A Travellerspoint blog

Ditch the Smartphone! (at least once in a while!)


Independent travel has really changed over the last 30 years. Those of us over the age of 40, will fondly remember a time back in the 80's, when travel was more authentic. Long before the advent of the internet and smartphones, we left behind all that was familiar and stepped our itchy feet into the unknown.

However, as the trailblazing travel writer Dervla Murphy, reminds us "now the familiar is not left behind, and the unknown has become familiar before one leaves home". These days apps such as Trip Advisor, Google Maps & Rideshares, together with a boom in the travel guidebook industry, have joined forces to become the essential 'go-tos' before and during travel.


First of all, some of you, especially if newer to solo travel, will find your smartphone and guidebook offer some sort of security, when far from home. However, by over relying on them, your travel experience may be lessened, rather than broadened. You will tread the same tired path, to the 'must see' sites, that other readers of Lonely Planet, stomped along before you.

Do you really want poked in the eye with a selfie stick trying to get a swatch at the Eiffel Tower? I've tended to stick with this 'old' style of travelling, choosing not to plan, preferring to wait for opportunities to arise spontaneously. Maybe you can try it too?

1. By relying solely on smartphones and travel guidebooks, you'll be less likely to have face-to-face interactions with local people and fellow travellers. On the other hand, if you prefer sticking with your friends or like to plan a jam packed itinerary, Trip Adviser won't get in the way. I feel nothing beats asking a local for directions, only to be invited to spend the rest of the day with them! Rather than planning, why not live a day to day adventure?


2. If I'd depended on Google Maps or stuck to guide books to find places to visit, I'd have missed out on all those wonderful invites to lunches, dinners, weddings, social events and NGOs. When the very people living in a city, offer an invaluable insight into their culture, they become your very own Trip Adviser. Be authentic, wander around at your leisure and discover places by yourself. When the very people living in a city, offer a whistlestop tour, they become your very own Trip Adviser. Be authentic, wander around at your leisure and discover places by yourself.


Odanadi - an NGO I visited that supported young women trafficked for sexual exploitation

3. Guidebooks can also put the fear of god into you. More specifically the 'dangers and annoyances' section. To the extent that this 'fear of danger' becomes firmly locked at the forefront of peoples minds. So, they wander the streets, clutching their travel bible close to their puffed out chests - nobody's going to rip me off!

Or as I discovered from found friend in Daramasala, almost scared to leave his hotel room when travelling in Delhi. I've witnessed people in the midst of heated arguments, over the likes of a couple of pound, with rickshaw drivers in Vietnam. All because their Rough Guide, warns them that these men will try and rip them off. To the extent that they are waiting to get scammed. Settle on a price before you hop into a tuk-tuk and if the quote is too high, move on and try another. After all, it's the minority of drivers who will try to extra cash from you.


[center]The omnipresent tuk-tuk

During a trip to the south of India last year, bedraggled tuk-tuk drivers, sometimes told me their meters were broken. As a foreigner, they're hoping to score a higher fare. So you can either pay an extra couple of pounds or find a driver whose meter is working. No need to argue.

Rather than promoting independent travel, these guides can heighten any fear you may already have about travelling alone. When visiting developing countries, it is important we put things into context. A rickshaw driver may earn $5 a day, if he's lucky, so what's a dollar to us?

Attitude and levels of empathy, can be key in how we choose to respond to the more 'tricky situations'.

4. Trust your gut instinct when you travel, keep your wits about you, just like you do at home; after all pickpockets don't only prowl around in Thailand! I once had my purse stolen in Madrid, did I warn others to be aware of theft when visiting the city? No, but it taught me a lesson, when I became more careful with my belongings after that.


So while you may find it useful to be aware of 'dangers and annoyances', specific to the citiy or country you plan to visit; it's best not to be overcautious. It can spoil your overall travel experience. I think it's more 'annoyances' we come across, things that can be ignored. Like feeling preyed upon by over zealous carpet dealers in Morocco, or encountering open mouthed stares from folk in countries, less used to seeing foreign faces. (I've also written safety tips for women regarding unwanted attention from men).

Even those who are hyper vigilant or seasoned travellers, still fall prey to scams, as they hit you when least expected Or things happen, the same as they do, everywhere else in the world. Be kind (but savvy) there's no benefit in us going around like the 'stuck-up foreigner', complete with a superiority complex, looking down our noses at people with contempt; when we feel we're being charged more than the locals.

5. And do we need to spend so much time on Facebook to see what we're missing from home? Or to post photo's on Instagram? Everything will be the same when you get back and no, our friends won't be jealous of the photo's. You are in new, exciting, territory think of what else you could be doing with the time you spend scrolling through social media.
Wandering around Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Back in the day we needed to hunt down an internet cafe, if we wanted to contact family or friends. Or find the local post office to send letters and collect items sent from the other side of the world. Or to send those carefully selected postcards, people loved receiving, often studying the foreign stamps with glee! AND then we waited anxiously for a week to collect our photos from the chemist. Only to find our thumb in the corner of most of them! Ah, the good old days!

Finally, I had a friend visit when I was teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City. She came armed with her Rough Guide to Vietnam. As we approached my favourite bar, she quickly flicked through the pages of her book and gasped, "Oh no, we can't go there, it's not in the book!"

And people wonder why I travel alone!!!

Posted by katieshevlin62 00:47 Tagged cities travel_philosophy off_the_beaten_track solo_female_solo_travel

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I completely agree about those 'dangers and annoyances' sections - they make too many people paranoid!

by ToonSarah

I too agree on that, and am little sad about that I haven't experienced that "old school travelling" without the internet..When I am travelling I am trying to switch the phone off so-to-speak as much as I can. I am taking photos with it but I am using internet only on my accommodation..:)
I had crappy internet connection in computer lab at the dorm which I lived while in Budapest -09 and I absolutely loved it! I basically only writed e-mails to home :)

by hennaonthetrek

I mostly travel solo in Europe, maybe I should to it on a larger scale, but when I do, I go with the flow ... and yep, sometimes books can make you more suspicious about things. I use them generally to have a rough idea of the place but like you are saying of your friend in Vietnam ... even when a book says it is not so good, why not try it and see it for yourself ... opinions differ as much as there are different people in the world ... loads in other words!

by Ils1976

Thanks for the comments!Henna you can do it, just buy a small camera and don't plan the trip, just go and find your own places. And Ils(apologies I don't know your name) you should go further afield by yourself. Friends only get in the way! lol

by katieshevlin62

I am an planner by nature but it might be fun to just wing it once in a while! :)

by hennaonthetrek

We do a little of both. I make hotel and restaurant reservations by phone and find Google Maps easier to carry around than paper maps. I make a list of things in the area but the first thing we do is check with local people to see what they think is interesting in their area. If we don't see things in the guidebooks, they'll be there for the next trip. We also go to church and have met a lot of really nice and helpful people that way. In Normandy once, a priest introduced us to the congregation and for the rest of our month there, people came up to us on the streets and in the stores to chat and make sure we were seeing all the things that were important to them. Talking to people is really important even if it can be a little difficult sometimes. If you are part of a pair, it's really important to try to start the conversation. People seem much more willing to talk to a single person than a group no matter how small. Not sure why.

by Beausoleil

I will keep it in my mind Katie! :)

by Ils1976

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