Some travellers would argue that overseas adventures were much more exciting before the advent of smartphones and similar devices. With constant connectivity it can sometimes be difficult to completely immerse yourself in a foreign city or resist the temptation of checking social media for what’s been happening at home.
On the other hand, smartphones can also greatly enhance our travel experiences, allowing us to research destinations on the spot, consolidate our boarding passes and paperwork and even help us locate and lock our luggage.
With reasonably compelling arguments on both sides of the debate, what’s the verdict? Is travel better when we rely on our smartphones, or is it more enjoyable when we switch them off?
Perhaps the only time we want to be distracted when we travel is when we’re on the aeroplane. Despite the great offerings from most airlines, on board entertainment can sometimes leave passengers wanting a little more. That’s when smartphones can really become handy.
Whilst many airlines will allow you to access your phone on ‘Airplane Mode’, further developments have also seen some carriers begin to offer sophisticated, broadband-speed inflight Wi-Fi.
Typically, this type of service costs an additional fee, but there are several airlines that currently offer it for free, including Emirates and JetBlue.
This is great for travellers who subscribe to mobile services such as Netflix or Spotify and for anyone who stays in touch with their family and friends via Internet chat apps like WhatsApp and Skype.
Unless you miss the days when the cabin crew used to lower the communal televisions from the aircraft cabin roof, it’s safe to say that travelling on planes is much better with smartphones.
Much better, that is, unless you happen to drop your phone in the aeroplane toilet! We received a claim from a traveller who did just that whilst on board a flight. The phone proceeded to heat up and had to be contained in fire-retardant liquid as it was deemed a fire hazard. So keep your phone in your travel bag or zipped up in a pocket!
Unexpected bill charges
Before Wi-Fi became widely available at cafes, hotels and tourist attractions, expensive bills was often a strong case for leaving your smartphone switched off. Checking the day’s weather, posting on Instagram, or getting directions on Google Maps can all add up when you’re using global roaming overseas.
Unbeknownst to some users, certain smartphone apps also use up data over cellular networks even when not actively in use. Any app that uses geo-location, such as Google Maps or Facebook, can cut a big hole in your phone bill unless you specifically switch off data networks, push notifications, automatic software updates and location services.
As an alternative, you can opt to purchase a local sim card if your phone is not locked to a particular supplier, or purchase additional data packs on top of your original contract.
The extra money spent on mobile data could be better off contributing towards unique travel experiences.
Travel guides and information
One of the biggest challenges lots of travellers face is keeping their suitcase below the luggage weight allowance. Whether you want to fly carry-on or you’re checking in after hitting one too many shops, less is generally more when it comes to lugging a suitcase about.
Smartphones can help you to reduce the weight of your bag by digitally supplementing heavy physical items such as travel guides, cameras and laptops.
If you’re backpacking or travelling for extended periods of time, reducing the weight of your bag is a smart way of reducing any risk of injury you may incur due to heavy lifting.
Less property means less chance of damage, loss or theft – just make sure you keep your bag zipped up and out of range to any pick pockets.
Before smartphones, we often relied on communal spaces when we travelled. Internet cafes were once part and parcel of overseas travel – checking in to send emails, booking flights and catching up with friends via Skype. When we step out of our hotels and into such spaces we can meet new people and discover new attractions, activities and locales.
These days, Wi-Fi is often available in hotel rooms direct to personal devices, meaning there is less need to sit in communal spaces. We can book our next hotel, research a prospective travel destination and Facebook our family and friends back home from the comfort of the hotel bed.
Ironically, it might appear that devices designed to connect us are potentially keeping us fellow travellers apart!
If you love to meet like-minded people through chance encounters on your travels, maybe you’d be better off leaving your device at home and enjoying each moment in real time.
One of the biggest advantages of travelling with a smart phone is that it is a tool for safety on your journey. Not only can you call our Emergency Assistance number if an unexpected event affects your travel, but you can also use your device to let your family and friends know your whereabouts in the event of a disaster.
It provides a lifeline for when you get lost or can allow you to record evidence with photos or video footage. It’s a flashlight in case of a blackout, a radio for emergency broadcasts, a GPS tracker and much, much more.
So maybe the answer is both for and against smartphones. If you want to get the most out of tech, then by all means, use your device at its full capacity. But for those unforgettable moments, it might be better to turn the phone off and soak in the world around you.