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Talkin' Travel

Sep 27, 2011

Troy Wilkinson writes: I couldn’t let the recent Back in a Bit piece “I travel therefore iPhone: why only idiots travel without a smart phone” pass without comment. Though in fairness to Ben Oliver it has nothing to do with the contents of his article and everything to do with the editor’s rather mischievous choice of title.

I don’t normally get riled about being labelled an idiot, as it tends to happen often enough. For a start, there’s my questionable dress sense. And being a Tasmanian doesn’t help. But for some reason, as someone who doesn’t own a smart phone at all, I took umbrage this time.

It’s not that I’m a completely cranky old technophobe — I’m young enough to have had computers at home since I started primary school, obtained an undergraduate degree in IT and have so far spent my entire full-time working career in the industry. I’ve been in on the Web ever since Yahoo’s HTML background was a plain grey and well before Google became the search engine de rigeur. It’s just that I’ve somehow missed the rush fuelled by portable mobile devices to be connected all the freaking time. And especially so when travelling.

Travel for me is pure escapism, the welcome chance to break free from the routine and hum-drum of the everyday. And a large part of that normal life includes the constant distraction of electronic communication. To shake all that enables me to focus more on the destination that I’ve made the trouble and expense to come to, and to better appreciate everything novel or unusual I can find there.

I’m not normally one to walk around a new place with a guidebook permanently attached to my face like an oxygen mask, so I don’t really need a smart phone as an alternative. What really lures me is the mystery of what could be around the next corner, the next district or the next hill. An occasional glance at an old fashioned map will do to get my bearings. And it’s much the same when driving, where the trouble I can get into with a paper map and following road signs is no worse than being subject to the whims of a smart phone navigation app.

It would be deluded for me to think that just by shunning the smart phone I’m somehow blazing new trails in a golden age of world exploration. But like Christopher Columbus I may sometimes unwittingly head in the wrong general direction and go on to find something pretty amazing anyway. Also like Columbus I’ve managed to subsequently get safely back home (a considerable feat for the times and something I feel he and his crew don’t get enough credit for).

As for crowdsourcing a city’s new restaurant sensation or the current nightspot of the moment in which to be seen, I’ll mosey around the streets and see what I happen upon. If I don’t find anything that rocks my world, that’s OK. Chances are I wouldn’t have got in anyway (that’d be the questionable dress sense again).

This isn’t about snobbery, that my preferred way of going places is somehow more adventurous or authentic than those who rely on smart phones when they travel — I couldn’t ever pretend to be a travel snob. I’ve done Contiki tours. And enjoyed them. It’s only a defence that just because I choose not to be all hooked in whilst on the move, it doesn’t automatically make me a complete imbecile.

Perhaps I’m defensive out of jealousy of Ben Oliver’s intended audience. My breaks these days are measured in days or weeks and not months, so by the time I want to use Skype to talk to my folks or look up the news to see what’s happening in the world, I’m already back to the familiarity of regular life, with my travels but a memory.

And now I wait with some curiosity to see what lively tag the editor chooses to headline for this post that will in turn wind up someone.

You can find more of Troy’s writings at his blog Troy’s Gone Walkabout.


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10 thoughts on “Only fools stay connected while travelling: the luddites fight back


    If it is business travel, take the whole lot, smartphone (now there’s an oxymoron) laptop etc, but isn’t the whole point of leisure travel the thrill of the journey, seeing the new and the different and experiencing the unexpected? It’s called a holiday! Even a camera can destroy the experience. Whale watching is one good example – was at Hervey Bay with friends doing the usual day out in the bay – had the camera – but the whales were so majestic and thrilling that the notion of wasting time trying to capture images seemed foolish and naive in the face of their supreme size and staure. So I just stood and watched in awe while they performed for we lesser creatures. They appeared to be quite amused by us – but perhaps I imagined that.

  2. Phen

    Why cant we all just get along? 😉

    I brought my iPhone with my last time I did some overseas travelling and the feature i used most by far was the directional compass – very handy for finding your way around confusing Moroccan medinas with the aid of a paper map. Of course an old-fashioned compass would work just as well – but who carries those around….

