“No Roaming Fees”

Last fall, I met up with a lovely friend of mine from Lawrence who was also studying abroad. We made plans to spend a day together in Florence—I know what you’re thinking: what college student just “meets up” with a friend in a foreign country and why would anyone find such serendipity worth reading about? But I promise I’m going somewhere with this article.

Anyway, she and I had been messaging back and forth for some time in order to plan it. After finding the right combination of a mutually available weekend and a cheap plane ticket, I told her which day I was coming. Although a set date and a vague, “I’ll text you when I get there,” would normally be enough, we couldn’t be as ambiguous as that because I don’t have a cell phone plan here.

While my second hour on Spanish soil saw a herd of students positively trampling Vodafone for a data plan as accruing international fees and increasingly restless hands pled their case, I never got that far. It wasn’t a defiant outcry against the perils of connectedness or an intense desire to subvert the social sway, but merely an expense I didn’t want to pay. In the end, it wasn’t an insurmountable adjustment considering I can do all the calling and texting I want, so long as it stays within the comfortable confines of glowing wifi bars and the benevolence of Spanish internet speed.

What my lack of cell phone service did mean, especially when traveling without the security blanket of 4G to put my worries to rest, was that we couldn’t make plans the way you and I normally do. I mean that we couldn’t make tentative plans and then actual plans and then, “oops, I took too long to get ready,” and, “wait, did you mean you’re actually here when you texted, ‘I’m coming’?” Sorry, here is the updated reason as to why it’s two hours later than we planned, tweaking and verifying in order to eventually meet much later than planned in an artsy café with over-priced bakery items.

Rather, about a week before we were to meet, I messaged her excitedly that, “I’ll be at the train station at about 9 p.m.!” to which she enthusiastically responded with a telling variety of party hat and dancing emojis, saying she would see me then—it’s worth noting that my ETA was mostly just an exercise in estimation and mental math, as the Italian train system is anyone’s guess.

After the most nonchalant flight I have ever been on and an incredibly loud and crowded train station with gestures emphatic enough to be understood in any culture, I arrived in Florence. I wandered around for about ten minutes when—voilà—we found one another! To the collective surprise of no one over forty, the way people have met up for hundreds of years pulled through for us and there we were, ready to catch up thanks to the simplicity of commitment.

It’s interesting that I didn’t think much on this until after the fact, when I realized that I felt a weird sense of pride at our ability to get by with one less modern convenience, if only for a day. That is not to say this is a moralizing piece about the dangers of being attached to a device—far from it. I will be the first to admit how technology and all its convenience has made so many months away from home so bearable.

That being said, every once and a while, I think that always being available, thinking of flexibility as a command rather than a suggestion, makes obligation to plans already made seem like everything but. It becomes an idea to fulfill only if it happens to work well with X, Y and Z other things. Keeping up with the times is a necessary consequence of staying with it. But, should you find yourself unarmed for a day —or an hour—waiting for your cracked iPhone screen to be fixed or updating your operating system, it’s a little bit liberating and a lot less time-consuming to meet your friend at 3 p.m. for a coffee and see them there, no ifs, ands or buts about it.