As little tech as possible

On my recent travels I met a fellow cycle tourer who had pulled over to tinker with his wireless cycle computer which had decided to stop working; I prefer to use a wired one (similar to my computer mouse), it uses one less battery. He was also using his phone with Google maps to navigate and locate camp sites; he asked my method: “old school, map and compass” I remarked, that and I wasn’t stopping at camp sites. My method wasn’t for him, and his wasn’t for me; I was happy I was travelling lighter.

Each to their own I say (as the other cycle tourer said to me). These days I prefer to use as little tech as possible, which is kind of strange since I’m a computer technician. Gone are the days when I get excited about some new gadget although I do remember being an early adopter of such things as webcams and MP3 players.

While my cycle computer hasn’t let me down (ones in the past have such as when the contacts get worn out from constantly unclipping the device – something I rarely do now), my map did. Only once though. It wasn’t up to date with Ireland’s motorway network, the M-roads crossing the country replacing some N-roads (the former not accessible to cyclists), and some other road number changes, so my trip from Galway to Dublin took some route-plotting effort that I hadn’t foreseen.

That’s not to say that an out-of-date sat nav couldn’t have had a similar issue, or a phone that ran out of juice or went wrong in some other manner could have left me stranded. My map of Ireland (compared to my UK one) lacked camp site locations (I’d tried to find one that had these marked but it had already proved a challenge finding the map I wanted to take with me).

Since I was camping rough pretty much every night (aka ‘Wild Camping’) I knew I wouldn’t have places to charge up a plethora of devices. At a camp site I stopped at last year they had special charging lockers, but these you had to pay for the privilege of using (above and beyond the cost of the electricity). This is partly why I didn’t take my Action Camera on my trip; the battery pack would needed charging up every night and memory cards swapped or data transferred. Too much hassle. That and I’d have a mass of video footage to sift through and edit upon my return.

In the end, the battery-operated tech I took with me were as follows…

  • My camera (complete with three sets of 4xAA batteries) for which I only partly used the second set but knew I could buy more if needed. I also had enough memory cards although one, when I came to swap it, briefly refused to be recognised by the camera when I installed it, but I had a spare and a visit to an electrical shop and it being tried on a laptop there spurred it back into life. Again, I could have purchased more enroute.
  • My phone (which isn’t cheap and simple and lacks Smartness), I kept switched off and only turned on briefly every few days to check for messages remained with the battery indicator on full.
  • I opted to take my ebook reader with me with rather than “enough books” since I didn’t know how many would be “enough”. On my previous Scotland trip I read, fittingly I thought, Around the World in 80 Days, and finishing it picked up another book to read from a secondhand/curiosity shop. On this occasion I had a list of books on my gadget to read but ended up only half way through The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and my old eReader getting low on power.
  • My lights. These are quite fancy ones that my brother bought for me but serve me well. They have built-in rechargeable batteries that can’t be replaced and are charged via USB sockets. Devices such as these are always a concern for me since I’m always conscious of the inabilty to swap in some regular AA or AAA batteries should I need to. But these lights last a good number of hours, give me warning when running low, and have some low power modes to conserve on power if needed. In the end I only used them one evening, preferring to keep my riding to the daytime.
  • I took no chargers with me other than a USB lead compatible with my phone and lights. I would have needed to use a USB power outlet or purchase or to borrow someone else’s USB charger if I’d have needed a top-up at any point. A McDonalds* that I stopped at once for an early breakfast had such plug sockets. In hindsight I should have took the charger for my eReader so I could have kept it topped up, and then I may have found more time to read rather than perhaps avoiding reading in order to save some reading time for the ferry trip home.

*This was the first time in my adult life when I’d eaten at a McDonalds. No other places were open yet on this morning and I fancied something. The Sausage & Egg McMuffin and Breakfast Wrap went down well (although how well these fuelled me whilst cycling I don’t know since I stopped again further on that morning for a proper breakfast), however I’ve supposedly earned myself a Big Mac and Fries for £1.99.

Other travellers take a lot more. Preferring to avoid tech and not being someone that is glued to a phone I’m always conscious of people who are; seeing families on holiday all glued to their phones is a depressing sight. While I did miss doses of social interaction I like not being constantly dialed into the internet; I like being able to switch off. All this tech seems to over-complicate life. All these connections weigh us down. Travelling each day as light as possible, I have come to learn, is far more relaxing, especially when you have hills to climb.

Back home now and I have my model railway to get on with and this is something else that can incorporate an array of tech with modern layouts using ‘DCC’ rather than DC which simply controls the trains by varying the current through the rails. Again, I prefer the latter.

There is a fear of being left behind where tech is concerned; not adopting new methods early on can lead to a hurdle later on when a change is forced upon us. I don’t think we should have any shame in living without certain technology in our lives, nor should we be forced into doing things a certain way: I declined the use of Contactless Payment when I was issued with a new bank card with the feature, while I do use internet banking. I much prefer cash although having to pay with Euros in Ireland was a challenge; is it just me or are the coins poorly designed? They are all too similar and I feel for anyone who is visually impaired. ‘Sterling’ is far more varied with its different shapes and colours (although the £1 coin has recently been replaced with a Euro-lookalike).

I try and avoid using Self Service Checkouts although I’ve also been noticing a rise in do-it-yourself coffee machines for which I’m despising the use of also: not only do I despise disposable cups but to pay for “proper coffee” that is supplied to me in one, that has been made by a machine, that I have to operate myself, and paying for that privilege (generally to the same degree) where does it end? It’s for convenience? It’s for speed? Only perhaps in a world that is overpopulated by a people who need their fix – garages and supermarkets are all jumping on the bandwagon to provide these machines and it bothers me.

“Ignorance” used to have a less negative connotation I think; I like to be aware of what tech is around that other people are using, so that I’m not completely clueless, but the choice to actively avoid using certain things or doing things a certain way is my choice to make – a sad thing is when people lose sight of the fact that there is a choice. Maybe I need to chill out!?

In some way it seems that I took a step backwards when I stopped watching television or driving a car, but to me each of these choices are a step forward. Then there is WordPress here itself that rolls out new features while I’m still managing to happily use their ‘Classic’ “Add New Post” page; if you’re struggling to get to this try:

In the end I find life to be far more relaxing when travelled without too much tech; as lightly possible.


  1. It’s funny that quite a few, although still a minority, of people who work or have worked with computers eschew technology. My son finds it amusing that I’ve been using the same mobile phone since 2003, despite being able to program smartphone apps if I put my mind to it.

    • I too have heard of a few “high profile” cases, such as people working for Google to decide to ‘eschew technology’ as you say. I don’t know whether we just get sick of it, working with computers each day and feeling the need to switch off from it, or see through some sort of charade, real or imagined.

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