  3. sophie.hall

    Why does it have to be one or the other? I often take my smartphone travelling because I like knowing I have it there if I need it. However, I don’t feel the need to constantly have it under my nose to check facebook and I enjoy wandering around new cities not always knowing where I am going.

    If you are someone that compuslively checks email and facebook while on holiday, I would say your smartphone addiction is a symptom of a bigger problem.

  4. adamasao

    all valid points, and if you need a smart phone on a holiday you’re not on a holiday. There’s a time limit though – after being on the road for 10 months (and counting) our slightly less stupid phones have been invaluable – try getting lost in Chihuahua in a dodgy neighbourhood and needing to find your way out quickly…or spending 32 hours on a bus in Patagonia and finishing your book (Solitaire and Galaga to the rescue)…or checking in to your flight at São Paulo and using your phone as the boarding pass (saving on paper and time).
    Although for almost all the time we haven’t bothered with a sim card – they’re simply little computers, I guess.

  5. Venise Alstergren

    PS: I realise you were talking about Smart phones, but I had to say my bit. Why travel then take your own home with you? Alexander the Great managed without one. So there.

  6. Venise Alstergren

    Troy, you have nailed it my love. Having this very morning arrived back in Oz-minus my voice-I’m rushing to agree with your every word. WTF would anyone wish to invade their own research and screw their dreams with that screeching ambience-cutter called a mobile phone defeats me. Sure, take one in case someone wants you urgently, otherwise relax and enjoy the beauty of a distant oasis, chew some fresh fruit off the nearest date-palm tree, sink a triple lemon juice and hurl the nearest I-phone carrying tourist into the waters at Cleopatra Springs. (Seven to eight hours from the nearest big city) Is what I say before going back to bed. Olé!

  7. dkit

    Troy, have to agree with you on this. When my wife and I travel we like to wonder and look around. We do some reading before we leave home (Australia). We like to stop somewhere for 5 to 8 days when we arrive at a location. This gives us time to walk, to look and to just sit in a cafe and observe as well as talk. This way we get a wonderful feel of a place. We do read guides and other information either before we go or in the evening back at the hotel. If we then find there were things we missed, we’ll go back the next day. The result is finding some delightful areas that you wouldn’t go to otherwise. We find this much more enjoyable than a cook’s tour, it’s Thursday therefore this must be Belgium style of holiday.

    We find a phone for each of us is useful, preferably with a local pre-paid sim to keep the costs under control. You don’t have to keep together and it’s easier to make enquiries and local bookings on the run and keep in touch back home if/when necessary.

  8. Warwick Williams

    Would have agreed once, but, no more. Travelling at night in country Victoria, missed a required turn and travelled some distance further before realising I was hopelessly lost.

    No map, no homesteads, no signs. Out came the smartphone, input destination; directions received! Sent an SMS apologising for lateness.

    Listened to music as I calmly made my way to my intended destination. VIVA la smartphone!

  9. benlo

    I think the original article was intended for the urban jeunes Facebook addicts needing cyber-satisfaction.

    However if you go to places that are either remote or technologically primitive and want to really feel that place, to smell the dust or the fragrance, to feel the grit or the warmth of a hand, to briefly connect to the people who live there, whether they are a Kenyan tribal or a penniless rickshaw wallah, you will best do that with your face and your heart.

    In these contexts, a smartphone would only alienate you from ‘the natural’, which still comprises the greater part of what is reality for most people living almost everywhere.

    I too prefer to travel ‘naked’ sans smartphone. More exciting. More real.

  10. paddy

    Well Troy, you’re not alone. 🙂
    Hell, I don’t even own a mobile phone, (Much less a smart one.)

    I find the thrill of travelling to new and unknown places is SO much more enjoyable, once the umbilical cord of the Internet is removed.

    That said, I’m perfectly happy to drop by an uber-slow Inet cafe to send and receive a few emails.
    But I like doing that perhaps once a week or maybe two. Certainly not every five mins.
    Escaping my normal constant connection to the WWW is one of the true joys of travelling.