It is here in this quiet town where enchanted poets, novelists and composers like Lord Byron, Hans Christian Andersen and Richard Strauss visited and exclaimed about. It’s here where I found natural beauty, simplicity and the most intricate architecture and carvings. It is here: Sintra. Otherwise known as a fairytale medieval town surrounded by hills, valleys and lush trees just outside of Lisbon. I had several friends mention that I had to make a day trip to the small town, including my Uber driver! Sintra is a haven for beauty, and I had the most peaceful time exploring the hills and mansion. But something worrying caught my attention – the inability for traveler these days to disconnect from their phones and look up at the beauty around them.

Quinta da Regaleira

After getting lost through the small town, I made my way to the early 20th century Quinta da Regaleira mansion and the mystical gardens on site. I wandered the hills, climbed up and down stone steps, discovered wells and dark caves. I hopped stones, explored grottos and underneath waterfalls – completely in wonder and awe at the beauty that was everywhere. But with seeing beauty, comes wanting to document and share it. I get it – I mean, that’s what this blog here is for: to document and share my photographs. And I even took a few InstaStories for the ‘gram! But I sensed this inability to turn off.

While it was heavily crowded with tourists, more so than Lisbon itself, I quickly found myself frustrated and irritable by the amount of phones glowing, selfies being shot and eyes glued to these bright screens. Was anyone truly present?

Observations in Disconnection

I watched so many families not connecting with their children because they were so intensely focused on getting the perfect family shot. I watched a woman spend 10 minutes moving their chin down and up, their face left to right, to get that perfect selfie. There is nothing wrong with a good selfie, don’t get me wrong. But no one was present. At least the vast amount of people that were more focused on getting selfies than experiencing their surroundings. The majority of travelers weren’t looking up, admiring the lush mountains right ahead, marveling at the massive stone castle above their very heads. Heads were down and glued to Instagram stories. It reminded me so much of an experience I had in Egypt.

Mindless Instagram Scrolling in Egyptian Temples

I’ll never forget this moment while I was in Egypt… I was inside the great Temple of Karnak, studying the ancient hieroglyphics and listening to my entertaining tour guide teach us about what the symbols were describing. As the glow of the lights reflected magically along the carvings, these historic temple walls providing an look of mystique to our group, I noticed a girl standing next to me. She was about my age…and on her phone, scrolling Instagram. Double-tapping and looking at photos of other peoples lives and travels. I wanted to look at her and say – “You’re standing in an ancient Egyptian Temple with history all around dating back so far, it’s almost unfathomable. And we’re only here for 30 minutes. What are you doing?” But I just looked at my tour guide, listened and marveled at the history right in front of my eyes. While I never said anything, that image is still etched in my mind.
I’m fearful of where technology is taking us. Will we even further continue to disconnect – with our family, our loved ones, the people and life experiences that truly matter? While I am deeply involved and in love with social media, particularly Instagram and Pinterest, I also consciously turn off and set aside specific times to check in. I don’t want to look back on my life when I’m older and not remember the experiences I had, the trips I went on, the adventures I had and the people I loved and made memories with because I was too busy scrolling and double tapping. I want to live it. 
I’m curious to know what your thoughts on social media and our growing inability to disconnect from technology? Should we be worried or will we slowly disconnect from our phones over time once we’ve had enough of it? Is this just a phase in our evolution? Comment below your thoughts and predictions!

Why Can’t We Be Present in our Travels? Observations from Portugal

November 23, 2018


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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical moments through my lens and my pen. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I'm inspired to share the light around me. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.