Are Mobile Phones Ruining Travel?

Mobile Phone Usage and Travel

Updated October 17th, 2018.

Photo credit: Chelsea MacCarthy.

I’m 33 years old.

Born in 1984, I’m on the cusp of the generation divide that still makes me a Millennial.

I am old enough, and young enough, to have experienced travel in two completely different worlds.

One is the world in which I first started travelling at age 23. A world in which the Lonely Planet guidebook ruled, backpackers went to Internet Cafés to long-distance call their parents, and photos were taken on a camera not designed to share photos instantly on Instagram.

The other, is the world today, with instant access to the web in practically every place on earth and a million different mobile apps, booking sites, social networks and travel blogs, all aimed at enhancing your travel experience. (And, yes, in case you’re wondering, this is one of them!).

My question is this:

How much does this constant connection in the palm of our hands actually enhance our travel experience? And how much does it deter from the feeling of adventure and freedom that makes us travel in the first place?

I don’t know about you, but the desire to travel comes from a hankering within me to experience things for myself. To smell and feel a place.

I want to be challenged. I want it to be difficult.

The very fact that you give me TripAdvisor and tell me what the best restaurant in town is, and give me Google Maps to show me exactly how to get there, makes it less exciting for me.

“Just don’t use it then!” You say.

Of course, I can ignore it – and I do.

I get a kick out of finding backstreet eateries that you won’t find online. Do I enjoy them all the more simply because they are not online? Yes, I probably do.

Now, I know that technology has made travel more accessible and affordable for millions of people all over the world. Facebook, Skype and Whatsapp make it easier for people to keep in touch while they travel. (I couldn’t live abroad if I didn’t have a reliable way to keep in touch with my Mum.)

And it can’t be denied that, Skyscanner and all the big travel industry conglomerates that allow you to compare and book cheap hotels, flights and tours take a lot of the stress out of travel planning.

Plus, being able to ask fellow travellers in a Facebook group – “What’s the best way to get from Bangkok to Koh Tao?” is all well and good.

However, when we really examine what human’s want and need to feel happy and good about themselves, is all the information and instant access to the Internet via our mobile phones getting in the way of what we really look for when we travel?

I’m talking about…

Disconnection – a break from our normal lives in order to reconnect with something greater.

Adventure – the very word evokes, for me, feelings of the unknown. 

Challenge – this is what makes it all the more rewarding right?

Reconnection – real connection with the flesh and blood humans around us.

Creativity – sat on the train for 8 hours looking out of the window it’s amazing what new ideas we come up with when our minds are not distracted.

Peace – a moment where we experience the present moment just as it is. 

Using a mobile phone whilst travelling
Using a mobile phone whilst travelling. Photo credit: Miroslaw Podyma.

So here’s where I have a REAL problem.

It’s okay for you. Cynicism about the online travel world can drift in and out of your head and you can forget about it the second you’ve read this article.

For me, someone who has built their life and career around travel and working online. It has become a full-on identity crisis.

I’m compelled to use Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in order to make a living (as I’m sure lots of people who run their own business are). I spend much more of my time online than I’d really like to. Don’t we all?

So where do I go from here?

Well, I’m not going to be a Luddite, burn my phone and abandon the career I have built.

I’ll just get on with it.

But I am going to try to make sure that in my personal life, I remember what travel (and life) was like before your phone connected to WIFI.

(I say try because I’m as addicted to my phone as anyone!) 

I’ll try to leave my phone at home and set off on my bicycle ride not knowing which direction I’m heading. If I get lost, I’ll ask someone the way home.

I’ll try to have days and nights that are not documented online.

I’ll try to make an effort to go to restaurants, hotels and book tours with companies that aren’t on Trip Advisor. I’ll just go with my gut. If that proves to be wrong, then I’ll have learnt something in the process.

I’ll try to call my friends instead of just giving them a like on their latest Facebook photo.

I’ll try to read books when I’m bored instead of scrolling through my newsfeed.

And finally, I’ll write articles like this one telling you how I really feel.

So – what do you think?

Has constant access to the Internet on your phone enhanced or diminished your own travel experiences?

PS. If you’d like to spend less time looking at a screen, check out this interesting book Phone Detox by the wonderful School of Life.

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Mobile Phone Usage and Travel

Founder & Editor at South East Asia Backpacker

Nikki Scott is the founder & editor of South East Asia Backpacker. A traveller-turned-entrepreneur, she left the UK in 2009 and after 6 months on the road, she started a bi-monthly print magazine about backpacking in Asia. South America Backpacker soon followed and today she runs her backpacking enterprise from her base in Spain. Her honest and fascinating book, Backpacker Business, tells the story of her success in the face of adversity.

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2 thoughts on “Are Mobile Phones Ruining Travel?

  1. Sean says:

    On mobile phones ruining travel.
    Yes/no .ive been traveling for 10 years 6 months at a cell phone is my friend when I really need one.I use it for taxi man to get to hotel and for currency exchange.
    Every year I get here I turn offInstagram,FB,Snapchat and the news..This way I still get my backpacking experience.
    I do use it to read my books on kindle and read SEA Backpacker.oh long night bus or night train good to catch up on a Netflix show..
    The other thing is 10 years ago backpackers were really broke so people didn’t take advantage of them.(taxi,hotels and restraints)now a backpackers walk around with a $1000 phone so it looks like rich kid with money.

    • Nikki says:

      Well, if you’re using it to read SEA Backpacker, of course, that’s always good and necessary haha! But yeah, I think it’s definitely about achieving a balance. Phones make many things so much easier: looking places up, maps, keeping in touch easily, checking prices and information and essential in any kind of emergency in today’s world. I just think that we must remember why we came away in the first place and that keeping up with every little detail back home or on the news will make us feel like we haven’t really travelled at all. I think it’s a good idea to disconnect from certain aspects; like you say FB, Instagram etc.. I agree that many backpackers today are a whole load richer than they used to be too. In this article about backpacking 50 years ago, the guy we interviewed said they used to busk and sleep in temples!

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