Since we have started traveling together in their adulthood my kids and I have been lost looking for the little mermaid statue in Copenhagen, one block from our hotel in Stockholm, driving through the countryside in Ireland and pretty much every square inch of Tokyo. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been by the same spot three or four times, one of us always swears we’ve never been there before. We all diligently drop a pin on Google maps for our hotel or Airbnb location the minute we check in. We have been led to our destination by literally dozens of kind locals who have taken pity on us. Sadly, most of this confusion has taken place even with the use of SIM cards, Google maps, TripIt, HyperDia and many other technological aids.
Back before the smartphone we traveled in a completely different way. Sure, there were occasional clueless bumblings but on the whole we had a far deeper sense of where we were going and what we were up to. An uncharted territory felt less like a mistake and more like an adventure. Another great aspect of this old-fashioned, retro style travel was that when we got there we looked around, we participated and were present. We didn’t need to check Instagram for the best angle to photograph the Eiffel Tower. We looked at it! While I would not recommend traveling without a smartphone, including these five, old-school items in your bag can change your perspective and enhance your trip.
Some benefits of paper maps are obvious. More than once we’ve been lost and worried our phones would go dead because we forgot to charge or didn’t bring a charging device. Using a real map forces us to look around instead of staring at a dot on Google. We’ve been known to run across town from one attraction to another, when there were interesting things to see right in the same neighborhood. Successful map reading leaves us with a sense of self reliance and opens our eyes to our surroundings.
Sometimes expert advice makes a great difference in how you experience a new place. In today’s world of Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews, everyone can represent themselves as travel critics. Fodor’s and Lonely Planet guides provide valuable, well researched background on the sites we come to see. We have walked through Japanese temples clueless about their history when if we’d used a guidebook we would have gained more appreciation for them.
It can be fun to pick up a few postcards from each location you visit and write some impressions to yourself and friends during your down time. If you mail them from your hotel or a local post office, they will provide you with a special written memory of your trip when you get home complete with local stamps and postmarks.
I’ve written before about the enjoyment I get from using a sketchbook to record my memories. They force me to slow down and look around, really taking in the sites of a new place. My sketches aren’t great art but I’m improving and spending less vacation time on Facebook.
There were so many times on our last trip when a small pair of binoculars or opera glasses would have made the trip more fun. We saw sumo wrestling matches and spent a lot of time on our phones taking photos to view later. Binoculars would have given us a better picture of the spectacle in the moment. They could be used to examine buildings up close and wildlife that is normally unapproachable.
I’ve spent loads of time researching travel hacks and smartphone apps, but I’m beginning to think it’s time to start traveling “old-school.” Maybe our parents were on to something? What do you think?