We are living in a digital era, and the backpacking traveler, no matter what country she or he goes to, cannot escape that. Just six years ago traveling backpacker-style (moving on local transport and staying in shared hostels) with a cheap, twenty-dollar cell phone meant one more thing to keep track of. At that time it would have been absurd to consider bringing a smart phone to many places, especially such places where these little computers we call phones are not common and generally reserved for the wealthy. Pulling out a smart phone flaunts one’s wealth, which is never a good idea while traveling.
But things have changed. Wi-Fi started becoming common in hostels and internet-cafés in tourist areas are harder to find. As with many things that change, it is never purely for good or for bad, but it has its ups and downs. In some ways it makes living in the moment more feasible—booking an airline ticket the evening before a flight can be done at 11:00 p.m. from a bed. But it becomes much harder to escape home with Facebook and Twitter still at your fingertips. In many cases human interaction sprung from necessity is no longer needed, at home or abroad. Instead of asking a random person on the street for directions, I can use the maps.me application (a downloadable map that navigates without an internet connection) to find my way. While I just lost a moment of human contact that could have turned into a memorable experience, not many people are around and I am able to get back to my hostel before dark, knowing I am heading in the right direction.
Like so many decisions when traveling, deciding whether or not to bring a smart phone is a personal one that can only be decided by you. In my recent experiences, traveling with a smart phone made my life much easier. I pre-booked hostels so I had an address to hand the taxi driver, I was able to easily navigate my way around streets, I booked overnight train tickets a few days prior to get a sleeper berth, and I set up tours which were important to me ahead of time to ensure I’d have the experiences I wanted.
Still, some of my favorite memories from being on the road are the unplanned ones, the ones where I had very little idea of where I was going and how to get there and getting lost at some point was eminent. Those are the moments that reminded me that I’m strong and capable and that life isn’t as difficult and complicated as we make it out to be. If you’re unsure, then do a little research about your destination before deciding.
And whatever you decide, live the experience and don’t be trapped by spending precious time emailing and updating social media.