One of the greatest things about backpacking is the freedom and adventure that comes with falling off the grid and being completely unplugged.
Until this trip, I was the biggest advocate of leaving all technology at home except for a camera.)
I felt (and I still feel) the only way to really do justice to what ever place you traveled so far to see is to leave any and all mental tethers to home, at home.
Cellphones, lap tops, iPads are portals to where you came from and checking your email every night or Skyping your bestfriend everyday keeps your head way too much at home for my taste.
Plus, having a working cellphone takes all the fun out of getting yourself out of a mess. Having to walk around a town from hostel to hostel looking for vacancy might totally suck at the time but it also might just turn into a super funny memory that you will always then have with your travel buddy.
These kinds of things really add some much needed humor and challenge to your backpacking experience and shouldn't be forgone for the ease of a cellphone.
All that being said, I am beginning to learn and really appreciate the advantages of bringing a smart phone along with you on your trip. This is my first ever international trip with a smartphone and I am loving it.
Not only does my phone have a better camera than my actual camera but I also love the filters that I downloaded before I came overseas like Instagram and Hipsamatic (I turned the Share option off.) They really add some edge to my travel photos and sometimes, by altering with a filter, I feel I can capture how a place makes me feel even better than with a regular camera.
Being able to take quick HD videos on my phone is a killer plus too. Sometimes a photo just isn't enough and being able to quickly switch from still photo to video has really enhanced my documentation of my trip.
Because I've kept my cell on Airplane Mode this entire time (which is free) and I have only used free Wifi in hostels and restaurants, traveling with my phone has helped me cut Internet Cafe costs and time... which after two months of being in Central America would have really added up.
It's also extremely convenient for me personally because I can write blog posts on long bus rides or while laying out on the beach in Panama, which is what I'm doing right now. I can save my blog post or email and upload or send it at another time when I have Wifi.
The way I look at it, writing on a cellphone that is not connected to the internet is the equivalent to writing in your own travel journal or diary and I see no problem dedicating however much time you would give to either of those activities.
Prewriting when I have some down time is the ultimate time saver which helps me stay unlocked from WiFi hot spots or internet cafes.
The trick is strict moderation. If you are staying at a hostel with WiFi, ONLY turn your WiFi on when you are using it. Budget time each day (or better, once every few days) to sit down and upload or email or research or whatever.
Stay with in your time limit and when you are done with whatever you needed to do, turn your WiFi off. DO NOT get sucked into Facebook or YouTube or some other time wasting site.
Keep your research focused like you would if you were being charged to use a computer at an Internet cafe and keep social media a One Way Street. What I mean by that is, by all means, upload photos and update your Facebook status but don't start searching for what your friends have been up to or using your precious travel time to Like status updates or random links of your friends.
You can do that all at home when your back and bored at your office job- just upload your own shit and get the heck off line and back into the world.
Don't whip out your cell every time you have a bit of downtime. This one is the most challenging to me because I ALWAYS have a video I could be editing or a blog post I could be writing but being bored is a GOOD thing while traveling.
The Art of Doing Nothing is something we Americans typically suck at and down time on the road is a phenomenal way begin to flex this muscle. Even so, I mess this one up on a regular basis. I will be sitting, waiting at bus stop, trying to expand my Zen-ness and take in every moment of what's going on all around me... and without even realizing it, all of sudden, I come out of a daze and I'm trimming a video on my damn iPhone!
Yeah, that happens- but I'm trying.
Once a week, maybe you want to budget an hour or so to stupid online stuff. Check out that link your friend posted, respond to silly but irrelevant posts on your wall, Facebook stalk your ex, whatever- just don't let it consume you and stay within in your preset time limit.
I promise, your favorite travel memories will have nothing to do with you browsing through wedding photos of some girl you went to high school with.
Traveling with my iPhone has been a game changer for me. Being able to take better photos, updating my blog while actually on the road and being able to occasionally video Skype my parents has absolutely enhanced my travel experience. Finding the balance of being unplugged while still being technically plugged in has been a fun challenge that I am still mastering. I hope my tips help you get the most of our travel experience while staying off the grid and unplugged.
While I'm traveling with my iPhone internationally for the first time, these are the apps I have found most helpful and the most fun while abroad.
I would also like to point out that by keeping my cell on Airplane mode and using only free Wifi, staying plugged in has been 100% free.
Heytell is one of my FAVORITE Apps in the US and I was so super stoked to learn that it works internationally too! The catch with this one though is that you have to have it set up and all of your friends must be added BEFORE you take your phone abroad (it requires a text message invite which is not free, and sometimes not possible internationally.)
Think of Heytell like verbal text messages or a Walkie Talkie that stores the audio until you are ready to listen- it's amazing and so so fun, trust me. Download it and have fun going back and forth with family and friends while traveling and while at home.
Googles Blog App. Obviously, I love this one. It's a seamless way to update your blog while on the road.
Skype is a free way to video or audio chat with friends and family back home through WiFi. Set your Skype up at home on a desktop or laptop to make easier on yourself and upload the App on to your cell before you leave. Skype is the shit, just trust me on that. Set your mom up with an account before you leave so you two can video chat to make her really happy.
• Hipsamatic and Instagram
These are just two of the wonderful photo filter sites available from the Apple iStore. Hipsamatic is $1.99 and Instagram is free. I have both but to be honest, I like Instagram more. I like how you can choose your filter after you take the photo and easily try all of them out so you can really get the best. Far from 'cheating,' filters can really help you capture the feeling of a place that simply isn't possible to do with regular film. An example, the hostel I'm staying at in Panama has the Caribbean glowing, literally GLOWING from slits under the floor boards. Regular film just doesn't show the glow but Instagram filter X-Pro II makes it glow the way it looks in real life.
Install both of these Apps before you leave home because of long download times.
Have an APPsolutey wonderful trip :)