But don't travel without a phone. A smart phone, more than any other thing let's you travel further off the beaten path and have interactions with people you don't share a language or any other understanding with.
I've traveled extensively on motorcycle and there have been so many times where I'll be in the middle of a mountain in the middle of no where and the thought has popped into my head "this would be crazy if not suicidal if I didn't have the combination of maps, translate and some basic search".
Even 20 years ago, you would have needed survival and language training to do things that anybody can do today because of a smart phone.
In a lot of countries, a smart phone is necessary. It is how things are paid for, how metro schedules are shown, how tickets are scanned, it is how local taxis are hailed.
When I am abroad, my phone lets me real time translate menus! I recently had a conversation with a 5 year old kid in China mediated by near-real time phone translation.
And while I'll agree knowing how to get around nature w/o a phone is a very useful skill to have, once I am back in the metro, knowing how to use a smartphone within the local ecosystem is just as much a skill for a traveler as anything else.
 Well the local Uber equivalent.
The first time I traveled abroad (years before smartphones became commonplace), my boss insisted I pay attention to every conversation, even when I didn't speak the language. It turns out, in a lot of languages, there are a lot of unexpected cognates. And you can pick up quite a few words in very little time just by listening.
You say your phone helped you carry on a conversation in a language you didn't speak, but have you tried it without the phone? It works better than you probably think. Imagine you saw your favorite movie for the first time in a foreign language. Don't you think you could figure out most of it from visuals, emotions, and context? In my experience, you can understand about 80% of a movie without speaking a word of the language. 5 year olds don't know that many words, anyway!
Also: menus? If I'm traveling somewhere where I can't read the menu, I probably don't know what any of the food is, either, so I'll eat anything. Trying new and unknown native customs is the whole point of traveling.
This all sounds to me like people who say "I need GPS or I'll never find anything!" Actually, my friends who don't use GPS got lost the first few times, but now know the city better than anyone. My friends who use GPS every time, OTOH, still don't know where anything is.
Doesn't work that well for Chinese and English. :)
> If I'm traveling somewhere where I can't read the menu, I probably don't know what any of the food is, either, so I'll eat anything. Trying new and unknown native customs is the whole point of traveling.
I mean yeah, but I want to know the general theme. I accidentally ordered Pine Nut ice cream in Mexico, it was delicious. (I expected pineapple, nope, something better!)
But even being willing to try interesting foods, I want to at least know I'll get something I can eat. I don't care if it is served with a side of stinky tofu and it is spicy enough to burn down a small forest, but there are certain foods I've tried (repeatedly!) and found out I don't like. I'll revisit them every few years and try again, but I don't want to order entrails 3x in a row by mistake.
But hey, turns out squid jerky is pretty good!
> Actually, my friends who don't use GPS got lost the first few times, but now know the city better than anyone.
Of course, but if I have to meet someone somewhere, I'll use GPS because "sorry I got lost exploring" is a crappy reason to delay someone else.
I'm more than willing to wander around places w/o GPS. But sometimes I actually need to get someplace.
Or heck, just get out of a Tokyo subway station. :) (Though some of the stations are a LOT of fun to get lost in!)
It's convenient, but never necessary. I've backpacked through 40~ countries, often without a local SIM card, and was fine.
I would never have made it to many of the places where I was at without a phone or at least some other GPS
Step 1: Buy a burner phone with basic capabilities (maps, etc)
Step 2: Import critical contacts from your main phone
Step 3: Share your burner number with a set of friends just in case
Step 4: ???
Step 5: Profit (phone-free, enjoy your vacation without distractions and without being worried)
It really wasn't that long ago that smartphones and tablets didn't exist, and hundreds of millions of people still managed to travel by using printed maps and asking local people for directions. I think that still works?
There are a million common ways that access to cash can be impeded. Carrying a small extra wallet is no inconvenience whatsoever. I’m not sure why it would count as excessive. I think it is insane and massively short sighted to rely solely on cards. I bet I could find thousands in Puerto Rico who agree.
Nevermind privacy - it’s possible I would like my real-time location and purchase history to not be reported to the USA intelligence community in real-time, occasionally. Cards do this as a matter of course.
I don’t have paper maps, and carrying offline digital copies of maps of the regions in which I intend to travel on all of my devices is quick, easy, and convenient.
