Facebook Ate My Vacation
As a travel writer, I frequently have opportunities to visit incredible destinations. And with my background in photography, it's not unusual for me to take hundreds of photographs each day that I spend in a major Asian metropolis, or a rural Peruvian village, or a pedestrian-only ski town in the Swiss Alps. Until recently, I felt compelled to share those photos with my Facebook friends back home – often on the same day that I captured them. But that immediacy comes with a price.
Sharing everything as I traveled meant spending at least 30 minutes – and $30 – selecting and uploading images, one-by-one, each day from my hotel room in Tokyo. Or posting photos from my BlackBerry while wandering the streets of Pampas de Hospital, Peru – a town of 4,000 where residents only have access to running water for a few hours each day (though my BlackBerry stayed connected 24/7).
And that ski town in the Swiss Alps? I nearly lost my fingers while tapping away on my MacBook during sub-zero December evenings in Zermatt, where I walked nearly 20 minutes from my hotel before locating a speedy, free Wi-Fi connection. I returned to the same bench in front of Zermatt's largest church every night of my visit – my MacBook's white Apple logo still glowing bright as locals walked past on their way to Christmas Eve Mass.
With access to the Web now available from nearly every corner of the globe, it's often more difficult to unplug from your work and personal life while on vacation than it is to stay connected. It's fine to check in with friends and family back home on occasion, but is it really necessary to post daily Facebook updates from the road rather than waiting to share photos and stories once you've returned home?
Waiting to upload, missing the sights
In a typical story, one friend of a friend went to disruptive lengths to post content while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the southeast African country of Malawi.
During her two years of Peace Corps service, Kristen Hosey did not have Internet access nearby, despite working as a Registered Nurse at a hospital and nursing school. "I would have to go into town to get on the Internet, which was often slow," Hosey said. "It tended to be unreliable, and the computers were prone to having lots of viruses."
After discovering that accessing Facebook on a regular basis was incredibly inconvenient and took away too much time from her work, Hosey learned to become more resourceful and limit the amount of time she spent at Internet cafes. She reduced image file sizes and wrote blog posts on her computer, then transferred content to a USB flash drive to bring into town. "At the beginning of my service, before I started shrinking my pictures, it would take at least 30 minutes to upload one set of photos onto Facebook," Hosey said. "When I started shrinking them it took less time – I could probably get all my pictures uploaded in an hour or two. I also had my blog written beforehand so that I could just copy and paste."
Living in Malawi for nearly two years, spending a full day on the Internet was clearly more of a necessity for Hosey than the average tourist – once she became more accustomed to life in rural Africa, her Facebook visits were fueled by photo requests from friends and family, rather than an obsession with spending time browsing the Web. On occasion, Hosey would go weeks at a time without updating Facebook and her blog, but she made an effort to post content on a regular basis.
Now a graduate student in Seattle, Hosey estimates that she spends 30 minutes using Facebook each day while at home, including time spent accessing the site on her iPhone – though she admits that she often browses Facebook as a distraction from her coursework, rather than using the site as a tool to keep friends and family up to date on her life, as she did while living in Malawi. "My Facebook time here goes hand-in-hand with how much I am avoiding writing papers for graduate school," Hosey says.
"It's for my job!"
Some travelers have a professional reason to devote hours to Facebook, such as Philadelphia-based photojournalist Dave Jackson, who uses his personal Facebook, Twitter, and blog updates to grow his business. Jackson saves time by linking his Twitter account to his Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, so photos posted directly to Twitter are accessible to friends on the other social networking sites as well. He also shares daily posts on his blog, On Assignment, both when home and while traveling abroad. "I know there are Facebook friends who follow my photo blog," Jackson says. "I like to stay current and publish images as the trip progresses."
Jackson also updates Facebook and his blog while traveling for his own personal benefit, receiving tips and comments from friends that have traveled to the same destination. "I always enjoy the feedback from the friends who follow me," Jackson says. "I now have followers from many other countries. I love it when they add a comment to an image from a place that they have also visited."
Although he typically travels with his laptop, Jackson says that he plans to leave the computer behind during an upcoming trip to France, instead bringing along an iPad, which he'll use with Apple's Camera Connection Kit to download images directly from his camera's SD card. Though the iPad doesn't provide as much functionality as a laptop, Jackson has his bases covered there as well. "I do have a Photoshop app if I need to tweak a picture," he says.
Vacationing in Europe, Jackson won't need to trek to the nearest village to access the Web from an Internet cafe, either. "I was pleasantly surprised to find that the apartment in Paris has free Wi-Fi, as well as the small hotel we'll be in while staying in Antibes," he says.
As for me, I continue to grow my collection of nearly 250 Facebook photo albums, taking advantage of a handful of tips and tools to minimize the amount of time I spend at the computer while traveling the globe. New tools make it possible to spend just 30 minutes posting 60 photos each day in Tokyo.
On my next trip to rural Peru, I definitely plan to turn off my BlackBerry, spend more time getting to know the locals, and less time updating my Facebook profile with a photo of me sitting on a donkey, captured just a few seconds before.
I always take time to completely disconnect while on a bona fide vacation, be it spending an hour reading a book (or in my case, a Kindle) on the beach at Waikiki, or hiking the Great Wall with local friends in China. This might be out of the question, but if your job allows, consider leaving your smartphone and laptop behind on your next vacation - Facebook will always be waiting for you when you return home.
Zach Honig has visited nearly 30 countries on 5 continents. He is on Twitter as @JetDude and his blog is Tech, Travel and Tuna.
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