Hostel in Beirut

Why Have Travelers Stopped Talking To Each Other?

Derek Perspectives 142 Comments

Hostel in Beirut
Yesterday I received the following email from a close Australian friend of mine…

“So I’ve just arrived at Broome Backpackers [a hostel in Broome, Australia], staying four nights in an 8-bed mixed dorm room. It’s 9pm and there have been five of us in the room for the past hour. The other four have been on their laptops or mobile phones. Nobody has spoken. At all. Not one word.

I’ve been sitting here reading a book the entire time and now I just had to write you an email as I cast my mind back to our travels through India, Thailand and beyond several years ago, to a time when travelers actually conversed with each other.”

Fellow travelers, or those just starting out, that’s a sad email.

There indeed was a time when barely five seconds would pass between checking into a hostel dorm room and finding yourself talking with the other travelers in the room. People immediately introduced themselves, not with just a nod of the head and quick grumble of a ‘hello’, but by standing up, shaking your hand and asking some questions.

And inevitably, this would lead to more conversation, to other travelers joining in, to hanging out with these strangers who instantly became your pals. There was a time when every traveler was thoroughly excited about these interactions, realizing just how lucky they were to have such an opportunity to meet people from all over the planet.

Before we all became so caught up with technology, we instinctively spoke to those around us. Now we often just head back to the hostel in the evening, sit on a cushion or at a table or lie in bed and type away on our keyboards or mobile phones, keeping our heads down as we spend hours surfing the internet just for the fun of it.

Another Lifeless Hostel

I’m not saying that travelers don’t interact with each other at all these days. Of course we do. It’s just that I have also experienced countless situations such as the one my friend described above and I have also had a similar conversation about this very topic with so many travelers that there is no way to deny the fact that technology is seriously harming our ability to be social.

And when we travel, being social is what leads to the most rewarding experiences.

Travelers I Met in Syria

When I traveled to the Romanian town of Sighisoara last year, I noticed that the hostel owner was not exactly in the best of moods for a couple of days. When I finally had a chance to speak with him, he told me that he no longer enjoyed owning his hostel and was thinking of selling it. He said that he had originally created the hostel as a place where travelers could congregate and share and learn from each other but instead, it turned into a bunch of rooms where everyone just played on their laptops all day long.

He told me stories of not so long ago, maybe 3 or 4 years, when every single night a dozen or more travelers would gather in the common room, interesting conversations about an infinite number of topics would take place, everyone would cook together, drink together, have fun together, creating an atmosphere that the hostel owner simply labeled as ‘perfect’.

And now, that no long happens at his hostel and even worse, it no longer happens in many hostels, hundreds and thousands of them, around the world.

A Balance Between Technology & Socializing

I’ve written before about the death of random travel experiences due to technology. Instead of asking a shopkeeper in a foreign city for directions (and who knows where that might lead, possibly to an invitation to meet his family or enjoy a home-cooked meal), we just jump on Google Maps and off we go, missing out on that human interaction and its potential benefits.

Travelers I Met in Beirut

And in my opinion, we also miss out when we don’t interact with our fellow travelers. It’s a shame that things are changing like this. It’s an even bigger shame considering that we are often on our laptops or iPads or phones while traveling not because we actually have something we need to do, but because these days, we almost don’t know how to do anything else. That’s a bit extreme I know, but it does seem to be heading in that direction.

So, what is it that makes us so willing to turn on the laptop instead of socializing with the other travelers around us?

Are we so eager to upload our photos and share our experiences with the entire world, a world that probably isn’t as interested in our travels as we would like to believe, that we’d rather choose an entire evening in front of our laptop over one filled with conversation and activity with interesting people we would never have met had we not been traveling in the first place?

I’m just as guilty as everyone else here and I’m not trying to deny that. I work online and so I spend a lot of time in front of my laptop while traveling. At the same time, whenever I am faced with a decision, which happens every day, as to whether I should be on my computer or whether I should look up, shake someone’s hand and get to know a new person on this planet, I like to believe that I do choose the latter option the majority of the time.

Again, I’m not saying we should all toss our laptops into the river…

To those who work online, as I do, keep on working online and making your travel dreams a reality.

To those who share their adventures on a blog, continue with that blog!

To those who upload photos and send frequent emails to family and friends, telling them all about your travels, don’t stop doing that either.

What I do believe is that we should always be aware of how much time we are actually spending in front of our technological devices while traveling and to make sure that we are not missing out on the greatest reward that travel is prepared to give us – meeting and interacting with new people.

Look up, say hello, put the laptop down every now and then and go have a drink with a stranger from your dorm room. Try to gather a few travelers together and cook a meal in the hostel’s communal kitchen. Or just go for a walk around town with a new friend instead of typing away on your keyboard in the corner.

While you might fall behind slightly in your work or with your blog or with your emails, or you might not have time to conduct random Google searches for things such as ‘yoda bat‘ and ‘talking oranges‘, you will be benefiting in ways you simply can’t imagine from the time you spend with your fellow travelers.

Any thoughts on technology and travel or on the change in hostel experiences that’s taking place? Have you noticed that many of us travelers are more interested in their gadgets than we are in interacting with each other?

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Comments 142

  1. Forest

    Great post Earl. I think the issue is that people in general are shy and technology gives us a veil to hide behind. Without that phone or laptop we are almost forced to talk. Tech makes it look like we are doing something important!!

    I’m going to be in hostels for a few days this week and am going to try hard not to be like this! It’s tough because I am shy….

    1. Earl

      Hey Forest – Hope it works out this week! But you’re right, it is easy to pretend we’re doing something just by turning on our devices. And so we avoid conversation even though many people in the same room are messing around online for the exact same reason…no reason at all!

