PÓL Ó CONGHAILE
THE TRAVEL EXPERT
Travel writing is plagued by clichés. The ‘hidden gem’; the ‘city of contrasts’; the ‘bustling market’. Used so often, terms like these suck the life out of places, boring readers rather than inspiring them. How to avoid these traps? I encourage writers to speak to the senses. Not just to look at a scene, but to ask: ‘What am I seeing? What can I hear, taste, feel and smell?’ Instead of that lazy ‘bustling market’ line, zero in on the grumpy man selling green sprigs of mint, or the slap-thunk sounds of fish being gutted and chopped. Reach past that ‘ charming’ country house or ‘ azure’ ocean for personal descriptions that put us right there with you — ‘ the room feels like a hug’, or ‘I taste salt on my lips’. Spark a human connection. Make us care.
This notion of inhabiting a momnt came to mind when I read that Bali’s Ayana Resort and Spa has banned the use of phones around one of its pools. Yes, it has the whiff of a PR gimmick (here I am, writing about it). But it also speaks to very un-gimmicky concerns: our anxiety about 24/7 connectivity, our constant state of distractedness, our penchant for travelling based on ‘Instagramability’, rather than what’s going on inside and outside the frame.
Clearly, our devices have enormous benefits, and technology isn’t going back in the bottle. But it’s healthy to question how we use it. When I wake up, take a break, sit down or see something new or unusual, my first reaction is often the same — I reach for my phone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. So much of my screentime feels flittery and distracted, snacky and bitty rather than focused and purposeful. But when I heard about the Bali phone ban, it gave me an idea. Why not take that old travel writing trick, and apply it to life?
So I ate a lunch without scrolling through news feeds. I took a walk without listening to a podcast. I watched what was going on around me; I let my thoughts have a play. In a café with my eight-year-old son, we played a game - closing our eyes and listing things we noticed, from chats around us to the smell of toasties. Forget FOMO. This was a giggle-inducing hit of JOMO (Joy of Missing Out).
We don’t need phone bans. We just need, every now and then, to slow down. To actively look and listen. To notice the small stuff hiding in plain sight, to travel in the moments around us. We don’t require techniques, or to worry about being mindful or daydreaming. There’s no need to take notes (unless you’re writing for Weekend, of course). Just re-connect with the real world, using a filter Instagram could never invent: yourself.