Patterns & Beauty in Travel

This month one of my favourite topics – travel! Topical too, because I’m just about to set off on a year of remote-working and volunteering abroad myself 🙂

First of all some pretty stuff…travel icons can make some great tessellating patterns:


In terms of using travel data, some beautiful maps can be created showing the most frequent travel routes. Some classic examples here show various transport methods within the US by foursquare, and flights from the Netherlands by jetlink, respectively:


For worldwide patterns of travel routes, the European Commission and the World Bank created this Travel time to major cities map to demonstrate that “The world is shrinking: Cheap flights, large scale commercial shipping and expanding road networks all mean that we are better connected to everywhere else than ever before…it also highlights that there is little wilderness left – only 10% of the land area is now ‘remote’ (more than 48 hours from a large city).”

Map of land based travel time and shipping lane density

Travel time to major cities (in hours and days)

With the world getting ever smaller, more and more people are taking to travel, not just for holidays but longer-term as part of their working and living lifestyle. This is particularly prevalent amongst the digital workforce – not only because their work is more suited to being done remotely and tech teams are typically younger so have less ingrained habits / traditions of working in-situ, but also because I think travel provides the perfect antidote to digital, which surely the sector’s workers need all the more.

There are various articles (here , here or here) citing how digital is addictive and making our connection to the world and our social interactions with each other more shallow, reducing our appreciation of the physical, and harming our mental wellbeing, creating a market for digital detoxes such as There are other wider, potentially more serious consequences of the new digital age, such as the existential threats that Elon Musk notably recently called for regulation to protect against, before it’s too late.

As for me, I’ve been working on being more ‘present’ to combat the digital inundation, and limiting my use of personal tech. I’m also about to set off on a bit of an epic adventure to do so even more! For me, travelling is hugely different versus the benefits that a holiday can bring:

  • Whilst the typical tourist takes photos as if their life depended on it (even though they probably never look back on the hundreds of resulting photos!), when you’re travelling you instead tend to spend the time personally experiencing (instead of digitally recording) your new, continually refreshed, surroundings.
  • Whilst a holiday can be, and usually is, planned quite thoroughly in advance to allow you to relax, to do so for a longer period is impractical – so travelling fosters independence and self-sufficiency to day-by-day adapt and be more comfortable with the unexpected.
  • Travelling also encourages being observant and alert to other people’s behaviour, especially in vastly different cultures; whereas on holidays tourists typically view cultural traditions as a spectacle, it’s essential to embrace and adapt to them more fully if you’re there for longer.
  • Travelling invariably involves talking to many more new people, and immersing in a different non-routine way of life. Over an extended period, this tends to challenge your version of the status quo, and causes you to drop your expectations / “should dos”, and such freedom encourages your true “want to dos” to emerge.

In short, I love the freedom that travelling creates, like nothing else!

Having said that travel is a good digital antidote, there are still plenty of digital ideas to smooth your travel organisation, provided they are used sensibly / sparingly at the right time & place. My favourites (and no, I don’t get commission on any of these!) include:

  • If you’re amenable to spontaneous flights, they can be very cheap – sign up for notifications at Jack’s Flight Club, exploiting temporary mispricings in flights.
  • There are various new travel tracking apps – I’m using the new PolarSteps that maps your route using phone triangulation (instead of GPS which drains your battery). Others include LiveTrekker.
  • For local navigation, of course I’d recommend first just exploring by walking around, but it’s also sometimes useful to download Maps.Me (or other similar) when you have wifi and occasionally make use of free GPS. Some phone providers are also starting to offer plans that permit using your UK data outside of the EU, since EU roaming is becoming standard. The world is getting smaller indeed…
  • For budgeting and bill-sharing if you’re travelling as a group, Settle Up is awesome (or Splitter / SplitWise). Each person can just add their payments real-time to the app, and specify who it covered – the net amounts owed take this into account.
  • For foreign currency, I’d recommend the new Monzo, a contactless Mastercard allowing you to pay spot exchange rates with no fees (so a better rate than every other option I’ve come across). It’s also preloaded at a limit you feel comfortable to carry around, and since it stays in your home currency until it’s spent, you can transfer it across to future countries if you haven’t spent exactly what you thought. There’s also a budgeting feature as part of the app.
  • If you’re seeking ways to make your travel sustainable, I’ve found invaluable for listing a huge variety of volunteering opportunities, available in almost every country, in return for food & board. The work is typically a few hours a day on anything from horse treks to painting houses, and much more besides!
  • If you’re instead trying to make longer-term digital travel a reality, you could start off with Remote Year, an organised year travelling hassle-free with like-minded others including skills workshops, but comes with a hefty fee that they encourage you to see as in lieu of rent.
  • Once you’re off and away and not planning to be in your home country for a number of years, you might want to consider an e-residency (applications are rising fast due to Brexit!). This could be really interesting if we get to the point where the working nomadic community increases to a majority, such that the ‘of-no-fixed-country’ population effectively becomes a nationality in their own right!

Whilst I’m travelling for the next year, I’ll still be blogging about data-related things on here but also tracking my travels on 🙂

One thought on “Patterns & Beauty in Travel

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