The iPhone has my regular SIM-card, the Android phone has a local SIM-card and acts as a WiFi hotspot for the iPhone. Both phones have offline map data in various apps (TomTom, OsmAnd, Google Maps).
This way I will always have a device to call 911/112, find a hotel or a gas station.
I have a decent amount of experience traveling internationally before the smartphone era. It was mostly fine, but with the smartphone is way better. And I had a couple of difficult unforeseen circumstances that would have been made far easier with one.
The combination on word seduction which is a frequent topic of spam links and the invalid cert made me think this was some type of spam. I'll go back and read the article.
"Phone-as-camera" - people have always traveled with cameras since it became practical. They took crappy pictures of fireworks, or whatever, on film. Perhaps a bit more mindfully because of the limited amount of exposures on a roll of film, but it's still a major way to capture a memory. A shutterbug would spend just as much time shooting film and not being "in the moment" as someone with a phone. It's just that now phones work as pretty decent cameras along with all their other features.
"Phone-as-nav" - this is a great advance over paper maps in that it tells you where you are on the map.
"Phone-as-comms" - also a great advance in that you can get in touch with travel companions or make contact with locations.
"Phone-as-distraction" - aha. THIS is where I think the issue comes in; if you are too busy tweeting or reading email or playing Clash of Knights while you're visiting the Pyramids or the Forum Ruins, THAT'S a problem. That's where you need to put down the phone and be a part of what you've traveled to ostensibly see.
So, assuming you agree that using the phone for the empty distraction is bad, the second step is just stop using it that way at home, every day, long before you set out on vacation. Get used to that and improve every day of your life.
Finally, the third step will be to continue that healthy habit, and avoid the "phone-as-distraction" the entire time you're on vacation, so you can let the vacation be your relaxation, your entertainment, the place you build relationships with the people around you.
Even if it's only used for utilitarian purposes, the care and feeding necessary if you land in a different country with a mobile phone is pretty high:
- find a SIM card shop
- research which card/plan meets your needs
- pay, screw around with it until you understand how to
- in countries with weak infrastructure, spend lots of unplanned time finding a signal and waiting on slow data
- a quick internet search for bus routes or whatever often turns into standing on the corner for 45 minutes oblivious to everything around you.
- making sure to keep it charged, bring a backup power bank, etc.
- deal with reloading it with more money once the data runs out, which can often sink a few hours or more in remote places.
All that said, I'm still not giving up my phone the next time I travel but I do often resent the amount of time it takes to deal with one.
no-camera - do not document, experience
people-as-nav - ask someone
people-as-comm - talk to someone nearby
no-distraction - :)
This will not resonate with some people. That's fine. Everyone's specific situation is different. But the author presents a perfectly valid way of doing something, something to perhaps give a try once in a while. Just leave your hotel without a phone for a day, and see what happens. If that's too much, put it on do-not-disturb, and resolve to not take it out of your pocket except in a genuine emergency (or for some pre-determined reason, like an "I'll text you around 3pm to let you know where I am" kind of thing). There are many pleasant in-between alternatives to the binary of "have a phone and be on it all the time" and "don't have a phone at all".
The point of the post is to get people thinking about how much they spend time on their phone to the detriment of their real-life activities -- which for many people is actually a big deal -- and maybe nudge behavior a little bit to get people to have some different experiences.
That just goes to show how we're all very different. I have several thousand photos from decades of travel and I go back and look at them all the time. E.g. I recently looked at my own Notre Dame Cathedral photos after the news of the fire. Yes, there are already million photos of that church but my photos show where in particular I stood, the particular weather that day I was there, my friend with me, etc.
The one trip I forgot my camera was an 8-hour scenic drive in the Pacific Northwest. I had to resort to using the terrible low-resolution camera on a HP PDA. I don't feel "freedom" like Derek Sivers of not having a good camera on that trip; instead I keep regretting the "lost photos" I wish had.
Yes, I get the annoyance with people holding up their smartphones for photos at concerts ruining everyone's experience and the cliche of tourists posing at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And yes, there's the Japanese joke of "Did you enjoy your trip?" and the tourist responds "I don't know -- I haven't seen my photos yet."
