It’s easy to see why we’ve all become so obsessed with our phones. They’re incredible devices that give us instant access to the world and to all our friends. They’re useful, fun, and – let’s admit it – addictive.
Before we go any further, this article is not meant to shame or blame anyone. Nor will it be my great manifesto before dropping off the internet and into the wild (I have no intention of doing so).
But earlier this year, I was on a road trip through Italy, and realized that something wasn’t quite right. At the end of the trip I was standing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and suddenly felt self-conscious about being as glued to my phone as the sea of illuminated faces I saw around me. I realized we were all just staring at this magnificent tower through a screen.
It felt like a waste of an opportunity to really enjoy the present and to experience the world as it was, and so I committed to rotating some of these tips into my own life and travels, and to making sure I experience the world more.
1. Set your phone to airplane mode
It’s easy to fall into the habit of opening your favorite apps, constantly. We’ve all (probably) done that thing where you spend 15 minutes on Instagram, lose interest, close the app and then immediately re-open it.
But when you set your device to airplane mode, you won’t be tempted constantly. It’s just going to reload what you’ve already seen (if it loads at all) and it will hopefully snap you out of the cycle and remind you to be present in the real world (it’ll also save battery life, which is handy when traveling).
2. Buy the smallest data plan available
If the airplane mode trick doesn’t do it for you, the possibility of going over your data plan just might. I’d recommend this for travelers who want to buy a fixed data plan while they go abroad. Buying the smallest one will give you just enough for emergencies and navigation but not enough to waste it. Sure, you could always increase the data when you see you’re running out, but is it really worth the extra cash just to see another blurry video of your roommate’s goldfish? Maybe. But probably not.
3. Bring back some structure
When I was in high school, Facebook was just starting to become popular. You added everybody you knew and posted things about important matters like what you were listening to. We weren’t great at social media yet, but one thing we got right back then were the boundaries you had about when and where you could use it.
If you went on a great vacation, you had to wait until you got back in front of your computer to share something about it. If you wanted to message a friend back home, you had to wait until you were back at the hotel. You had set times when you could be in front of the screen and if it was a really good trip, you were usually so busy enjoying it, you didn’t have the time or energy at the end of a satisfying day to worry about what was happening online.
To help you make the most of your travels – to really experience the real world instead of being engrossed in the online one all the time – I recommend bringing back some of this structure and discipline. Putting your phone on airplane mode helps, but deciding to only share on social once you’re back at your hotel is another way of staying disciplined. Also…
4. Use a proper camera
I loved my Polaroid camera (the kind that printed your photo directly from the camera). I had photos of everyone and everything I loved or even remotely cared about. And even though I now have about a decade and a half of lovely photos from digital cameras, there’s something incredibly special about my photos from Polaroids or the meticulously processed, printed, and framed photos I’ve taken with my DSLR.
I cherish those just a little bit more now. Maybe it’s because with a proper camera, I get fewer chances to get the shot I want than with my iPhone because storage and materials are limited. It could also be because the photos I take with a DSLR take evenings trying to pretend I’m gifted with Photoshop before I feel brave enough to show them to the world. Either option is a good one if you want to spend less time with your phone, but still want good memories from your experiences.
5. Make a pact with friends/fellow travelers
We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at the table at an awesome new restaurant in the city you always wanted to visit with your mates, the meal comes out and the half dozen people surrounding you take out their phones to snap a quick meal photo for the ‘gram. You probably don’t even really care about getting the shot, but everybody else is doing it, so you snap a quick shot as well.
Next time, take advantage of that group mentality and ask everyone to go without using their phones. Some old friends and I have a pact with each other that when we get the rare opportunity to all sit down for a meal together, we can’t use our phones. The first person to reach for their phone has to buy somebody’s dinner. Even if it’s an inexpensive meal, it’s still a fun challenge and a clear reminder that we want to spend our quality time uninterrupted by technology.