Would you travel without your phone? Probably not. It’s hard to believe that there were ever entire generations of travelers who didn’t pin their locations or upload every new meal they tried on their trip. People relied on maps, instinct, and the generosity of others — think of that.
Using our cellphones to take epic selfies or guide us down some narrow unpaved street is just the norm. Our phones alleviate stress by helping us feel connected while in a different country. When we need to translate a menu to ensure we aren’t eating cow brains, our phones are there for us. They provide useful information, and they help us to connect with other travelers. So why would you ever think about traveling without your favorite digital companion?
The reality is if we aren’t careful our trip becomes more about things we can do with our phones than actually experiencing the world around us. Thousands of photos get uploaded every day and keep us mindlessly scrolling through someone’s epic travel feed. We can easily forget that real life isn’t happening behind a screen. It’s happening in front of us.
The use of our cell phones has created numerous bad habits. A relaxing trip to the beach can turn into spending your time fussing over getting the perfect angle in your beach photo. Instead of admiring the beauty that is all around you, you’re admiring it through a screen. How many times have you picked up your phone to look at the time and instantly got distracted by an alert?
Don’t think those bad habits won’t follow you just because you’re on vacation. In fact, according to Slicktext.com, 2,617 times a day is the number of times an average person will tap, swipe, or click their phone. This leads to an average daily use of 2 hours and 51 minutes. As a result, 66% of the population has a fear of being without their phone.
You might be thinking that you just want to capture the moment and maybe post some pictures that will make some of your coworkers jealous. Well, you can have epic Instagram moments and still be completely present. It’s important to balance those experiences. Remember that although we rely heavily on our phones, they aren’t always the most reliable devices. With not getting signals in certain places, low batteries, and the occasional petty theft, it’s smart to know how to travel without them.
Here are some tips to help you do the impossible and travel without relying so much on your phone.
- Have designated phone times.
We live in the time of social media where if there isn’t a photo of something, it didn’t happen. So, once you get your Instagram-worthy photo, put the phone away. Decide ahead of time what you want to take pictures of. This will help you take intentional photos instead of taking photos of every strangely shaped rock you see. Once your phone is out of your hand, you’ll be able to better appreciate all the amazing things happening around you.
Some great times to put the phone away are: When you’re having a meal. When you’re socializing with people. When you’re walking down a familiar street. When you’re sunbathing at a beach. If you’re on a jungle tour and your goal is to take a photo of the elusive three-toed sloth, try turning off your data and notifications. Give your phone the one purpose of taking photos. Or, you can just use a digital camera.
- Get familiar with the neighborhood you’re staying in.
This can be especially important for those who like to stay in hostels or Airbnbs. We often rely on our phones to tell us where the closest grocery store is or where to buy an extra phone charger. However, you can find all these places and improve your sense of direction by just taking a walk in the neighborhood. Pay attention to which streets run parallel to each other. Take note of different monuments and landmarks that you can easily recognize. Try seeing if you can walk to the store and back without using your GPS.
- Use a physical map and a guidebook.
Yes, maps still exist. They usually can be found and purchased at the local market or convenience store. Using one doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find your way, but there can be advantages when you are lost. If you try using a map and get lost anyway, sometimes you can end up in an even more beautiful place than you had originally intended.
Guidebooks are useful because you have important detailed information in one place. Yes, your cellphone puts you two clicks away from basically all the knowledge in the universe. However, with a guidebook, you don’t have to worry about slow downloads or bad connections. And with all the travel blogs and YouTube channels (all great by the way), sometimes the information can be overwhelming, repetitive, and one-sided. Guidebooks provide deeply researched and most of the time unbiased information.
- Bring a book.
We all use our phones as a source of entertainment while waiting on the bus, train, or plane. Scrolling on social media can make those mundane tasks bearable. But instead of getting sucked into a black hole of TikTok videos and Instagram reels, you can try to nourish your brain with a good book. With reading a book or magazine, you don’t have to worry about being overstimulated with notifications and alerts. You can be calmer and will be better able to adapt to your changing environment.
- Talk to people around you.
The whole point of social media is to be social. With Facebook groups and travel blogs, friendships have been made virtually and solidified during a trip. Although this is a great way to meet new people, there are still other ways of making new friends. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers. Ask someone for directions. Strike up a conversation with someone at the bar. When you go to buy fruit at the local market, try asking the local vendors about recommendations of things to do or places to see. You never know what new friendships could be waiting for you.
- Keep important addresses and phone numbers written down.
Having the address of where you are staying pinned in your Google maps is super helpful. But if you were to suddenly lose cell phone reception, would you be able to find your way back? Having a piece of paper or a notebook with important addresses such as the place you’re staying, the train station, or the airport can very useful, along with having essential phone numbers written down. You’ll have a way to either get back safely or contact someone who can help you (especially if you’re having too good of a time at the beach and your phone unexpectedly drops in the water).
Traveling is more about the experience than how many pictures you can post on Instagram. If you’re not taking part in that experience of new cultures, sounds, foods, and vibrations, you’re missing out on the whole point of traveling. A phone should enhance your travel experience and not take away from it. Being aware of how much time you are on your phone while traveling can impact the value of your experience. Remember that phones are accessories, not a way of life.
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Kiersten is a freelance writer and coach. As a writer, she has written for Travel Noire, Passion Passport, BAUCE mag, and various travel and lifestyle blogs. As a writer, her goal is to write content that inspires others to take action. As a coach, her goal is to empower women to be their most authentic selves. In her free time, you can find her dancing to any song any where.