Maybe my preferences for photos to document my trip acts as a crutch for my imperfect memory. I don't post them on Instagram or Facebook. They're just for me.
* I took a photo of the subway map to refer to later
* I had Google Maps in offline mode, while showed my location but no/few labels. So I still got to explore and discover: “this building is an interesting shape, I’ll go check it out”
* My photos of course, which I also cherish
Different strokes for different folks. If you enjoy traveling sans smart device, go for it. That will never be something I do and I don't feel bad for it one bit.
There are many people who will respond to this, and think, "wow, yeah, I do spend a lot of time on my phone when I travel, instead of enjoying a new place", and might (at least) resolve to waste less time on their phone. There are others who will think, "that sounds like a cool idea; I'm going to try leaving my phone at the hotel on my next trip and see what happens", and then maybe have a cool experience.
If you don't want to do this, or already have a good handle on your phone use (so that you aren't using it to distract yourself from life), then maybe this post just isn't for you. There's no need to dump on it, or the author, for presenting a different way of doing things.
And there's nothing wrong with a judge-y "back in my day" kind of vibe in itself...
Some things were better "back in the day" while others are improved today...
Most of our pictures on our walls are from our holidays together and i love them. They remind me about the nicest moments on our trips together.
First, when we were in Japan having a phone was invaluable for transit. We used a few apps to keep track of where each attraction was relative to the subway stops and bus routes. Otherwise we would have had to carry and constantly pull out 3-5 maps.
Second, my wife likes to sleep in and I don’t. So I’ll wander the area around the hotel in the mornings, and she texts me when she’s up so we can have breakfast together.
Third, in China it was basically impossible to get a taxi the “normal” way - everyone was using local ride hailing or taxi apps. In other countries like Vietnam, using the local apps is part of experiencing the culture (we ordered takeout on Dash, and took a ride on the back of a scooter).
Finally, I carried a kindle version of two guide books. I would not have been able to do that without my phone. They were invaluable for making backup plans (ex something was closed, or we finished somewhere early and what do we do now).
There always has to be a balance - being on your phone all the time is unhealthy. But leaving the phone behind can also make it hard to function in the modern world.
How so? People did exactly this not just for millennia, but also throughout the 20th century, and up around 2005 or so...
What's the difficult / tragic experience one has in a different country if they don't have constant internet access or GPS?
> What's the difficult / tragic experience one has in a different country if they don't have constant internet access or GPS?
hmm. I think having an Instant access to Internet is like a super power. You feel more in control as well as save a lot of time. Some examples
* Finding exchanges that gives you a good rate in a new country. Lot of exchanges just rip you off and sorting by negative reviews will help you a lot.
* I think Google maps is pretty helpful especially if you are on a tight schedule. I had to get a bus late night in Budapest and had only 1 hour to reach the bus stop from hostel. I am pretty sure I could not have reached the bus stop on time if it was not for Goole maps. The maps told me that half the train track is not working because of maintainance and I have to get down at station X and start walking. There were hardly anyone in road at that time and it would have been super scary If I didnt have Google maps.
* You often need to use an App to unlock a rental bicycle. Ofcourse there are other ways to rent a bicycle but this is much more convinent and acessible.
* Need to contact emergency services but dont know/forgot the number.
I seriously doubt it. The main obstacle was money. Billions travelled in the 20th century up to 2005 or so. There wasn't some surge in travel associated with GPS or mobile phone availability.
Rise was steady throughout the 20th century and associated with income raise (travel becoming less expensive). The main bumps are when e.g. developing economies boomed, flooding the market with more people to travel (e.g. the raise of the 1.4 billion strong Chinese travel market).
Rarely anyone who didn't travel didn't travel because they thought "travel is too complicated, I need a constant electronic map with me", anymore that they said on in their own country.
If anything, it's today's people who can't travel without mobile/GPS, not the much more resilient people in the 20th century. In other words, it's an acquired clutch, not something people felt really lacking that prevented them from traveling abroad.
hmm. I was referring to how the Internet made it easy to plan and book a travel. Now anyone have access to information on what it takes to travel to a foreign country. Previously it was more like a blackbox. If you are from a developing country you need to apply for visa and you have to figure all that out without an Internet. You need to goto a travel agent for information, booking etc and you need to trust the agent. You don't know anyone apart from the person in the travel channel who traveled in Eruope for fun. Internet massively reduced the barriers for people traveling record. People have access to all these information for free by sitting inside their house. Ofcourse economies booming helped but I would give the Internet some credits in this as well.
