Glenys Bean navigates London with no phone and no credit card ... and has time for a good old blether on the bus.
I've lived in London on two separate occasions and travelled to London on business for 20 years, but earlier this year I decided I wanted to go back to my favourite city simply because I hadn't been to England in four years and was missing my friends. When I was offered a week's stay at my friend's apartment on the banks of London's Thames, the decision was made.
One complication — our household operates with one credit card and one cellphone. So when my partner decided to have a holiday in a different part of the globe I could see there might be a bit of negotiating to do.
I jumped in and decided to see how life in 2019 would be without a card and a device. I'd travelled without either for a lot of my adult life so what was the problem? I would need to research train timetables, buy tickets and book accommodation in advance. I'd need cash and a good map: the A to Z. No problem.
I had three return train trips to book. So much easier to prebook rather than queue at any of the three major London railway stations I was departing from. Booking a month or so ahead would mean discounts — massive savings to be had. A return trip from Paddington to Cardiff cost me £11 ($21) rather than the £80 it would have if I'd purchased it on the day. I booked from the comfort of my office. Credit cards have their uses.
Kiwibank was helpful explaining that if I wasn't using a credit card then cash would be a better option than a direct credit card with all the associated fees. If I ran out of cash I could use any bank that displayed the Cirrus logo. Card fraud and scams are common so I knew it would be best to avoid cash machines in markets and restaurants. My money belt would need to be dug out of a dusty corner in the wardrobe and filled with sterling.
Days before I left I heard a horror story. A friend used her card to book a Thames cruise; she used a cash machine on the high street. The card was scammed, she was followed, her bag stolen and the card taken. Two hours later the crooks had spent £5000 and the New Zealand bank refused to reimburse her. They said not sufficient precautions had been taken to avoid the theft.
The train travel I had organised from home went to plan. Marylebone to Stratford-upon-Avon where my friends turned up on schedule to meet me — prearranged. No hitches — so far so good. My adventure without devices seemed to be working.
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My confidence started to unravel when I picked up my prepaid hire car in Gillingham. I headed off to see friends in Shaftesbury. My map showed some lanes and back roads, but not enough detail and the hire car didn't have GPS. Most people who use GPS technology never give a sideways glance at the beautiful white enamel Victorian road signs, which are sadly now dirty and often obscured from view by ivy and trees. I was relying on those signs. I had to admit driving and navigating without modern technology was difficult for an intrepid 2019 traveller.
Back to London, which has always been a comfortable city for New Zealanders. We feel welcome and are usually able to strike up a conversation with most people. Was it my age or was it modern technology that changed my view? While using public transport over the course of a month I noticed only two people who weren't absorbed on their devices.
I had one encounter that reassured me there is life beyond a smartphone. At the top of one of the iconic London buses I sat next to a woman who was using a pencil and paper to write a note for her son. Wow. In a short time, I learned about Kenneth Kaunda, about what a successful country Zambia had been under his leadership. My new friend was very interested in my country and asked questions about our Prime Minister. There is a possibility a conversation and a laugh with a Zambian stranger could happen on Facebook or in a chat room but for me looking at a person's eyes and noticing their facial expressions beats that.
On the downside, there was one occasion when I found myself on a collision course with a young man on Haymarket. My next stranger was immersed in a world of coffee, cyber chat with a little texting on the side. I could see he was in sensory overload and not 100 per cent capable of navigating pedestrians — including me. From a few footsteps away I heard, "We need to call a meeting to discuss this. I really need to know what you think?" I managed a nifty sidestep any All Black would be proud of and as he altered course I heard the "What do you think?" I replied, "What do you mean, what do I think?" With a wave of confusion, he strode off still engaged in his cyber meeting.
Question — did I have a great holiday without a credit card and device.
Answer — a resounding yes.
Not having any of the accoutrements of the 21 century didn't detract one iota from me enjoying my time in England. I was, however, disappointed that most of the world is addicted to sharing banal details of what they do at every moment of every day with no downtime to think, ponder, be creative or to stop and smell the roses.