  2. Samuel @ Backpacking Travel Blog

    I noticed a big difference in this kind of behaviour in just a short period of time from my 2008 backpacking trip around SE Asia compared with South America/SE Asia 2010/11. There were places that actually felt anti-social and it was awkward striking up a conversation. This doesn’t just extend to just hostels or travelling. I’ve seen this kind of behaviour at a dinner table where everybody is on the phone texting. I’m starting to enjoy turning off my cell or going offline for certain periods of time when I’m with others.

    1. Earl

      Hey Samuel – It definitely extends beyond travel and it’s happening in almost every country around the world. The heads are down, the screens are on and the conversations is much less.

  3. Erik

    I fell way behind on my blog on my last trip, to New Zealand, because I made it a point to use every hour of daylight possible seeing things and also so I would try to engage people in campgrounds and hostels. My numbers bottomed out, but it was still a great decision. I met so many people I wouldn’t have talked to had I had my head buriedin my laptop(s).

    1. Earl

      Hey Erik – Falling behind on your blog absolutely seems worth it to me and I’m glad to hear you agree and that you had such great experiences instead!

  4. Bex

    Yes yes yes! totally relate to this! When I was backpacking in 1993 around Australia, I used to get my post sent to the local Poste Restante and would phone home once a month. I made many friends on that trip.
    Then in 2004 I went on a bus trip across the States – no internet access unless at a cafe on various stops. Once again, made lasting friends.
    NOW when I go on holiday – whether a short break or long vacation, I am just as guilty. I feel disconnected without my notebook!
    In fact, I must log off now – am sitting in a beautiful Greek island, the sun’s about to set and I’m writing to you!

    Off I go

    1. Earl

      Hey Bex – I remember those days with the Poste Restante as well! Good days indeed. Hope you managed to get off the laptop and enjoy what I’m sure are amazing surroundings over there on your Greek island 🙂

  5. Dave Reynolds

    Earl, and excellent and well written example of how things are changing and one in which I completley agree. In Cusco a few months ago I swear one female traveller had an i-pad glued to her hands. I never saw er go out. There were also about 7 free computers to use, and the proof that they were constantly in use was the keyboards had worn so thin the letters were barley visible.
    On the navimag ferry to Peuto Montt one traveller was wandering around the ship waving his laptop about trying to find a signal. There fact that we were in the fjords of the South Pacific and miles from anywhere did not deter him. Insane.!
    Me, travelled with a i-touch mp3 player on which I wrote 73,000 words for my blog whilst sat on a bus or on my down time. Would then email to myself when i had free wifi and then and when I found an internet cafe drop in and sort it out. Other than that spent my time doing boring things like visiting places, taking photos, talking to the locals and geting a better understanding of my surroundings.
    Oh, and because the ferry had no internet everyone talked to each other, some of whom I still keep in touch with now, especially a french guy who came to my rescue when passport, money and credit cards stolen some two weeks later in Castro, Chiloe Island, Chile.
    A likeminded soul with no laptop and no lonely planet!!



    1. Earl

      Hey Dave – Ha…how boring of a traveler you are 🙂 And I’ve seen some funny things like that as well…with people getting quite upset at times when they can’t find a signal. Craziness indeed.

      And the ferry example is perfect…no wifi, plenty of conversation. Simple as that.

      Thanks for commenting. I enjoyed what you wrote!

  6. Elemir

    I thought it was bad enough when all the travelers would just hang out together in hostels or hotels and never meet any of the local people.

    Now they don’t even want to meet each other?

    I had always believed that the whole point of traveling was the experience of interacting with people, and exploring new cultures. Even traveling around my own country, I never use a GPS. I’ll just find someone and ask directions, and maybe get the chance to meet some wonderful new people.

    Sometimes we just need to set the technology aside for a bit, and get to know the human element, and let others get to know us.

    1. Earl

      Hey Elemir – I know…what’s next? Soon we’ll all be zombies, unable to utter even a single word! Setting technology aside from time to time is the way to go. It’s just sad that it is becoming harder and harder for us to do these days.

  7. Steve

    It’s been a long time since I’ve stayed in a hostel, but even then this was becoming apparent. I was under the impression the common area was for socialising and the rooms were for those who wanted some quiet to read, work or possibly even sleep.

    If everyone is awake then rather than bury his head in a book your friend could have said hello and tried to start a conversation – the others would probably have appreciated someone taking the initiative. If not they’ll make it clear enough, and everyone can get back to their reading/work.

    1. Earl

      Hey Steve – My friend certainly could have started a conversation but I think that it’s becoming harder for people to do when everyone else is in the ‘technology zone’. For most people, when you walk into a hostel dorm room and put your things down, and nobody looks up at you at all, it’s hard to then force yourself to try and strike up a conversation. But yeah, that’s the kind of effort that’s needed these days I guess.

  8. Ruth (Tanama Tales)

    It is sad to see how technology is affecting our travels experiences. However, it is sadder to think how technology is affecting ALL of our interactions with others. Nowadays, it is so difficult to share a moment with friends because there is always somebody looking at the phone. To me, it is a total turn off when you are talking to someone and that person is paying more attention to the phone than to you. I have tons of stories where I have felt disconnected of someone because of a phone or laptop.

    I have a smart phone but use just when I need it (calls, navigation). When I travel, I don’t use it. Yes, I know it sounds crazy but I am not sure I am missing something for not using it.

    1. Earl

      Hey Ruth – Those moments drive me nuts as well. What’s the point of meeting up if you’re only going to stare at your phone and text someone else the entire time? And not using your phone while traveling doesn’t sound crazy to me at all…it’s quite a wise decision in my opinion!

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  10. Steven DS

    Hey Earl, I’ve enjoyed reading your site for the past few years. First time I make a post.

    I am a traveller, but also an introvert. When I found myself in between jobs I used to travel for longer periods staying at hostels. I always ended up making new friends during my stays, something I normally never do that easy. Later this year I am planning to take a sabbatical and have my first long trip in 6 years, going to Australia. I’m not planning to take a laptop with me or any other fancy device (ok, maybe my e-reader, but that’s just to save space on taking books with me :)). Let’s hope there’s still people left willing to chill over a beer.

