while performing occasional transactions at a public computer in batch mode.

I could do that, but for the present, don’t really want to, not for the kinds of longer, nomadic journeys I’ve been undertaking.

The challenges are manifold:

  1. Internet cafes and public computers are not as ubiquitous as they once were.

    I see an occasional one at a hostel or a hotel lobby. Libraries generally have public computers. The internet cafes are more frequent in big cities. But how many of us ‘technophobes’ care to restrict our travel to big cities alone?

  2. Some sensitive transactions I’ve never felt comfortable to conduct at public computers. However low the probability, how can one really insure no key logging mechanism is in place?

  3. Impossibility for a password manager.

    That means carrying a number of passwords on paper and otherwise adapting easy-to-memorize passwords for the less-sensitive web sites (definitely not the financial).

  4. Impossibility for two-factor authentication (not having another device for the task).

    Possible workaround: some services enable one-time-use backup codes, a number of which you could always have handy on paper.

    Otherwise, it means disabling two-factor auth for anything we expect to access.

  5. If, like me, you leverage offline Linux tools for much (to update web sites, email, access a VPS, authenticate via public/private key), you’d need to redesign the workflow. Possible workarounds:

    • A proxy server, accessible via SSH, for managing all these tasks, in hope the public computers have an ssh client. This can be the same VPS or a different machine.

    • Email can also be handled web-based, if so configured.

    • Configure the proxy server for regular password authentication. Alternatively, carry the private key on a flash drive.

  6. Granted, if any flash drive or paper credentials are lost in the process, have some recovery means in place. But that applies universally, even for a fully computerized travel.

Note: I’m not a security specialist, so follow any of the above advice at your own peril.

Travel without any phone

This is generally more manageable:

  1. When genuinely interested, arrange personal meetups on the spot. Don’t wait until later to have to then communicate online (via email or some messenger).

    Some years ago in Berlin I made a friend who travelled without a phone or any computer. Each time we arranged to meetup at the platform of an almost randomly chosen Ubahn train stop at a designated hour, which worked out fairly well.

  2. For meetups, set proper ‘technophobe’ expectations: you will arrive to such and such a spot, and you will be punctual.

    Mentally expect to wait around some time frame, possibly longer than you might if equipped with a phone.

    Even with a dumbphone, I won’t be able to reach certain individuals having a data-only plan. Thus I already adapt this strategy from time to time.

  3. Conduct more research in advance (ie: directions, geographical layout).

  4. When lost or simply lacking advance research, ask people on the street for guidance. This is something I already do, as a dumb phone doesn’t really serve here.

    If arriving into town without any place to stay, you can even ask around for hostels. The first person might not help, nor the second, but you’ll eventually find guidance with enough inquiries. In a sufficiently dense area, I can’t imagine the ceremony consuming over a few minutes.

General strategies

Even if you don’t intend a cold-turkey transition, take some tips to shorten the gap towards technophobe travel:

  1. Mentally write off any physical possessions you might lose. The advice comes straight from the stoics.

    Even if you don’t have a recovery strategy entirely arranged, you’ll still face the circumstance with a clearer mindset, being primed for the eventuality.

  2. Travel with the cheapest working, perishable equipment. You’re in it for the experience, right?

    Bring some rugged, outdated tablet/computer, even if the battery hardly delivers a couple of hours of usage. Remember, if you’re the person interested in this sort of lifestyle, you shouldn’t expect or wish to connect for any substantial period.

  3. Acquire the cheapest dumb phone possible. And actually, a compact, 12-button keyboard isn’t such a bad idea: less typing, less small talk.

  4. In addition to paper, use an external audio recorder to supplement content creation/journaling, or perhaps directly if you’re a podcaster. This is something I don’t do enough of (or rather, at all).

    A digital recorder can double as an MP3 player, handy especially if phoneless.

Lastly, never bring a towel.

Questions, comments? Connect.