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The digital nomad is both here and elsewhere, and so he's often nowhere.
The digital nomad is both here and elsewhere, and so he's often nowhere.
Julie Eigenmann

LAUSANNE — Margaux and her partner, Séverine, have spent more than a year traveling in a van from the United States to Patagonia. It makes sense then that they've come across #Vanlife, an Instagram hashtag van users like themselves use for posting pictures of their lives on the open road.

The couple, from Lausanne, enjoy browsing the images people share but don't use the hashtag themselves. "These photos often make us laugh," says Margaux, 27. At the same time, she doesn't see most of the posts as entirely honest representations of life in a van. "People show an idealized reality to say how great their lives are," she says.

Margaux and Séverine, 31, have often been in a perfect position to observe the obsession some travelers have with social networks. "In Mexico, we saw people spend hours in front of a waterfall with a GoPro camera and a drone, but they didn't go for a swim," Séverine says.

The couple does, of course, use social media, but just to share parts of their trip — not publicize every little aspect. They sporadically feed their Instagram account and the Facebook profile they created for the trip, but only for their immediate friends and loved ones. "It's a way to keep everyone posted. But we sometimes don't update the accounts for three weeks," says Margaux.

"We'd thought about doing a blog, but we wanted to avoid the pressure of having to write continuously," Séverine adds.

Digital dependency

Another couple, Denis and Laetitia from Geneva, did choose to keep a travel blog, Snailing The World. The two 25-year-olds left Switzerland by bike a little over a year ago, and are now in California, planning to reach Buenos Aires in a maximum of three years. As passionate as they are about photography and video, they felt, nevertheless, that a blog would be a good way to express themselves. It is also a way to give their wandering a bit of credibility. "As our future is uncertain, it could one day be a sort of business card," Laetitia explains.

But doesn't the obligation to be connected hinder their freedom? The pair tweaked their idea to make sure that the blog didn't become a constraint. "We were overly optimistic at first. We thought we'd publish articles every two weeks. But we don't want to have to stop to work on the blog," she says. "The journey is lived in the present!"

Technology means that trips no longer allow travelers to break with their daily environment.

Being too connected, Laetitia and other travelers have discovered, means enjoying less. Franck Michel, a French anthropologist and the author of many books on traveling, agrees. "The traveler's freedom is hampered by blogs and other Internet uses because they create dependency," he explains. "A traveler who's welcomed in a village may miss the most important part of the experience if he only thinks of filming or photographing rather than feeding his relationship with his guests."

Technology means that trips no longer allow travelers to break with their daily environment, the anthropologist says. They may feel like they have, but it's only an illusion. "They've become actors of the trip," Michel argues. "They are constantly putting on a show, even if they don't realize it or want to. When they take a selfie in an exotic scenery, they sometimes take less time to admire it than the ones who receive the picture. The digital nomad is both here and elsewhere, and so he's often nowhere."

The anthropologist also notes how some travelers, in their rush to post a photo, cut short their special moments. "We feel a form of urgency," he says. "Our society is so afraid of emptiness that it fills its free time in the same way as working time, always timing to a timeframe. This is miles away from what a real trip should be."

Little wonder that some people are beginning to make conscious choices about not being connected while traveling. Michel believes the trend is just getting started. "In the 21st century, exoticism and adventure will be about traveling offline," he predicts.

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