    On the other hand, when I am working I also spend quite some time in the evening playing online games. A few years ago I met a nice bunch of people this way from all over Europe with whom I got along real well. Three years ago we decided to meet. Now you would think that we all ended up somewhere with our laptops playing games. The opposite was true, nobody had a PC with them and we all had a good time in England, spending 5 days enjoying the scenery and the pubs. Now we have 2 meets a year, visiting each others home countries, having a good time. So technology can also lead to some nice opportunities to meet new people.

    1. Earl

      Hey Steven – That’s a cool story and definitely one that shows the benefits of all our current technology! Being able to meet people online and enjoy interacting with them in real life is ideal…not sure it happens too often but I’m glad it happened in your case 🙂

      And I’m sure in Australia you’ll still find some people to hang out with at the hostels…if not, you’ll just have to demand they get off their laptops and join you for that beer!

  11. Colleen

    I know I’m in the minority but I always travel without a laptop or a camera or a cell phone. I’m really into ‘being here now’ when I travel, which sounds kind of hippie-ish but it’s so true for me. I want to let go of myself and experience immersion into the environment, to interface with the people, country, town, city, restaurant, etc.

    It saddens me to see fellow backpackers on trains and planes and buses blasting past interesting or beautiful scenery while tapping away on a laptop. I understand why they might but I wouldn’t recommend recording an experience at the cost of having the one available now.

    So many times I’ve observed someone walk into a world heritage site, wander around for a while taking pictures and then leave quickly. If someone’s goal is to just check the box proving the were at so and so sight, it’s just sad, but I’ve seen too much of that.

    What I want to say to my fellow traveler is that YOU are important so is YOUR experience for YOU. = ) Risk forgetting the technological connectivity with your former life for awhile and grow in another direction. Don’t sink into the old familiar comfort of laptop entertainment, go out and walk the city you’re staying in. Find an adventure, make a friend, have a real conversation with someone who lives where you’re visiting. Or just wash your clothes and take a nap.

    This article is genuinely sad.

    Thanks for a wonderful website full of thought-provoking and inspiring articles. = )

    1. Earl

      Hey Colleen – Perfectly said. And the idea of ‘being here now’ is one that certainly would allow you to enjoy more intense travel experiences than someone who is either fully or half connected to the internet all the time. Real adventures, meeting real new people, having real conversations…none of that can be done while online!

      1. Colleen

        Having said the above, if it weren’t for travel bloggers like you carrying and using your laptop, camera, etc., the world would be short one fantastic website. = )

        1. Earl

          Hey Colleen – Very kind of you 🙂 And I definitely don’t advocate getting rid of technology altogether…just keeping our usage in check!

  12. Andy

    Back in the very old days you made a (very expensive) phone call back home maybe once a month or so. Then in the old days there was that one crappy computer with a dial-up connection in the hostel and you had to wait your turn to send a quick e-mail.

    But a couple years ago I was in Cafayate, Argentina, a small town in the middle of nowhere, but still very touristy. In the warm evening, many travelers where sitting outside having dinner or a drink. And… most of them had their netbooks and smart phones going, enjoying the newly installed free wifi. Great! This was the turning point, the moment when I realized the shape of things to come.

    Didn’t like this sight at all. If you really have serious work to do that can’t wait, fine. But most of them were fooling around on facebook and stuff or reading the news.

    This is a waste of time and a waste of beautiful travel experiences. I for my part enjoyed the beautiful evening by having a delicious dinner, chatting with real people and then reading a good book in the warm sunset.

    You either travel for real or you don’t.

    1. Earl

      Hey Andy – Being online for no reason at all is what gets me as well. I don’t understand how random internet surfing can seem more appealing than a conversation or any other real experience, especially when traveling. I agree that sometimes we need to be online but it’s hard to enjoy a beautiful small town when you’re only focused on your laptop screen.

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  14. Steve C

    Earl, you hit the Mother Load on this one! I totally agree with your whole post and much of what others have commented. As there are all types of people, some will want to interact more than others. That’s fine. This post will just serve as a reminder that we can all get carried away from time to time, like I just did for the past hour or so, reading posts and comments. Where does it all end? Moderation

    1. Earl

      Hey Steve – I have no idea where it all ends and when I think about where this technology is leading, it scares me to imagine everyone spending 99% of their time being ‘connected’. And yes, some do prefer to interact more than others and that’s definitely fine. I just wish a simple thing such as a ‘hello’ or other basic greeting were more common these days as I do believe that a few simple words have the ability to lead to a wonderful experience.

  15. Jeff @ GoTravelzing

    I have seen this change occurring in the last five years. It used to be that when you traveled and stayed in hostels you would meet all kinds of interesting people. Now it is more difficult if they have a good internet connection.

    One of the things that I love about traveling is meeting other travelers. I have noticed on my last couple trips that has become more difficult because everyone is always on their phone or laptop. I am guilty of this sometimes but I try to keep it to a minimum while traveling.

  16. Lisa -

    Thanks for writing this post, Earl. I think it is so true that people are becoming more isolated, not just while traveling, but doing anything in life. So many of our interactions are like that. Personally (being that I am a part-time web designer and online enough), I am not plugged in when I am out in the world and do try to say hello to people.

    I was lucky enough to have my first big trip abroad be in 1993 – pre-internet. I will always be grateful for that. Not just for the fact that I always met new people at the hostels, but also that things were more a mystery. I didn’t know what the next hostel would look like, exactly where to find something, and didn’t have a virtual experience for a travel destination before I actually got to the city it was in.

    At my first hostel on my first trip to Europe in 1993, a woman told me – “It’s the people you meet, not the places you see that will make the difference.” I found that to be true. That was also the same hostel were I met a 70-year-old woman traveling on her own.

