About ditching your smartphone for a better and healthier travel experience
I remember an interesting conversation between a little girl and her mother I heard on a train some time ago.
— “Mom, what is worse to leave at home?” she asked. “Your keys or your smartphone?”
You should see the sheer surprise on the little girl’s face when her mom answered “The keys”.
— “Really? Why?” she replied, still in disbelief.
Today, leaving the small device at home equals a real tragedy. It has become so hard to imagine doing pretty much anything without a smartphone in your pocket.
Our daily commute implies forcing our way through a jungle of faces illuminated by glowing LCD screens. Those rare moments of having nothing else to do except for looking out of the train window or simply waiting in a line are gone. We cannot bear them, consciously or not. So immediately, we reach for a smartphone, the ultimate time killer. Not a single second will be wasted!
And when was the last time you deliberately listened to the soundtrack of the world around you instead of the latest Ed Sheeran from your earphones? We don’t pay attention to the sounds of our surroundings. We don’t know how silence feels like. With a smartphone at our command, silence is just another thing that we can’t stand anymore.
And yet, we knowingly take these routines with us even when we want to relax and travel. We basically Ctrl+C our unhealthy behaviour from our everyday life and Ctrl+V it into the precious period of time that should be all about exploring new places, opening our senses and spending quality time with our loved ones.
You could argue that having a smartphone with you while travelling can be incredibly helpful. And you’d be right — flight or hotel check-in, satnav, solving any issues you might have. All very useful.
But please — switch that damn thing off and bury it deep in your luggage when you don’t need it.
1. Be really there
Buzzing reminders, emails, messages and push notifications from various apps are just the tip of the iceberg. Having the option to check ANYTHING at your will is what really keeps your brain racing from A to B with a detour through X, Y and Z. You’ll eventually lose the fragile connection between you and your travel destination by constantly thinking on other things.
As an outdoor photographer, I love observing new places, looking for interesting details and enjoying the light. But it is pretty difficult to focus on these things with a smartphone in your pocket.
That’s why the number one reason for not carrying a smartphone with me when travelling is the unique chance of really being somewhere. The exciting feeling of true exploration. Don’t miss this opportunity!
2. Switch off to be free
When I say switch off, I don’t only refer to the device itself but also to your head.
Your vacation days are probably very limited so why would you want to do the same things that you do for the rest of the year? Checking emails, listening to music, scrolling endlessly on Facebook and oh – what’s new on Instagram?
Try switching off and enjoy the world around you. Open your eyes. Listen. Smell. Taste. Breathe. The experience of being technology-free for at least a couple of days can be surprisingly overwhelming at first, maybe even uncomfortable. But eventually, the relief coming from such detox is almost tangible.
3. You don’t need the news, you just don’t
We’re used to harvesting the news as if it was grain. But do you really need to know what’s going on in politics, economy and sport back home when travelling? Would you have any impact on these events if you knew? Mostly not. But negative news can have an impact on you and your travels.
I remember going on a vacation with my parents in the deepest 90s. We had no mobile phones an no access to the news whatsoever for about 3 weeks. In 1997, when we were having a great time on Croatia’s finest beaches, we had no idea about the 1,000-year flood destroying our town back home.
Retrospectively, I’m glad we didn’t know until the very last moment. There was nothing we could have done anyway. Imagining terrible things happening back home wouldn’t do any good.
4. Your friends back home will make it without you
Instant messaging has become a weird sort of drug. I often see people just scrolling through their list of contacts up and down. Looking for new profile pictures of their friends and sometimes picking one contact and writing something. You know — to stay in contact.
Is it necessary to do this when you travel? Sending the latest snapshots to your friends and family? Setting your status to #vacayvibes featuring an image of your fresh coconut cocktail served on the beach?
Your friends back home will survive without you. Catch up with them later when you’re back. Invite them home, cook something nice and show them your best photos, tell them about your travel adventures.
Just don’t waste your time and focus on messaging the world about how you‘re having an awesome time. Have an awesome time. And simply enjoy that darned coconut cocktail.
5. Be there with your travel partner, not with your phone
I am extremely lucky that my lovely wife has similar views on many aspects of life and travelling.
We’re both no smartphone people when it comes to our vacation. When we travel, we both enjoy each other’s presence, we always find something to talk about. But sometimes we also like to spend our time together separately. I would be probably setting up my tripod in some rather uncomfortable bush and she would be writing her travel diary. And then we would talk about how it went.
On our travels, though, we realized that this is not normal. Sadly, “normal” is way too often defined as sitting next to each other, typing messages. Be it couples, families or a group of friends. Checking their smartphones every few seconds or outright immersed in the glowing online world, while silently ignoring each other.
Don’t be a zombie. At least during your time off. Put that smartphone away and do something fun with your travel partner, start an exciting conversation, ask questions. Or just look at each other. Whatever. As long as you’re really there together, it doesn’t matter what you do.
6. Instead of using a smartphone for everything, get yourself dedicated devices
You might be asking — how to do that? How could you travel without a phone? What if something happens? Or you need to find a place? And what if you want to take a photo? The simplest solution is the use of dedicated devices.
Use a phone for calling, a camera for taking photos, buy a satnav for driving. Having these with you will help you keep that smartphone off and buried deep in your luggage.
I rediscovered the beauty of the good old “dumb” mobile phones a few years ago. They’re smaller, lighter and their battery life is often good enough for 2–3 weeks. Nobody sends SMSs nowadays and I get just a handful of calls. Which means that you could still call the emergency if necessary but you will be distracted significantly less than with a smartphone. It’s also enough to send an SMS “We landed safely in …” to your family at the beginning of your trip.
Last but not least — the key is in planning. The more you know about your travel destination in advance, the less you’ll need a smartphone on the way. Do proper research, book flights, trains, hotels and trips ahead. Make a list of places you want to see, and restaurants you’d like to try out. Be prepared, that’s it!
These simple precautions will reduce the time spent on a phone. But it will also save you time in general. The time that you can invest in good healthy smartphone-free travels with your loved ones.
PS. This article was also published on Medium.com. 🙂