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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Travelling with and without Smartphones

How they changed the way we travel & how to make best use


We use smartphones a lot during our travels these days - for navigation, weather forecasts, online hotel and travel reservations, searching for nearby tourist spots, fun activities, restaurants and what not. The phone camera also serves as an alternative to a handheld camera. I am one who has travelled with and without smartphones, and in my personal experience they have changed the way I travel. Here are some tips and perspectives on how to make the best out of it.


The most useful applications of smartphones according to me are the GPS enabled maps, which make travelling and finding a place lot easier, provided there is good network. Otherwise, its back to paper maps. Lot of interior places have very bad mobile network coverage. This happened to us in the western ghats in Chikkamagalur, where paper maps came to our rescue along with some friendly locals who guided us.


One can check all about a place with the plethora of information available online, including weather, accommodations, reviews and even book tickets or hotel rooms. In fact you could possibly be reading this on your smartphone somewhere right now.

I began travelling in the 90’s which was an era when many did not even have a landline phone in this country. Travelling those days had its own sheen and splendour, minus all the gizmos. People who travelled in those times can relate to this; that travelling those days had a much bigger footprint in our memory. It also was a wonderful learning experience interacting with people. For example, requesting their assistance and guidance on the routes and places to see around, sipping a coffee at a small shop by the highway, chatting with the shopkeeper and getting useful tips that can never be found on the internet.

We used to see signboards and paper maps and that would make it so more interesting and adventurous, and on reaching the destination gave that feeling of content.


Nowadays when we begin our travel, most of us have the GPS on, which takes us where we want to go making travel more convenient. But we don’t usually interact with anyone and might miss out some things that might have made travel much interesting. Smartphones aren’t actually a necessity during travels and road trips. We didn’t have any gadgets and gizmos to our aid just two decades ago. But instead of having to take paper maps or carry a camera around us and maybe a cellphone just for calling and emergencies; a smartphone is a much portable all-in-one kind of a gadget.


The inbuilt camera is another wonderful companion, especially with the high resolution cameras that the recent smartphones come equipped with. There are many who prefer carrying a smartphone with a good camera rather than a point-and-shoot or a DSLR, considering portability and numerous other advantages it provides.

Provided there is sufficient memory in the phone and memory card, high definition (HD) and even 4K pictures and videos for higher end phones can be taken. With these in our pockets, they reduce the need to carry a point and shoot or DSLR and even a video recorder with us, making transit easier.

In earlier days, during most of the travels we did not even have a camera and never thought that we required one. For those who had one those days, had to use a negative film roll with limited capacity. With that limit we only took pictures that we thought were really required. Also the dry cells or chargeable batteries used to dry up so quickly that we had to ration the pictures.

Smartphone camera

Now, the limiting factor is the battery charge of our smartphones as they get drained quickly, especially while using GPS and the camera app. In many places we suffered from low battery, due to keeping GPS on for finding directions and also internet for finding a food joint or other information. Its always wise to take a print of the map especially if you are travelling to a remote place which may have bad network coverage. A weak network also drains your phone battery faster.

Unless you have a good backup battery charger or power bank, charging the phone or a DSLR camera can get hard as in many places you can hardly find a socket to insert your charger. We faced this issue in Badami, where the DSLR battery ran out and the power bank failed to charge. Luckily for us, a kind owner of a small eatery let us charge it there, while we had some food and tea.

So if you are planning on depending much on your smartphone during travel, then these are the essentials: you need to make sure it has a good battery, suffecient memory in it and option for sufficient external memory; and a backup charger or powerbank to charge it in the absence of power sources. Make sure it has a good camera which takes good pictures in low light, and has a good image stability if you want quality photographs from it. There are several sites and users whose reviews can be found easily on the internet which help you chose the best smartphone for your needs.

Also, video recording on phones consume a lot of battery charge and require lot of memory, especially for HD or 4K videos. Sufficient memory depending of your video requirement is a must.

Now and then:
Earlier we spent lesser time taking pictures and more observing through our eyes, capturing each single moment, just like a super duper DSLR camera that printed pictures directly on our minds forever. At the end of day, we would have captured so many memories just by observing and feeling the things around us. At the end of the travel, it was such an excitement to get those negatives developed and secure them in an album and then flaunt by showing those to others.

Smartphone camera

But now, we use cameras so much that our mind doesn’t receive enough images to reserve a permanent slot in our memories. So, what we see is essentially lost from our minds at the end of the trip, and those on the memory cards exist momentarily when shared on social media, and is soon forgotten. Life has indeed become very materialistic. I hardly recall any of the recent trips where I focused too much of my time in taking pictures. But I can clearly recall earlier trips with my best buddies.

Finally, whether taking pictures or not, GPS with maps or not, smartphones do help a lot. We make use of them ourselves during our excursions. But we don’t overuse it. You can have a smartphone, GPS maps, fantastic camera and apps and still enjoy and do all other things that make travel an amazing experience.

It is not my purpose here to convey whether smartphones enhance or reduce our travelling pleasure, but only to say that if you have been into only snapping selfies and pictures in your travels and tours, and are spending time on your gadget a bit too much, then when you are on your next trip try doing things a little differently. Take pictures only as much as you need, spend a lot of time exploring the place, understanding it, learning a bit of the history, traditions & culture of the place. Talk to people and get to know unexplored places that you cannot find on GPS or Google. Of course, at the same time make sure you aren’t misguided by a local and do not land into some trouble. Everyone isn’t a good person. Talk to your family and spend some quality time with them on family tours, play games or have discussions with friends or family rather than be immersed in emails, messages, social media and sharing. Spend some quality time with your people on your trip, along with savouring the ambience and bliss of the wonderful place itself.


Your Thoughts : How useful was your smartphone while travelling? Which smartphone would you recommend as best for travel?
Do share your thoughts and comments.



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