    1. Earl

      Hey Lisa – Ahh yes…I miss that mystery as well. Heading off into the unknown was literally heading off into the unknown. Today, there really isn’t much that’s unknown or that can’t be learned about in two seconds using the internet. And that quote is so very true…after 12 years on the road, almost all of my fondest memories involve the people I’ve met along the way!

  17. the candy trail ... | Michael Robert Powell

    Hi Earl. Greetings from China … It was always this way in the old days … but simply enhanced now: if people wanted to be alone in a dorm – I really hate staying in such environments but when I was younger, sure I did – they once read a book or pretended to be asleep; now, they reach for a laptop, tablet, phone for privacy. But let’s hope there’s still some that wanna chat and party, otherwise it’s a dead travel experience for hostels worldwide.

    the candy trail … a nomad across the planet since 1988

    1. Earl

      Hey Michael – As long as there are one or two people still willing to chat, then that’s all we need I guess. But you’re right, the hostel experience will have changed permanently if things continue in the direction they’re headed. Hope all is well over there in China!

  18. Phil

    I’ve noticed this is even worse when there is wifi in the actual dorm room as opposed to only in the common area. I think it’s just a matter of being lazy. It’s convenient to surf the web as opposed to that tiny effort to interact and start up a conversation

    1. Earl

      Hey Phil – That’s an interesting point and probably very true. It’s the same thing when I’m traveling and I stop at a cafe for a quick rest. If there’s wifi I check my emails for no real reason at all…if there isn’t wifi, I don’t check and incredibly, I survive 🙂

  19. Patricia GW

    You put it so well Earl, I’ve seen this happening in everyday life as well as traveling. What is the cure to electronic addition? When did social media replace face-to-face conversations? People simply have to remember to turn their toys off once in a while and be *present*. After all, why travel to a new place when the internet is the same everywhere?

    1. Earl

      Hey Patricia – That last questions is the one I don’t understand either….I know people have things to do online, which is perfectly fine of course, but spending the majority of our time online while traveling does seem a bit silly to me.

  20. Jamie

    If that’s true all over the traveling world and not just a couple of isolated examples, it’s a shame. Quite happy that I did all my backpacking / travels in the 1990’s. The most technology I had with me was a Sony Walkman, and a diary and ballpoint pen .. which certainly could be used as a defensive block if I was in a non-chatty mood, but most of the time, in whatever town, it was great to meet new people. I have a feeling if I was traveling solo now, I’d be uploading photos and blogging the night away. With everyone else, and yet, still solo.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jamie – I remember the diary/pen days as well and somehow that diary didn’t suck me in like my laptop now does! Back then I would talk to more travelers in a single day than I probably do in a week or more now and I would have more group dinners, group outings and interesting adventures with those I met.

      I was talking with my friend who wrote me the email I mentioned in the post and we both agreed how lucky we were to have traveled before technology ruled our lives.

  21. wftristan

    I am guilty of this one – when travelling or not, whilst all this internet thing has made us social it has also made us anti-social in equal measure – I notice this most when speaking to my cousin who is a techy type – he is brilliant when it comes to computer language – but try and have an old school normal conversation with him and its like getting blood out of a stone.

    i am off to actually speak to someone face to face ! wish me luck its been a while.


    1. Earl

      Hey Tristan – How did it go? Hopefully you actually did speak to the other person and didn’t just sit across from each other on your iPhones 🙂

  22. Cynthia

    Even a few years back when small portative devices were not as common, people were more likely to engage with others. This year I was in Madrid and the hostel was really nice with cool staff and everything but I could not believe that there were 20 people in the common room but no one was talking to each other: not even Hello!

    Seeing this, I did not know what to do not wanting to bother everyone so I got busy on my ipod touch … I guess it’s a vicious circle!

    1. Earl

      Hey Cynthia – It is indeed a circle that is tough to break free from. When you see that nobody else is interacting or even willing to interact, it becomes more difficult for us to take the first step. And then, like you said, we pull out our devices as well.

  23. janet

    interesting and a bit weird. I always thought of hostels as a place to meet and converse with other travelers. I love the vibe of that. I love meeting couchsurfers and getting to talk and philosophize with people from other countries. I love the freespirits. I’m an introvert myself, but some of the best conversation I have had with travelers I will probably never meet again.

    1. Earl

      Hey Janet – That’s how I once felt as well but with the changes I’m noticing, I’m less and less excited about staying in hostels. That vibe has diminished somewhat…it’s still possible to find it, but we must work a little harder than we had to in the past!

  24. Megan

    I agree with what you’ve written, but I’ll be a voice of dissent (somewhat) – I am by nature an introverted person and having long conversations with people I don’t know well is usually really draining for me and not something I enjoy. I love traveling and am about to go on a two month trip through SE Asia, and of course, I travel so that I can meet people, see the world and have great experiences, but spending the night with a big group of people talking is not something I’m going to do very often. So I probably am that person in the corner of the hostel who smiles and says “Hello, how are you?” and then goes back to reading or looking at pictures or whatever. It doesn’t mean I’m trying to be rude, just that I am not an extrovert. Not everyone is. But having said that, I took a tour in Vietnam by myself last year and met an American couple who became great friends.

    1. Earl

      Hey Megan – And that’s perfectly okay to me…at least you say, “Hello, how are you?”. I’m just shocked at how many times I’ve been in a room with someone who doesn’t even look up and offer even the most basic of greetings. Not everyone likes to talk to groups of people, you’re right, but at least looking up and smiling provides a small connection to a stranger so that if the circumstances are right, you might enter into a conversation with them.

