Disconnected From Reality

How a stolen phone opened my eyes to the world of travel I thought I was immersed in, but was in fact missing completely.

I woke up, bleary eyed to the sound of monkeys knocking seed pods out of the trees and onto the tin roof of the cabin I was sleeping in. I rolled over, scrabbling around in my bed, looking for my iPhone. “What time was it? What day?”

The remote beach on the west coast of Thailand made it easy to lose track of time. There was no cell service anyway, so I couldn’t hope to read my messages.

I staggered out of the cabin onto the porch, none of my friends seemed to be around, and the heat was already oppressive so it must have been late.

A while later I found my companions on the beach — Cody, an American guy, and two Danish girls we had met. Cody said he couldn’t find his phone either, or the backpack that contained some of my camera gear.

Without phones, we had to find an internet cafe years after they were meant to have gone extinct. And for the first and only time, I used my undergraduate degree in geography and hand drew a map. Important locations only — the bus station, the main cross roads, and the market. A simple but effective pattern of lines and symbols we at once recognize the meaning of yet which often seems foreign, rough, slow to the point.

Three days later back in the Thai capital, Bangkok, Cody and I navigated the old fashioned way with a paper map to a heaving electronics market in the center of the city, where I bought a new so-called smartphone. I later described it as a knock off of a knock off of some kind of Samsung.

It is easy to forget when you travel that the whole point is to confront your fear of the unknown in some way or another. With a smartphone map in the palm of your hand, it’s easy to lose the sense of excitement that you get when you mutter to yourself, “I hope this is the right way”, before setting off into a labyrinth of narrow streets in an unfamiliar city.

I probably wouldn’t have found pleasure in that sense of helplessness if it hadn’t been for a few too many beers and Sang Som whiskeys on that remote beach in Thailand.

Now I try to find that sensation again. I leave my phone behind, I lock it away, I stash it under my pillow before I go on a night out. I force myself into a position of vulnerability and I am rewarded by the depth of the human connection and the robustness of the experiences that I find there.

Disconnect yourself when you travel. If getting lost from the normal everyday routine isn’t why you left home in the first place, then what is?

Disconnected From Reality was originally published in the 2019 edition of Surge Magazine, the magazine created by Edinburgh Napier University Journalism MA students. You can find more excellent stories at www.surgemag.org

Using Format