It's sometimes inconvenient and you may "lose" quite some time for sure (e.g. miss a train because you could not check a platform change).
But for sure you can manage reading off street signs, looking at maps and perhaps asking passers-by. Asking for directions used to be a very common superficial interaction even in the socially "coldest" countries and it is very rarely happening anymore. Asking for directions was also one of the first things you learned in a foreign language.
For timetables you can just go and check the physical timetable at the station. Buy tickets at the station. Surely less convenient, but I'm pretty sure you'd manage, just like everyone did. It was just a few years ago.
I was a kid at the time, and they'd mail me postcards from each new place they went.
In the old days before cell phones, it was pretty common practice to set up with friends a meeting place in advance, and a schedule to gather there every so often. Something like "at noon, we'll meet up at this tree".
My friends and family have never stopped this habit -- it's just a nice backup plan in case one of us loses or damages their phone.
So yes, I think I can do a better job of being mindful about not using my phone to say, browse twitter.
- More efficient, saw more in a short amount of time.
- Easy and quick to get around due to maps, many transport options.
- Had some really good food, expensive and crowded, but good.
- More stressful, but a richer overall experience.
- Much less consistency with food, some good, some really bad.
- Experienced much more of the actual country, bartered with locals for rides.
- More dangerous / stressful.
However I struggle to put travel in the same bucket. I'm not a huge photographer but it's still nice to have a couple of snaps to look back at. The ability to find a genuinely nice local restaurant instead of being shepherded into yet another tourist trap and everything in-between.
I do sympathise with the idea that always knowing where you are limits the freedom to get lost down some nice backstreet. However, with a little self discipline you could take the opposite view, having your phone in your pocket gives you the freedom to wander aimlessly safe in the knowledge that the best route back to your accommodation is trivial to find when you are ready to return.
A place is not just a place. There are many layers on top of it. A phone lets you explore those layers by googling (at least this is how I travel). This is especially true of modern technological societies where there are layers of society you cannot interact with without a phone.
See something culturally weird? Google it and read the explanation. Stuff happening in another part of town? Phone tells you about it.
I write stories about my travels, and pictures help me recall those experiences after the fact (and notice new details). This isn't everyone but it's me.
Goes to show that saying a piece of tech categorically enhances or diminishes an experience is bound to invite disagreement--because it depends on who's using it.
I don't think it was the author's intention to polarize, but travel touches a raw nerve for many because for many it is an aspirational/elevating experience. Any prescription, especially those contrary to the lived experiences of many, is bound to be emotionally charged -- it's not a take it or leave it kind of opinion.
p.s. for me personally, I've traveled many years with/without phone (I'm Gen X) -- and for me, having a phone has undeniably led to a richer, deeper experience.
Oh plus, your phone functions more or less like a wallet or credit card in a lot of places now. I wouldn't be able to use the suica system in Tokyo, for example, without a phone.
Mobile FeliCa was practically unheard of in non-Japan smartphones a few years ago, and is still limited to only a few phones today.
Setting aside the value of the phone when/if you lose or get your documents/wallet stolen, although I love to navigate unfamiliar places, I would like the piece of mind of having a full fledged GPS navigation feature in my pocket. If not for me then for my family's safety. Not to mention calling emergency services. I get the whole 'living in a moment' thing but we also live in reality, where shit happens. And the farther away you are from your homebase, the bigger the shit can be. It's also useful to be reachable in case for example a member of your family is in distress. It would actually be super mindful to find out one of your parents passed away while you were on your 'living in the moment' trips.
> Besides, how often do I look at those photos later, anyway?
Often, actually. I live abroad and my parents and I trade holiday photos all the time. Some of them get framed. That's not the point of the vacation, though. But I would be very sad to not have my phone with me when for example my kid would build a sandcastle.
Next up, travel without money and barter for everything!
I'll travel with a phone, thanks.
We've found some real gems that way. Places that were so good we purposely went back again the next day. Without my phone, those meals would have never happened. We would have walked into the first place we passed by, which maybe was good or maybe wasn't. At least with the phone our chances of finding something are much higher.