      And that’s great you’re headed to Southeast Asia! If you ever have any questions about any of the destinations, just let me know…

  25. Lucid Dreaming Emma

    Hey, Earl. Yes, I was saying the same few nights ago to my friends. It is very frustrating that people are taking this direction in their lives. I am also working online and travelling but what is the point of travelling and sitting on laptop, don’t know. You can do the same from home and save yourself a bunch of money. I don’t have smartphone and I won’t buy it soon, so I must ask locals for direction and that is what going around really means. Usually when I come to a new city, I drink one beer too much and just walk around the city 🙂 And yeah, I get lost pretty much always, but till now I’ve always found a way and I’ve learned so much about destinations I’ve visited. Hope other will get that too.

    1. Earl

      @Lucid Dreaming Emma – I might have to try that method of drinking a few beers and heading out for a wander. I’d imagine that would loosen you up enough to start talking to those around you. And getting lost is always a bonus…you need to talk to others in order to find your way and who knows what kind of experiences will come out of it!

      1. Eric

        I’m glad someone brought up the point of social lubrication. But even beyond a little Dutch courage, alcohol is a great way to break the ice with those around you because you can invite them to share a drink.

        A simple invitation of “I’m going downstairs to grab a couple of beers. Can I get one for anyone else?” ought to snap shut a few laptops and open up conversation, right?

        1. Earl

          Hey Eric – It absolutely should! And I’m actually at a hostel in Albania right now where the drinks are so cheap that this is exactly what is happening. Every traveler is constantly asking everyone else if they want a drink and as a result, it’s quite social over here!

  26. Natalie

    Many people have asked me why I don’t upgrade to an iphone when traveling and then my life would be so much easier. I choose not to. My life is spent on the internet and traveling is about the only chance I get a breather from it. I booked a guided tour the other day and one lady from Jordan spent all her time while we were on the bus, playing games on her phone with ridiculous noises sounding out. Did not even have the manners to turn the sound off! I wondered if she had lost all notion of social interaction and how not to piss people off!!

    1. Earl

      Hey Natalie – I do think that some people have completely lost all ability to not only be social but to understand what is proper behavior in a social setting. It’s as if technology creates a bubble around us and we almost forget that there are other people near us. It sounds strange but it’s not as if we merely glance at our devices, we are often fully sucked into them to the point where we can’t notice anything else.

  27. Xavier

    Guilty as charge.

    I’m not really an outgoing person so usually I only great people with a nod and a hello unless I’m in a small hostel where I find it easier to start talking to people. Don’t really know why it doesn’t work the same for me in bigger hostel though.

    But a few weeks ago, I was in a hostel in Katoomba (Blue Mountains) where the owner has found a way to minimize this new issue. Everyday from 6 to 8pm, technology was banned from the common area. Since it was a bit cold in the rooms everybody was gathering around the fire and were talking to each other.

    Best way ever to have people starting to talk to each other.

    1. Earl

      Hey Xavier – Very cool idea from that hostel owner! I really think that’s great and would love to see such a thing at more hostels around the world. I’m sure the results were very positive and hopefully it continued far past those 2 hours!

  28. Ryan at Travel and Graphs

    I may be in the minority here, but I do not see this shift as a bad thing. Closer connection with loved ones back home and longer lasting friendships with those who have been with you your whole life are major benefits of the new technology. And in the end, we always vote with our actions. We wouldn’t be online so much if it did not provide us with something we felt was enriching us in some way.

    There are still plenty of opportunities to talk to others in your immediate environment, you just have to create them.

    Regardless, thought provoking piece Earl!

    1. Earl

      Hey Ryan – I’m not too sure…I think that humans are easily influenced and that we think we need to be online often without really knowing why or receiving any benefit. We think we need to check emails every hour, we think we need to upload photos every day or check the news all the time. But there’s not much benefit to that at all. Sitting in the corner of a dorm room surfing the internet aimlessly for hours on end certainly doesn’t give us much benefit either, especially considering the alternatives available while traveling. And while being in touch more often with those at home is definitely a benefit of technology, the more we are able to communicate with someone, the less we appreciate that bond, at least in my opinion, just as is the case with anything that becomes so easy to do.

      It’s an interesting debate for sure and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  29. Uwan

    Read your Blog remind me back when i was traveling in Bangkok, the 1st time i reached at hostel one traveler from Spain greeted me and started talking and the next few hours when everyone came from wandering the city, they greeted and started talking each other, and we be came good friends even just met few hours, planned what we can do tonight and tomorrow, it’s happen everyday, even when one of us wanna go to 7-11, asking whether we want to go along or anyone need to buy something and spent almost every night together.

    I was lucky i stayed at that room and met that awesome fellows traveler ( i think that was the only room had that kind of atmosphere because one of us checked out and came back couple days later, and he got different room, he always come to our room to chat and said i wanna stay in this room, my room is quiet nobody talk).

    The following year i traveled to another country and stayed at hostel, i was expected i’ll find the same atmosphere but it was totally different,nobody talk.

    As “Nomadic” said i love couchsurfing where you can spend the times with the host and other surfers, cooking together and other stuff with everyone can interact,,at least i still get the good atmosphere when meet couchsurfers..

    1. Earl

      Hey Uwan – That seems like the perfect hostel experience, the one you had in Bangkok and that’s what I hope for as well whenever I check in to a new place. Sometimes it does happen, but definitely less and less these days. And couchsurfing is a great option for those looking for full interaction…and luckily, there’s no shortage of couchsurfing hosts in the world!

  30. Shane

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes like this: person A walks in to an empty room in the morning and, seeing no one to talk to, opens their laptop. Person B arrives looking for a chat, sees person A engrossed in their laptop and pulls out their smartphone. This goes on all day until the last person to leave shuts down their computer and goes to bed thinking ‘what a bunch of unsociable bastards.’

    1. Earl

      Hey Shane – That seems about right. And that’s the crazy part, it does go on all day. It’s odd to me how many people no longer even leave the hostel during the day. Sure, some people are working and others have stuff to do online but seeing people spend days inside the hostel without ever going outside is bizarre.

