Traveling in Europe and Turkey last year, I did not have a cell phone. It was amazingly freeing but also highly inconvenient and a little scary. In the U.S., I’ve had a cell phone since 2003 and a smartphone since 2008.
Before the start of last year’s trip, I debated about whether to bring a cell phone. On one hand, I wanted to cut the tie of constant contact with everyone and everything. I also wasn’t clear on how the whole foreign-SIM-card thing worked. On the other hand, I did want a phone for emergencies. Just one week before I left for the trip, I dropped my phone on my driveway, and the screen shattered. That took care of that—no phone.
Not having a phone was a huge inconvenience and even a problem when I missed a train and needed to tell someone I was running late. It would have been nice to have been able to call my hostel, too, to get directions when my nonexistent sense of direction would lead me from the train station straight into the worst part of town.
I got a new smartphone when I returned to the U.S. and decided it was coming with me on this Europe trip. My cell-phone-service provider told me it was unlocked (it was not), so I got myself a SIM card and a wonderful deal on unlimited data in Italy. After I sorted out the but-it’s-not-unlocked issue, I realized I’m just as connected now as I was at home, and that sucks.
I do love being able to take a quick look at email when necessary so I do not have that must-check-work-email knot in my stomach when I’m out enjoying my day. It’s also super nice to be able to text someone to say I’m running late—and even better is to not have to ask a stranger in a foreign language if I can text my friend from their phone because it’s an emergency. I love getting phone calls and texts via Skype, too, so I’m not completely removed from my life at home like I was last year.
Having this phone also makes me a stupid traveler. I have a map right here, so I don’t have to duck into a store to steal a look at my paper map. (I don’t like looking at maps on the street—as if I don’t stick out as a traveler anyway.) I also have a directory of public transportation at my fingertips. While my phone apparently does not like Italy (it keeps pinpointing me at the wrong location in town), it does really well outlining my public-transportation options. Some cities here even have public-transportation apps, allowing me to look at all of the lines running through every bus, tram and subway stop in the area. Gone are the days of searching online and scribbling the address and directions for every possible location I’d like to visit in the day into a notebook.
I’m relieved to have my phone this year, but I’m really glad I had the experience of a trip without it. That was traveling.