When it comes to living in the 21st century, there’s probably no odder feeling than to be without your smartphone. Whether it’s lost, broken, or just in an area that doesn’t have service, you’ve more than likely felt that ethereal disconnect of not having a working phone at some point or another. Usually, the separation only last a few days, a week at the most, but last summer I found myself with a non-working phone just hours before I got on a plane to Scandinavia and thus (thanks to my service provider needing at least three days to mail me a replacement) wound up spending my entire trip digitally detached. And it helped transform my trip into one of the best traveling experiences of my life.
You don’t have to be anti-technology to believe that people can be too attached to their smartphones. According to a 2012 survey, 73% of smartphone owners who were asked admitted that they would feel “panicked” if they lost their phone and nearly 60% confessed to checking their phones once every hour. That’s fine for going about your regular daily life, when your phone can be a welcome distraction from monotony, but all that focus on the tiny screen can lead to missing out on taking in the sights, sounds, and experiences of a new place.
Traveling sans smartphone actually forced me to take in my surroundings. Instead of burying my head down to check messages at every quiet moment, my eyes were up and observing everything around. I actually engaged with people and chatted up strangers when I felt shy, instead of scrolling through my email. When I got lost, I asked for directions or used a map — both of which gave a better sense of place than just following a GPS app’s turn-by-turn directions. And I didn’t worry about what all my friends were doing on Facebook, because I was too busy focusing on what I was doing at that very moment.
As much as phone manufacturers would like to claim otherwise, you CAN survive in the modern world without a smartphone. There are still payphones out in the world and in some regions they even take credit cards (although you might want to pack a prepaid calling card to be safe)…in case you want to actually make a phone call. And if you feel the need to check social media, write an email, or look something up online, pretty much every guidebook includes where to find internet cafes and libraries.
Of course, there is a downside to traveling without a smartphone. Since everyone now pretty much just uses their phone’s camera, so if you don’t already have a digital camera you might want get one to capture memories and moments while traveling without a smartphone.
You’ll just have to wait until you get home to upload those pics to Facebook.