Are Mobile Phones Ruining Travel?

Mobile Phone on a Beach

I was 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 backpacking 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.

Internet Cafe
Internet Cafes used to be on every corner in Southeast Asia!

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.

Mobile phone
Do mobile phones enhance your travel experience?

Do mobile phones make travel better?

As I travel around Southeast Asia today, I wonder: 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?

Do Mobile Phones Take the Adventure out of Travel?

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 (both affiliate links) 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 our 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?

So… Why do we travel?

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 eight 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 where do we go from here?

Well, I’m not going to be a Luddite. I see the adventures of having technology at my fingertips and believe that in many ways having a mobile phone can make travel safer and even more adventurous if used properly!

However, 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 TripAdvisor. 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.

So – what do you think? Has constant access to the Internet on your phone enhanced or diminished your own travel experiences?

Header photo credit: Chelsea MacCarthy.

Nikki Scott - Founder South East Asia Backpacker
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker and The Backpacker Network. In her early twenties, she left her home in the North of England on a solo backpacking adventure and never returned! After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine that became legendary on the Banana Pancake Trail. The rest is history.

Find me: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

2 thoughts on “Are Mobile Phones Ruining Travel?”

  1. 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.

    1. 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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