    1. Earl

      Hey Elle – Very true…when keeping in touch with people required some effort, we were much less inclined to do so as often as we do now, freeing up much more time for actual interaction. We’re all guilty, but at least we can still be aware of the situation and try our best to stay away from our devices as much as we can.

      And thanks for the link to your post 🙂

  31. Someday I'll Be There - Mina

    Great post Earl, I just posted yesterday about travel in the old days. Not that I am traveling from a long time ago, I’m a newbie and I’m considered of the generation that grew with a keyboard under their fingers…But when I compare today’s traveling styles to those of the middle ages? Now that was real adventure, counting solely on the locals you meet to get your information, and counting more on the kindness of people for a place to stay at night and so…etc.

    Sure, technology has its dark side on our social life and even, as you mentioned, on the way we try to get our information. though because I am not so good with technology (I know I said I belong to the technologists generations but I also admit that I am not very good with catching up with it) I still tend to ask for directions from locals 😀 It has never ended up to any invitations though, hope it does soon! hehe

    Also my next trip will be the first one after starting my blog, on my last trip I barely logged on the internet, mainly because most hostels I stayed in didn’t have WiFi, only computers and charge 1-2 Euros per 10 minutes so it was kind of lame…But I guess I’ll be guilty of that on my next trip…I hope I remember this post by that time and try to engage is some conversations in hostels!

    1. Earl

      Hey Mina – I’m sure you’ll remember it! And you’re right, when internet did cost money to use, I used less of it as well. Now that it’s free and available in every hostel, cafe, park and airport, I always think I need to check something. Just keep asking direction from locals and don’t stop saying hello to your fellow travelers and I’m sure you won’t get too lost in technology while on your next adventure 🙂

  32. D.J. - The World of Deej

    Great post Earl…I find this happening with me as well. I am no where near as engaged with people as I used to be, and have to stop to take my nose out of the phone. Granted, I talk to people all day in my job, but in my personal life it’s falling by the wayside…

    1. Earl

      Hey D.J. – It’s happening to all of us and I know that I often pull out my phone for no reason at all, only to do something, no matter where I am. I remember when I would smile and say hello to other people instead, but that is happening less and less. Time to make a conscious effort to change that!

  33. Masha (2away)

    I think this is very personal and I agree with Colin (comment above). Unfortunately we’ve also noticed that most of communication that happens in hostels is rather superficial and when you are traveling for an extended period of time, you feel almost immediately if it’s going to click with someone or not. Therefore at some point people become rather selective. Last year we stayed in hostels (almost) all the time during our 4-month trip, met many nice people, some of them became real good friends, so really can’t complain at all!

    1. Earl

      Hey Masha – There is a lot of superficial communication going on and I too can generally know if I connect with someone relatively quickly. But if we no longer even say ‘hello’, we don’t have any interaction at all to help us determine if spending time with someone might be interesting. Seems like your 4-month trip went well though and it’s always wonderful when random people we meet while traveling become close friends!

  34. nan

    Laptops have actually allowed me to communicate with people sitting right next to me that did not speak English… Google Translate. Laptops have allowed me to help stranded and struggling travelers at odd hours of the night. Laptops helped me make plans to reconnect with travelers I met in other countries, I do not own a phone. Once a guy even taught me some art tips through my Adobe programs. Another guy sat and played games on my computer with me. As you can see I am heavily biased towards laptops, without them I would not have been organized or confident enough to cross the ocean.

    I think the real downer is in how people behave and the laptop is getting the blame for that. Through all my travels whenever I was on my laptop it did not prevent me or another from communicating, we used it together or I tucked it away and we were out on the street in a flash on our way with adventures. I love this article because it reminds me that we all need to adjust our attitude daily and to learn how to see something in a different light. The aware friend that emailed about everyone sitting around for nearly an hour not saying a word…he chose not to say a word either? That’s the shame.

    I believe the type of travel determines the frequency or lack of laptops in hand. Someone that wants to take a break for a week or two may be more willing and wanting very much to leave it behind. A person that has been on the road for three months, six months, years, will rely more on this tool to connect and possibly be putting in hours of a part time or full time job . I speak from experience in practicing both ways.

    I think a rise in laptop use is not a social problem, but a decline in common courtesy certainly is. If we could acknowledge one another more in passing and when in a shared space, I speak of the home as well as on the road, well then from giving a bit of our heart in the moment we would give a bit more heart to humanity. There is no tomorrow, there is only NOW. Best to all!

    1. Earl

      Hey Nan – Great points you raise and I certainly agree that there are an infinite number of benefits to having a laptop, even while traveling. I do think though that overall, since we are spending more time on our laptops, which for most people is not a social activity, we are naturally spending less time with those around us. As for my friend, she mentioned to me that she wanted to talk to everyone else but because people don’t look up from their devices these days, it becomes harder for others to try and communicate. I know this feeling as well…if I walk into a room and nobody acknowledges me, it is much harder for me to talk to them than if they looked up and greeted me.

      Glad that your laptop has proven to be so useful and that you haven’t run into these issues too much. Hopefully that will continue!

  35. The Travel Fool

    I am not much on Hostels, although I recently stayed in a Guesthouse which was close. But I agree and I do try and interact with as many people as possible when I travel. Everyone from fellow travelers to shopkeepers, waiters in cafes, street vendors and everyone in between. That’s where I learn about places to visit and see where I am and get inspiration for future destinations. I try not to spend to much time on the computer or uploading photos which sometimes creates problems later when I have a ton of photos to go through. Great post earl.

    1. Earl

      @The Travel Fool – That’s the best we can do…to try and spend as little time as we can in front of the laptop. Of course, we need to spend some time working and uploading photos and all that stuff, but if we can minimize that amount of time, we’ll have far more time to interact with everyone around us. Glad to hear you enjoy talking with everyone you come across during your travels!

