Don't talk to me: Is it possible to be human free while travelling?
The challenge, the difficulties and the results of human-free travel
Let's be real – I'm not great with humans. I wouldn't say I'm antisocial... But I also wouldn't say I'm the most outgoing person on the planet. I'm very comfortable in the middle. Maybe it's a millennial thing.
So when Booking.com challenged me to travel to New York without talking to anyone, I hopped, skipped and jumped at the opportunity. I'm a tech fan-boy and this was an opportunity to go full-digital for a weekend in the Big Apple.
Booking the hotel
The first job was to pick a hotel, and obviously I wasn't going to walk into some sort of mom and pop travel shop (does anyone, anymore?). I started my search online looking for hotels that could accommodate my, uh, specific requests.
The Aloft hotel in Jersey City has a robot that will deliver room service to your door. That was tempting. But who wants to stay in Jersey City? Not this guy.
I then found citizenM via the booking.com app – it's basically one of the coolest looking hotels I've seen and at a really decent price point for New York City, a perfect choice for business travellers and maybe those millennials with a side hustle. It's about $193/night USD and steps from Times Square.
Booked. Done. See you soon.
Non-human contact: 1 // Human contact: 0
Off to a great start.
I wanna fly away
I chose to fly out of Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport on Porter because of it's proximity to the city (and the office) and all the perks that come with flying with them including free snacks, and booze.
I checked in online the day before. Chose my seat. All that good stuff we've become accustomed to. Hopped in an Uber and did my best not to talk to the driver. Success.
Got to the airport, through security, and sat comfortably at my gate eating my free shortbread cookies, and drinking my freshly made cappuccino.
Then, all of a sudden I hear my name called over the PA system. Here we go.
I had to provide my passport for verification at the desk, which I think should have been done at check-in or prior to entering security. So, between that interaction and telling my flight attendant what my beverage and snack choice would be, we're all tied up at one a piece.
Non-human contact: 1 // Human contact: 1
After landing in NYC's Newark airport (okay Jersey, you're not that bad), I booked an Uber on my phone. Minutes later I got a call from my waiting driver because I was clearly not in the designated pick up location.
I arrived at CitizenM and was surprised to find check-in wasn't very busy, but it could be that it was also 11 in the morning. I was excited to try the self check-in option as it was the entire reason I chose this hotel. But here's when it all went awry.
Because it wasn't busy, a lovely gentleman was eager to help me out. I couldn't outrightly say "Don't talk to me" because hashtag rude. I also couldn't launch into a tirade about how I'm writing an article, because that would get exhausting fast. So I let him help me, and it actually worked out for me because though my room wasn't ready, after a few phone calls he was able to let me continue with the check-in process.
From there, you do everything via the hotel's touchscreen interface and even pay for the room in full on your credit card when you swipe.
The room was small. Very small. But that's why it's a perfect choice for a business traveller. It's got everything you need, in a compact space. The bed was giant and comfortable as hell. It's pushed up against the window so you feel like you're sleeping high above the city.
The room comes equipped with an iPad that greets you on your way in. This little thing will control every aspect of your room from opening/closing the shades to controlling the TV. It's a pretty sweet setup.
I'm feeling parched
After relaxing a bit in the room it was lunch time and I needed to figure out where to go. I downloaded two apps to help me in my quest - Open Table and Yelp. Yelp is great for finding restaurants in your area based on reviews. I don't really use these when I'm back home because I generally rely on word-of-mouth but when you're away and not talking to anyone (including you Tour Bus ticket seller!) it's the perfect app to get some good recommendations.
Open Table is great for recommendations as well making reservation at these fine dining establishments. I chose a sushi place that was conveniently located right beside my hotel. Met up with a friend, had a few drinks, ate some delicious rolls and then headed out to explore.
Note to future self: Don't stay in Times Square ever again. It's a tourist trap filled with overpriced souvenirs, massive chain restaurants and people looking for money.
Non-human contact: 2 // Human contact: 3
I've always wanted to see The Book of Mormon and what better way to do it than on Broadway? Pre-booking online guarantees your seat, but it can be pricey. If you're more of a gambling man try the TKTS booth. Discounted tickets for shows that are playing that day are available, but selection and seating can vary so you might not exactly see what you had your heart set on.
A somber end to the trip was a visit to Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial Museum. I again pre-booked the tickets in advance online and the experience was pretty much talk-free for everyone visiting. I've never seen so many people remain silent before.
The museum was interesting. It did a great job in paying tribute to the victims and the terrible events of that day, but it was also felt very museum-like. You still exit through a gift shop and can even buy a souvenir t-shirt. Not sure how I felt about it.
Non-human contact: 4 // Human contact: 3
If you're keeping score - looks like non-human contact has come out on top — but not by much. I still had to talk to people! We're not completely digital... Yet. Things like restaurants, bars, tours… they all end up having some sort of human interaction. Which, I guess, isn't a bad thing. A mixture of the two is probably the best way to go about it. At the end of the day, customer service agents are there for a personal touch that you just can't get with a machine.
But if you're a business traveler with repeat trips to the same area, multiple times a week, the ability to move quickly and bypass chatty customer service agents is probably worth the switch.