To most people the thought of going to a new place without technology is absolutely terrifying, but it can be totally worth it. Tech-free travel helps you engage with the local culture of a destination. This challenge can be hard. No searching for what sites you are supposed to see, no checking Snapchat to see what other people are up to, no updating your Instagram about the amazing things you are doing, and no using Google Maps to navigate to your next destination.
If you truly want to get the most out of travel, a digital detox can be the way to do it. When you ditch tech, you can experience a destination in the same way as those who live there. You can avoid visiting certain sites, restaurants and other tourist-traps simply because they will look good on Instagram. When you travel, it is not just the things you see or do that you remember, it’s the entire adventure. So, when you look back at a trip, you might have fonder memories of getting lost on your way to an attraction than actually seeing it.
Normally, you are bombarded with constant emails, notifications and media. You are never really done with work for the day, because they can always reach you. Social media is a constant distraction. Getting away from social media when you are traveling helps you be more in the moment. Instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing, focus on yourself. Without the jealousy that comes from social media, you can be happy with what you are doing.
Of course, traveling is safer without the possibility of getting lost and taking information from stranger, so take a phone with you—but only turn it on if you really need it.
Now, how to actually do it.
If you are nervous about going to a place you know nothing about, do some planning. Decide on some sites to see, a restaurant or two to visit and a place to stay, so that when you arrive you don’t go straight into panic mode. Write down the addresses of each place and figure out where they are on a map. This will set you up for the first few hours or give you some back-ups incase things don’t work out as planned. Also, do some research on the culture of the region you are visiting to ensure you don’t offend anyone. Look up a handful of basic phrases in the native language that can help you get around.
Whether it be a novel, a game, a guide book or a journal, bring something to do during down time. Maybe you want to read a book or write a short story but haven’t had the time. Long train rides without your phone are the perfect opportunity.
In most situations, if you ask someone who looks like they know what they are doing for help, you will be pointed in the right direction. You may find yourself asking someone for directions and end up talking to him or her for hours. The people who live in an area generally have better advice than you can find on the internet anyway. Ask someone for a restaurant recommendation and you can find a spot that serves the best dumplings in Beijing, instead of being disappointed by the top-rated place on Yelp. If you don’t want to go up to a random person, ask your cab driver or server where he or she usually eats. Personal recommendations can help you exchange the crowded, overrated tourist sites with long lines and no personality for low-key, but exciting spots with lots of character.
Paper maps are practically obsolete, but without Google Maps, you are going to need one. Find the right map for your trip. If you are exploring a city, grab a map from the tourist office. For a road trip across the United States, AAA has great maps. Put a star where your hotel or any important sites are and head out. If you get lost, a site or road on a map can help guide you.
For many, the primary function of their phone when traveling is to document their trip. If you want to go truly tech free, get a journal or a real camera to replace your phone. Your entries are individual to your emotions and experiences during your trip. Reading the entries later on can bring back those happy feelings. Using a real camera will allow you to document your trip, without a phone. A polaroid camera can be even better; you immediately get to see each photo and it forces you to think about each shot instead of mindlessly snapping away.
It may seem obvious, but without your phone, any travel information about things booked in advance and any confirmations must be printed. Flight information, hotel reservations, museum tickets and other important things that you usually keep on your phone need to be accessible. An accordion folder is useful for organizing all of your documents.
In many countries, credit card machines aren’t common place in small restaurants or stores. By bringing local currency you can avoid panicking when you don’t have cash to pay. With the technology today that is meant to protect credit card theft, being blocked from spending money or retrieving cash from an ATM is common. To ensure you don’t have problems getting around without money, try and get local currency from your bank in advance. In addition, call your bank to make sure they know where you are traveling and when, so they don’t block your spending.