Also, I totally look at old photos of trips all the time. Especially when Facebook reminds me that it has been X years since I was last there.
You must have better luck with reviews than I! Personally, I've never really noticed a strong correlation between the reviews a place gets and how good the place actually is.
- Best food I had in India: all the hopping street food and holes-in-the-walls (and yeah, a fancier restaurant or two)
- Only TD I got in India: an opulent tourist trap where we were the only people eating. That made the drive from Agra to Delhi extra memorable!
I agree -- this has been my go-to for a while: eat where the locals eat.
But you do still have to be a little discerning. The old saying, for instance, that you should eat at places that truckers favor isn't accurate unless you're a trucker, because they have additional requirements unrelated to food, such as whether or not you can maneuver and park an 18 wheeler in its lot.
I've eaten at places that appeared good if you read the reviews, but turned out to be horrible, and I've eaten at places that had terrible reviews but turned out to be fantastic.
If you get value from reviews, though, that's great!
The only technology I had was a camera and an old iPod for music.
Now, if I go out in a new city I feel anxious without my phone – even when I'm right downtown with access to transit!
I don't think foreign places have gotten any harder to navigate. I think maybe all this technology in our pocket has made us less personable and less likely to make quick friends with a stranger for the mutual benefit of sharing information.
There was a couple next to us on a bus with a smartphone (probably 40-50) and they asked school kids unsuccessful if that bus is going to the right direction.
I showed them my Google maps with our current location and the bus stops/route to tell them the bus is going in the right direction.
I also (even with high usage of Google maps) can remember a lot about roads and stuff. After all I still have to map the map with the real world.
I mean, to each his own, but I had a lot of fun being involved in the concert. I can't imagine it being as much fun being tethered to the ground while ensuring that my video is properly framed and free of the hands.
Unfortunately, the world has changed and it now assumes everybody has a smartphone: no phone booths, phone books, paper maps available in many places, you are often pointed to URLs for further information on anything...
Phone booths, there are not, true.
Not sure why you'd need phone books, on the other hand. I've never consulted one in my decades of trips, whether with a mobile or not. To call your hotel or something similar without a mobile phone (and without having jotted down the number back at home), you can always use a directory service. Also any airport has an information booth where they'll tell you.
You do have to actually plan things beforehand, which is likely a problem, if you have become accustomed to the "yolo, I'll just google it" on-demand information lifestyle, but you can still print out tickets and receipts and get physical maps. I mean, you should be doing this anyway, just in case the technology fails, but most people, in my experience, are not prepared for contingencies to that level.
It has a screen way too small to use for browsing anything and although it has a camera I havent used it yet. I still use my old smartphone as an internet-connected mobile media device and a PC remote, but I dont carry it around with me.
Disconnecting the "phone" from "smart" has been a success.
Traveling without a phone removes a ton of decision points too. "Should I take a photo of this?", "Should I look up this fact?". It is really nice. I will say it is nice if someone else has a phone though, in case you really need one for a phone call, to meetup with someone in your group, or GPS.
Bittersweet for sure!
Almost anywhere you go, even developing world, they have all kinds of small guidebooks and maps, often given for free, with all the public transport connections. You can ask any passer by for directions (god forbid they might be wrong or difficult, and you lose some time!), take a cab, ask the bus driver, check the diagrams at the subway station, and lots of other ways...
People say it like it's some arcane magic to do so, whereas even back in 2000 or so, there were no "apps" and instant access to public transport connections, or such, and billions still managed...
I could have also bought a paper map but who wants to deal with that?
Related: See FullContact's Paid Paid Vacation policy:
It seems everybody is missing the point.
Travel without a phone and your experience will be different.
What if you don't find the Louvre but find your soulmate?
You could try with a book or a regular newspaper but you might come off as old-fashionned and weird. You can hope someone would find some romance in this incongruous setting though. Might work. Otherwise, you can always act as if you were confused and pretend you ran out of battery.
But then, I've never been a picture-taker at all, even when traveling. I learned years ago that the act of taking pictures degrades my enjoyment of the experience.
In knowing, you give up the ills and joys of not knowing.
You can have all the pros leaving your phone on the pocket without any of the drawbacks.
It's all subjective.