I went to Nepal last month.
With Lauren recovering from mono and the rainy season already starting, trekking was off the cards. No Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Circuit for me, at least not this year.
Nepal is plagued by chronic electricity shortages – scheduled power cuts happen every day for several hours, not to mention the unscheduled ones. Unless you’re using cellular data, internet speeds are glacially slow as well. It’s a terrible place to try to get any work done online.
For three weeks, then, I couldn’t do what most visitors do in Nepal (trek), and I couldn’t do what I usually do anywhere else in the world (work). What on earth did I actually do, then?
I stepped away.
For the first week, I didn’t even turn on my laptop. In fact, the only reason I even powered it up then was to back up my photos.
I didn’t reply to emails, tweets or any of the other ways that people try to get my attention online.
The travel and technology articles that queue up to be read every day got cleared without a second glance, the ongoing hustle for new business got set aside, the notifications got turned off on my phone.
I didn’t do any writing, or reply to blog comments. My minimal level of interest in Facebook fell to nothing. I didn’t check likes, shares, retweets, visitor numbers or any of the other things that supposedly tell you how successful you are online.
I was more isolated from the rest of the world than I’d been in a long time… and I was ecstatic about it.
I was no longer a travel blogger, or a tech blogger, or a freelance writer, or a social media addict. The only screen I stared at for hours a day was that of my Kindle, lying in a hammock outside my guesthouse and lazily swinging in the breeze.
I read more books in those 21 days than the 21 months that preceded them. I talked to more random travellers than I had in forever, too – the young British couple that were the furthest from home they’d ever been, the pair of medical students on a placement at the local hospital en-route to India, the American guy that I shared beers with on a roof terrace and swapped stories of our escape from the cubicle.
There was no talk of press trips, or Instagram followers, or blog posts. No incoherent invitations for a “collaboration” with some third-rate insurance company, or circular arguments between travel bloggers explaining how their particular approach to selling out is better than everyone else’s.
God it was refreshing.
It made me remember that the reason I left corporate life behind for good nearly three years ago, and why I’ve travelled for so long, has nothing to do with the online world. It’s for the random conversations about unknown destinations, the shared bonding over bumpy bus rides and bad plumbing, the living in the moment that requires disconnection to achieve.
Lauren and I did more sight-seeing in two days in Kathmandu than we’d ever done before in such a short time.We took photos of pigeons in Durbar Square and sipped warm Coke at a restaurant perched high above it. A small child wanted his photo taken in Bhaktapur, and the smile on his face when I showed it to him could have lit up a room.
We climbed hundreds of steps past hungry monkeys to visit a huge stupa, watched bodies being cremated beside a holy river and picked our way past cows and down hidden alleyways to get delightfully lost in a new city.
It’s amazing what turning off your laptop can do.
The magic of Nepal – and a willingness to give myself the time and mental space to appreciate it – reinvigorated me when I needed it most. I’d thought I was tired of travel, sick of being on the road. As it turned out, that’s still the thing that excites me more than anything else.
I just needed to step away from all the crap that had been obscuring the view, and throw myself wholeheartedly back into the fray. I’ll be doing the same again soon in Sri Lanka, and many more times in the coming months.
I’m not interested in #hashtags or engagement, brand ambassadorships or day rates, or any of the other noise that dominates my Twitter feed. I just care about independent travel, and the people that do it.
Nepal reminded me why I’m one of them.
Our stay in Pokhara was at Hotel The Cherry Garden, and we were very impressed. It was super-clean and comfortable, in a chilled-out spot a few minutes from the lake, run by a lovely family. The power in Pokhara was very unreliable, so there were some hot and sweaty nights, but that’ll be the case anywhere else in town that doesn’t have a generator. There were a few hammocks that were ideal for lazing around in the afternoon , and I’d highly recommend drinking as much of the masala tea on offer as possible — it was the best I had in Nepal.