  36. Tracey Mclean

    Reading this really hit home… naturally a bit shy, last year when I was in thailand on a solo trip I found myself seeking out the internet cafes to interact with people… sure enough a girl at the internet cafe leaned over and started chatting. We proceeded to travel for a couple of days and still keep contact. As shy as I might be, her initial ice breaker led to two days of social interaction with another traveller. We still keep in contact. I think this hyper technology usage while travelling is a crutch for shyness, and laziness alike 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Tracey – It can definitely be a crutch as it’s so easy to pop into an internet cafe for a few hours to keep oneself occupied. But it seems like in your case, that happened to work out quite well considering that you met another traveler inside!

  37. Rich Polanco

    And the funny thing is… I’m commenting from an awesome hostel I found online 3 hours ago, enjoying the view and having a delicious lunch. There’s people around me, yet I haven’t talked to a single one because the plae has wifi.

    Information addiction is making intellectually smarter, but socially dumber.


    1. Earl

      Hey Rich – Good way to put it and it’s a shame that the scene you described at your hostel doesn’t sound strange to anyone any more. It’s almost what we expect and that is not a good sign. Hopefully you managed to talk to some people eventually over there!

  38. Nomadic Translator @latinAbroad

    sad but true. One of the main reasons why I love Couchsurfing! Every host I’ve had has always then up for conversation and adventures. Like a previous poster said, I try to do my work right before bedtime, in order to maximize my time around a new city or place.

    Great post as always, Earl! I hope it opens the eyes of other travelers, therefore enriching future experiences 🙂

    1. Earl

      @LatinaAbroad – Couchsurfing is a great way to avoid falling into this trap as you are there to interact with your host! And I also try to work late at night after all the socializing is over…even if that leaves me a little tired the next day it still seems worth it.

      1. Loz in Transit (CS)

        Interestingly one of my pet peeves with Couchsurfing was that I imagined people looking online to find a “running mate” for the day when all they had to do was invite the person next to them on the hostel computers.

        Where I stand on this now is, to each their own. Some people enjoy getting lost in their devices or are too shy to engage otherwise. If someone looks preoccupied, we always have the right to interrupt them momentarily and still offer an invitation. These are just mini barriers ultimately. Heck some people might think you’re weird for being too friendly and engaging but travellers usually get the benefit of the doubt.

        1. Earl

          @Loz in Transit – That makes sense of course and I think I just miss the times when talking with others, whether you were shy or not, was just a standard part of every day hostel/hotel/guesthouse life while traveling. And to see it change so drastically, especially when the result is messing around on the internet when we actually don’t have anything to do, does seem a bit sad to me. As related to travel, it would be difficult to come across as too friendly in a hostel setting…and if they do think that now because of all the technology usage, it’s even sadder!

  39. Colin

    I have no point of reference since I started traveling about a year ago. But I think for those introverted types (me) sometimes I desperately need to be alone, if your staying in a hostel you forfeit this by default. I generally agree with your point, its much better to make some human connections than facebook your life away but….if you travel long enough I think theres a time when you almost cannot bare another one of the “where are you from, etc conversations” — for me I just pick my spots.

    1. Earl

      Hey Colin – I agree with you and I think everyone just needs to find the balance between being online/interacting with others that they are most comfortable with. One thing I like to talk about on this site is my belief that the human interactions that take place while traveling often lead to the most rewarding experiences, but of course, I don’t go around talking to every single person I come across and there are plenty of times when all I want to do is be alone.

      I guess my point was that we should at least be open to the idea of interacting with others. And it does seem that many people are no longer open to that and are unwilling to even look up to greet someone new in a hostel because they are unable to look away from their laptop for one second.

  40. Mark

    This post seems so relevant to my situation at the moment Earl. I guess balancing work and random fun travelling experiences takes practice, and a willing to just let go?

    My previous travelling experiences, when I wasn’t working, are full of memories of people I met and fun times we had. Whereas now, I’m working online while travelling, and because of work I need to be online for a good chunk of each weekday. This post has reminded me I need to make more of an effort because I’m guilty of slipping into my work and not coming up for air for several days.

    One thing I struggle with in terms of meeting people at the moment though is that as I get older I just much prefer hotels than hostels (used to be the opposite), even though the chances of random meet-ups are much lower. I just like the comfort of having my own room, and tend to choose hotels where I can get a great breakfast, not your typical backpacker haunts! Still, I’ve nothing to complain about, and maybe just now, in the early stages of my business while I need to grow it in order to be able to afford a life of travelling; I’m best off with my head down.

    1. Earl

      Hey Mark – It does take some effort to find the right balance and believe me, it is a constant struggle. I’ve been working online for 4 years now and I still have trouble getting away from my laptop, more often than I’d care to admit.

      And as for staying in hotels, I often do the same these days as well and that does make a bit of a difference. It takes an even bigger effort to get out there and meet people. But whenever I feel the need to meet other travelers, I often head over to a cafe where they tend to congregate as most destinations have such places.

      Also, like you said, at the end of the day, you do have work to get done and so you must dedicate a decent amount of time to that work. There’s nothing wrong with that of course as we all need to work and earn money. I guess we can just try to make sure that our laptop doesn’t become our entire life and that we still benefit from meeting other people during our travels, at least every now and then.

  41. Elizabeth

    Technology is certainly a huge factor in how we do or do not communicate, especially with strangers. We also live in a world where, for whatever reason, each generation seems to become more fearful and cautious when navigating the world around them. I think of the things I was allowed to do as a kid or that my parents did as children (playing in the woods, roaming the town like vagabonds, etc.) and then I hear about how different it is raising children today. Parents are terrified to let their kids out of their sight. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure if these fears are founded.

