My Year of Living (and Travelling) Without a Mobile Phone

The circumstances that led to the parting with my treasured mobile phone were not premeditated.

If anything it was just good timing. That and the copious amounts of cheap alcohol consumed at an Irish bar in Edinburgh which resulted in yours truly waking up drunk in the middle of the night and pissing in the corner of a hotel room onto the jeans that pocketed the expensive new Samsung Galaxy.

As much as I pleaded with the insurance agency the week after, water damage was not covered in the warranty. The unmistakable stink of piss from its fried battery still pungent to both the agent and I, even after many baby wipe smears.

That was July 2013 and three months before I was due to take off for a nine month trip around Central and South America. Because I was only half way through my 18 month network contract I considered buying a second phone. Ultimately I decided against it, weighing up that international charges abroad could cost an arm, a leg and probably several other body parts.

I figured that for the next few months, with the combination of my laptop in the evening, and chained to my work desk during the day, I was always reachable through email and Facebook. If it was urgent it would find a way through to me somehow. That arrangement worked well for the remainder of my Summer in Ireland as I was gently weaned off my Tablet Tit.

Inspired, I felt the confidence to set off on my adventure phone-less and froze the contract with my network until I returned. Potential benefits, I thought, less noise and clutter – a simpler, stress free life. It would be refreshing not to have the world in my pocket. After all, I was travelling for a reason – to gather some rich experiences and immerse myself in new cultures.

I didn’t need or want the anchor in my pocket to remind me of corrupt Irish politicians, invitations to play Candy Crush or a plethora of other distractions that would take me away from enjoying my own journey on the other side of the world.

PhonePerhaps I could find more time during the day, reconnect with some passions that I’d left stagnant for too long, like writing and photography, maybe even becoming more social instead of a slave to technology. By social I mean real world interaction – good old face to face conversation.

Not to be confused with social media which I believe to be an oxymoron – my time spent in dozens of hostels on this trip testament to that, observing the almost monastic silence in common areas as travellers scroll through their Smart phones.

At least it would be one less item I would need to be mindful of, stowing away with other belongings under lock and key in a hostel locker, or having to switch to stealth mode on nights out, becoming extra vigilant confirming the devices presence in my pocket during the night with gentle taps. So….

Was it worth It?

There is no doubt in my mind that having a phone would have made things a lot simpler. That is undeniable. Items like Google Maps would have made my life much easier, as the overnight bus suddenly spits you out at 5am onto a small ghost town across the Bolivian border. Or even reserving hostels on the fly as you catch a spontaneous last minute shuttle to the next destination, fearing that Easter weekend might make your chances of securing something much trickier.

Of course, all this can be avoided with good planning. Google Maps can be replaced with a good map. I’ve leant heavily on my Lonely Planet Guidebook, probably using it more than your average traveller for this reason. I’m not advocating a technology free existence while travelling. My laptop (when it has worked) has gotten me out of a few scrapes, and of course the hostels all have wireless facilities and PC access. But, the freedom of cutting the umbilical cord and going phone-free especially when travelling has been a really fun, challenging and exhilarating experience.

I’ve spoken more Spanish than I otherwise would have, asking for directions, advice on places to dine and engaging with locals on long public bus rides. I’ve had extra hours during the day to read and write, making me feel like I’ve actually done something with my day instead of Levelling-Up on the latest Facebook game. I’ve interacted with people and made some genuine friends along the way, which I may not have done if my head was buried in my device.

Without a mobile, you might think that appointments with friends would be more difficult to manage, but this was not the case. In fact, it was the opposite. Our meetings were always ‘stickier’ and on time because they had no way of letting me know otherwise.

I suppose one of the drawbacks has been in the nightclub and party scene. Whatsapp is huge in South America. Everyone is on it. Because it is a mobile phone application, it cuts Zen hippies like me out of the equation. I’ve had some bemused looks when I’ve tried to explain that I don’t have a mobile phone. Their embarrassment is complete when I pull out a pad and paper on the dance-floor.

Can I have your email address instead?”

Either way, I’ve survived it and had fun along the way. My travels wrap up in less than a month, and I’ll probably invest in a mobile device again. Something more old school is probably on my radar. I don’t need to be connected 24-7.

I’m still nostalgic over the older Nokia models where one charge would keep the battery alive for almost a week. But the bottom line is that you need to be making the phone work for you, instead of you working for it. If my Smart Phone fast has taught me one thing in the past year it’s this:

Time is too precious to waste.

Unless of course you’re reading this post from your Tablet.

In that case – the like button is below. πŸ™‚

8 thoughts on “My Year of Living (and Travelling) Without a Mobile Phone

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