Should You Bring a Smartphone When Traveling?
This question comes down to your travel ethos. What do you want to accomplish? Personally, I had a smartphone for years and years, but one of the reasons why I wanted to travel was to disconnect myself from the digital world for a little while and break out of the impulse to constantly check my phone for emails, text messages, Snapchats, Forex fluctuations, WSJ news alerts, iOs updates, weather forecasts, and whatever else the little device is blurting at you at any given time. So I left my phone at home, and bought a simple little touch tone, using it only for phone calls. It did wonders for my soul, but it also meant information was harder to come by. I couldn’t impulsively check email, but I also couldn’t check email whenever I wanted to. I found myself not browsing the internet idly, but I also found that I couldn’t browse the internet for an answer at any given time.
If you’re looking to travel to take things a bit more slowly, and “get away from the modern world” for a bit, then by all means, leave the phone at home. It’s a wonderful, magical device that we can use to garner whatever information we need at that moment and keep in touch with friends and family at the touch of a button. It’s also a mental burden which too many of us find ourselves addicted to without even thinking about it. You will be absolutely fine without a smart phone. Add on the fact that almost everyone nowadays has one, and you know you can rely on our fellow travelers if you are desperately, truly in need of help, however minor. I certainly found that I could relax and clear my head when I wasn’t scrolling through the icons on my iPhone, looking for a meaningless update on an app.
However, it also meant that I was carrying around a phone, an iPod, and a camera in my day bag. When I chose to travel without a smartphone, I wasn’t electing to go into the wild without any modern devices; rather I just wanted to get away from the impulse that comes from the expected connectivity at all times. I still wanted to be able to listen to my music, take photos and make phone calls, and doing so without a smartphone meant that I needed three devices to accomplish this.
Eight months after traveling with a dumb phone however, I caved and got an iPhone 5. The reasons were many—but I had proven to myself I could “live without it”, and I saw that I could just get more done with a smartphone. It was easier to get a job, to browse Gumtree for a place to live, to book a hostel last minute, to check directions when I was on the go, or to figure out transportation options when I was in a bind. Again, it all comes back to your travel ethos: if you are looking to travel so you can experience a transcendent, raw experience devoid of creature comforts, then of course you’re going to shun a phone. Figuring out a place to stay when you arrive late-night in a new city and navigating unfamiliar streets through the dark, is part of the travel experience. Using a phone to carry you from safe haven to safe haven is, in a sense, a cop-out from traveling to revel in the unpredictability of your experience. I understand that.
Yet I got an iPhone because it just make things…easier. After almost a year of being on the road, I had my share of experiences that would simply have been easier by having access to the information a phone affords you. What’s more is that living in a world where most people rely on the communication a smartphone affords leaves you behind the curve in many situations: mainly, jobs and housing. When it came down to it, I wanted to keep up with the rest of the pack, and a smartphone was simply an easy way to do it. The added benefit of being able to sell my iPod and camera let me condense what used to be three devices into one, allowing me to adhere to my travel maxim: less is more.
So, what should you do? Bring a smartphone on your trip, or not? My advice is that if you can’t bear to part with your device; then don’t! But if there’s a part of you that secretly harbors the desire to cut yourself off for a little bit, then I’d wholeheartedly encourage you to go ahead and do it. Things will be a bit more difficult, that’s for sure: but you’ll be just fine. You might even have some fun experiences to show from it.