    Another reason, and one that may contradict what I’ve just said, may be that more people are traveling, or rather, more types of people are traveling. Because big adventures seem more possible than ever (thanks to the growing online travel community), perhaps more introverted people are traveling. And first-time travelers who are still figuring out the many secrets of travel fulfillment …

    Great post, Earl!

    1. Earl

      Hey Elizabeth – The internet sure has made it easy for so many people to travel and that is obviously a huge benefit. And hopefully many people will discover that one’s travels are much more fulfilling when more time is spent offline and out there interacting with people.

      And that’s an interesting observation about parenting as well. It seems to me that in the countries where technology is not used nearly as much, that fear is much less and parents allow their children to do much more on their own. And back home, it’s not only about children. Everyone seems to be more fearful of the outside world which is maybe why we take so much comfort in being online so often.

  42. TravelingFirefighter

    I’ve always suspected I was doing the right thing but this post confirms it. I’m one of those “weird” ones who still has an old flip phone, internet disabled, with no frills other than a camera and text on it. No Facebook account, no blog, no twitter, none of that.

    All around me I see the newer phones with people staring down at them day and night playing games and what not and I’m glad I haven’t succumb to any of it. I’m not planning on it either anytime in the near future.

    Although I do understand the need for a bit more than the basics are necessary for those making a living online, I personally think people everywhere are losing more experiences than gaining with all the connectivity. It’s hard to “be in the moment” in Bangkok or wherever when you are facebooking and emailing friends from home everyday.

    Seriously, isn’t email (even from just computer cafe’s), texting, and a basic phone on your hip 24/7 enough? Many have traveled with far less than even this and made it just fine.

    Just my 2 cents

    1. Earl

      @TravelingFirefighter – Keep on being ‘weird’! You’re very right and if looked at closely, it does seem that we are losing more than we are gaining by all of this connectivity. The basics are enough, especially when traveling and trying to actually experience a destination. Even when our devices are turned off we are often still thinking about our emails and other stuff, making it harder than ever to be in the moment as you said.

  43. Andrea

    I didnt stay at many hostels while traveling through Europe last year, but the few times I did I was amazed at the laptop checkout I saw. I did meet some people, but most people seemed to keep to themselves. It’s a sad state for sure! Traveling alone I talked to more people on trains and in restauarants, probably because the computers/phones were put away!

    1. Earl

      Hey Andrea – It can be easier to meet people while out and about these days because, as you said, people aren’t generally walking around while on their laptops!

  44. Brian

    It’s not just hostels or travel that is impacted. What you describe reflects an entire shift in how we socialize. Many of us have become much more immersed in our virtual lives than our actual lives. How often do we see two people sitting at a café or restaurant completely ignoring each other while they diddle their devices? How many of us have had the experience of talking to someone and noticing that they’ve stopped paying attention to us and are looking at their iPhone?

    It’s not only that technology has made meeting people on the road a luxury rather than the necessity it once was; it has also made us generally less interested in interacting with real human beings – preferring their avatars instead.

    1. Earl

      Hey Brian – Absolutely…this is happening all over the place, not just with travel as you said. I only related it to travel since that’s the focus of this blog. But you’re right, all the time, and in every country these days, you can easily spot people sitting in front of each other on their phones, with no words being exchanged for long periods of time. It’s crazy really as we really are addicted to being connected now.

      We shouldn’t have to work hard to force ourselves to interact with others around us, but I guess that’s what it has come to these days.

  45. Jaime

    I don’t even want to comment because I am guilty of this. The other day I was thinking of how my experiences in Central America were so different then my experiences in Europe while staying in hostels. I realized that when I 1st start traveling I didn’t focus as much time to my blog as I do now. I haven’t stayed in a hostel the last few months India doesn’t really have them and well in Egypt I’m living in an Apt. I am looking forward to my time in SEAsia when I finally get there and I am going to make an effort to have those crazy meet ups with travelers. I don’t even wanna publish this… I’m ashamed, but it’s true. It’s funny you publish this cus recently Fox Nomad wrote a post about internet addiction and I left a comment on their too that I was ashamed of. Stop making us confess our horrible habits people…lol!!!

    1. Earl

      Hey Jaime – Haha…that’s alright, almost all of us are guilty of this so we all have to confess! Working on a blog does make a difference, that’s for sure, but hopefully when you’re back in the hostel circuit you’ll be more motivated to hang out with all of the new people around you.

  46. Rebecca

    Seriously, it’s like this post is right out of my blog! It’s crazy to see how much is changed in the world of technology in such a short amount of time. Taking time out each day to work is one thing, but surfing the internet just to kill time is another. If you ever catch me traveling with a laptop, seriously, hit me over the head with it. I hate myself for even having a smart phone sometimes!

    1. Earl

      Hey Rebecca – Haha…well, I won’t be the one to hit you over the head because I’m always traveling with my laptop 🙂 But having the devices are okay, using them in moderation is the key!

  47. Adam Mayfield

    As many know, I run, build websites, and TRY to make my own online. It’s hard and I’m struggling but that’s a story for another time. ANYWAY, what I wanted to say was that I’ll never forget my first overseas trip. I was in Thailand at my first hostel EVER. I had no idea what I was doing. No idea where I was going. I felt like a total idiot.

    Coming from the US where it takes an act of god for a stranger to talk to you, I was in for a different experience. I was down stairs sitting out front at the open air tables. I was totally alone and eating my breakfast. Out of no where two people come and ask if they can sit with me. This comes as a shot since there are numerous other seats open. Turns out they were super awesome people and we hung out the whole week I was in Bangkok. I still talk to them from time to time and hope they are life long friends.

    I do most of my working while overseas at night in my bunk before bed. The rest of the time I’m out socializing, snapping photos, and making stories. Listen to what Earl says!

    1. Earl

      Hey Adam – Stories like that are what I like to hear! These days it would be tough as most people sitting a cafe will have their laptops or phone out. It’s hard to approach strangers when they are so engrossed with their devices.

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