July 12, 2017

I caught up with Lukas Jorgensen while he was in Singapore en route to Malaysia. Dressed in an olive green polo t-shirt paired with chinos, I would never have guessed that this man had spent the past two years travelling across 15 different cities completely off the grid.

De facto, the 36-year-old does not carry any smartphone, laptop or camera with him when he travels. He also does not have any form of social media presence, as he prefers to maintain his privacy. This might make him a ‘caveman’ in modern day society, but one man’s meat is another man’s poison. As someone who is attached at the hip to my smartphone, I was awed by Lukas’s ability to swear off technology completely. Instead, he keeps in touch with his family and friends back in Denmark with the help of postcards, letters, and occasionally visiting internet cafes to make video calls. Intrigued by his modus operandi, I had to find out if technology encumbers people when they travel.


Q: Why did you decide to travel without technology?

A: I was a lawyer working too many hours in a week, constantly attached to my phone and laptop, answering the next email from my boss. Since graduation, my life had been about climbing the corporate ladder and earning more money. I was respected amongst my peers and I had all the money I could ever dream of, but I had no time to spend it. I rarely took holidays, and when I did, they were merely a façade—I was checking my emails and making calls as usual, just in a different country. Ironically, I only realised I had quite literally sold my soul to my job when I was scrolling through Facebook and saw posts of my friends getting married, travelling to exotic destinations, having babies and… well, just having fun. I decided then and there that I wanted that for myself too. So the next day, I tendered my resignation and booked a one-way ticket to South Korea. The next thirty days were a countdown. I had no idea what South Korea would be like—the mystery and the anticipation made me feel alive.

Q: How was your experience in South Korea?

A: I arrived in Seoul, South Korea with just a carry-on and my ATM card, but quickly realised that it was a huge mistake to go there so unprepared [laughs]. I think I was a little carried away with leaving everything behind, and I completely looked over the fact that I couldn’t speak a word of Korean.

Q: How did you get past the language barrier then?

A: During my first week or so, I stayed in hostels. Mind you, it was very disconcerting. Imagine travelling first class and staying in five-star hotels for the past few years, then suddenly finding yourself in a room with five other people. The snores are the worst when there is only a flimsy curtain separating you from your neighbour at 12 a.m. in the morning. Subsequently, I made friends with the receptionist at one of the hostels, and she recommended a job as a language teacher in a private school nearby. It was very useful because I got to learn Korean in the process, and made new friends who showed me around Seoul.

Q: Is that how you fund your trips? By working here and there?

A: I had a sum of savings from my previous job. But working does help to stretch my dollar and also allows me to understand the culture better. I don’t think I would be able to experience Korea the way I did, if I hadn’t become a language teacher.

Q: What is one of your most memorable experience?

A: I guess when someone asks for my contact number and the disbelief on their faces when I tell them I don’t have one. Also, getting asked for photographs a lot. In Seoul, I look very different from the locals with my blond hair and blue eyes. Plus, I tower a few metres over them so I guess that makes me photo-worthy, but I usually turn them down.

Q: Don’t you feel bad?

A: Well, sometimes. But I value my privacy a lot and I’m not too keen on having my face splashed all over someone’s social media feed. Furthermore, it is in line with my policy of no technology unless it is absolutely necessary. With technology and social media, it is very easy to get caught up documenting everything. When you look at the world through a camera lens, your perspective shifts to accommodate the photo, and for your friends on social media. You should be experiencing things to enrich yourself.

Q: What is one thing that you did to enrich yourself?

A: My stint in Queensland, Australia, as a farm hand at a sweet potato plantation. I started chatting with this guy at the supermarket checkout line, and he just offered me a job. It was all very spontaneous, and nothing like I have ever done before. I was tasked to transplant the slips (a cutting taken from a plant for grafting) to the plantation, and it’s a dirty and backbreaking task. I was physically exhausted from the hard labour every day, but I had food to eat and a roof over my head. My biggest worries were only the weather and pests. I didn’t have to worry about anything else, or waking up in the middle of the night to answer yet another email. I was so happy. Furthermore, I managed to meet people from all walks of life who were genuine. People were nice to me because they wanted to, and not because they wanted something from me. They’re like family.

Q: What is one disadvantage travelling off the grid?

A: Sometimes I get homesick, and think of how great it would be to have a phone to call home and hear the voices of my loved ones. If I get really desperate, I will go to an internet café to make a video call.

Q: Do you think travelling off the grid is a great way to learn?

A: Yes. For one, you have to learn how to read a paper map as opposed to relying on Google Maps. I think this is a big advantage in helping someone become more familiar with a new city. Also, you are forced to get out of your comfort zone to ask for help. You have to be sociable and charismatic, and sometimes, even innovative in communicating with someone who doesn’t speak your language.