To blog, or not to blog?

That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to keep the folks back home in the loop. Or not. Rowenna Davis reports

Picture the scene. You're deep in the South African veldt, surveying the wild and unfamiliar scrubland that stretches out before you. Heat and buzzing insects throb in the air as you try to figure out your path. Suddenly your phone bleeps.

"Hi, darling," a text message flashes. "There's a small village about 10 minutes east – I think it's got a McDonald's: isn't it time for lunch?"

Communication like this sounds surreal, but it's already taking place. This summer, 19-year-old gapper Harry Wilder became famous when his uncle slipped him a two inch-thick, credit card-sized, Traakit device that could locate his position around the world by GPS.

In June, the inaugural Gap Year Safety Conference (see News in Brief, right) called for all of the 250,000 British gappers expected to go abroad this year to be equipped with sat-nav systems. With Traakits available to rent for just £50 a month, Big Brother can move over – Big Mother and Father are taking charge.

GPS tracking is just one of the ways in which technology is revolutionising the gap-year experience. Take Emilie O'Mahony. Sick of university and bored of bar work, the headstrong 21-year-old based just outside Croydon decided to take a year out in Australia. From the other side of the planet, she plans to shop online, bank online and change her university course through UCAS online.

When she goes trekking in the bush, she plans to live-blog the experience, publishing photos and videos in real time. The laptop she's taking with her is connected through Wi-Fi to her Mum's home computer, allowing her family to trace her co-ordinates whenever she logs on.

"If I didn't have internet out there, I'd probably think twice about going," says O'Mahony. "My Mum knows I'm a survival person, but it's a huge reassurance for her to know I'm going away with so much technology.

"She's not trying to keep tabs on me – I'm the first one in our family to go off and see the world, and she's really proud of that; she just wants me to know I'm an email away if I need anything."

But doesn't all this communication malarkey sort of defeat the point of "adventurous travel"? Perhaps it's easy to say that when you've not been on one of the one-in-three gap years that, according to Gap Year Safety – which organised this year's conference – gets cut short in some kind of disaster. Still, isn't it a bit, like, cheating?

"I'm still going across to the other side of the world," O'Mahony says. "My family are still in England in the rain, whilst I'm living it up in the sun and having all these new experiences abroad. I just plan to remind them of that constantly!"

But there are some more practical issues raised by all this technology. For a start, where do you draw the line between "bloggable" and "unbloggable"? If you get the runs in the middle of the bush, do you publish that kind of thing?

"Probably not as a video, but I might write about it," says O'Mahony.

Also, there is the question of whether anyone cares about all of these Tweets, Facebook updates and live-blogging extravaganzas, or whether it is just adding to the unread clutter on the web that tells us sweet FA about the country in hand. Surely, time would be better spent engaging with the place itself?

But 21-year-old trainee teacher Cassie Vandepeer, with six hours before her flight to Tanzania, told me how her blog about teaching in an African school will make an excellent resource for her students in Somerset. "Other teachers have already said they want to know how the education system works there, and hopefully [my blog] will bring Africa to life for the kids in the classroom," she says.

New media also gives those donating to gap-year trips a chance to see how their money is being spent. Those funding less-righteous gappers than Vandepeer may appreciate being able to check whether a mission to "facilitate local water supplies" really is about solving drought, or about downing developing-world-priced drinks in foreign bars.

Used well, technology can be empowering and enlightening. But used excessively, it could risk taking the "gap" out of gap year altogether.

So if you ever find your phone flashing in the South African veldt, think carefully about whether you want to answer – you can always switch it off.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission: SThree: SThree are a global F...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Guru Careers: Marketing Compliance Assistant

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Compliance Assistant to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders