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How cellphones are ruining the travel experience

In the past few years, I’ve read about a number of restaurants around the world that offer discounts to patrons who surrender their cellphones at the door or leave them at home, such as Eva Restaurant in Los Angeles, Bedivere Eatery & Tavern in Beirut, and The Central Restaurant in Ontario, Canada. I wish that airlines and hotels could do the same for leisure travelers when they checked in because many tourists are walking around with cellphone in hand – glancing, swiping, searching, scrolling, texting, snapping or uploading – which changes their travel experience, and not for the better.

On a recent trip to the Garden District of New Orleans, I felt like I was one of the only people using a paper map to find our way to certain sites. Everyone else was relying on Google Maps or the GPS on their cellphones to navigate them. For me, following electronic step-by-step instructions takes away one of the best parts of travelling: getting lost. As the saying goes: It’s the journey, not the destination.

One of my fondest memories of visiting Rome was getting lost every time we tried to find our way back to our hotel. All of the streets seemed to have similar, melodic sounding names, and we were easily confused about which historic church or piazza we just passed because there were so many of them and they all blended together after a few days.

All of the round-about walking made us hungry and tired, so we always stopped off for gelato somewhere. After the difficult decision of what flavour to have, we sat outside and enjoyed the weather, the view, and the people-watching until we were re-energized enough to try to find our way back again. Each time, we managed to stumble upon some unique store or hidden historical gem along the way. We would have missed these things if we took the straight and narrow path given to us by our cellphone.

Some people’s reliance on their cellphone has also changed where they eat when travelling. After walking around the New Orleans’ Garden District, we had worked up quite the appetite, so we all agreed we should go somewhere for lunch. Before we could even cross the street to see what restaurants were there, my friend looked up where we were on her phone and found what eateries were nearby. She clicked on the links for each one to see what the customer ratings and reviews were. Whatever happened to stumbling upon a place to eat on your own?

Food is definitely a big part of any city’s culture, and some of my favourite meals have been at places we came across randomly. I find that the more off-the-beaten path and unheard of the restaurant was, the better the food and dining experience ended up being. And I always like the element of surprise you get when you eat at an establishment you know nothing about. I don’t want my experience to be influenced by what I read about the chicken gumbo or how many stars or thumbs-up an eatery got.

Searchability aside, some travellers say that they “need” to take their cellphone on trips because it has replaced their camera as a device to snap good quality pictures. That would be fine if it just stopped there, but it often doesn’t. In our age of immediacy, people then feel compelled to post their travel pictures on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. By doing so, it becomes less about sharing the view or experience with your travel partner, and more about sharing it with all of your followers.

Leaving your cellphone at home is also important because it allows you to disconnect from your daily life. If you bring it with you while travelling, you might feel compelled to text your family and friends back home, respond to work messages, and check your Facebook wall and Twitter feed. To me, this takes precious time and attention away from fully connecting to both the city you’re travelling to and the people you’re travelling with. I wonder if people would stop doing this if there was a discount involved. I already know what I’d use my savings on: buying a more comfortable pair of shoes for when I get lost again trying to find my way back to the hotel.

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