This article was first written in 2007, when smart phones were still mostly used by business people, and before iPhone was released. This trip to Belgium was the website authors’ first real experience of smart phone-based travel. Virtually the entire trip was organised by BlackBerry, while on the road. The article also raises important issues on how smart phones can enhance, rather than impede, your travel experience.
Lonely Planet is often the bible of choice for backpackers all over the world. My LPs have gotten me around all sorts of places where I didn’t speak the local language, didn’t have time to try to ask the locals how often the boat leaves for abc, and my LPs have given me the needed direction when faced with thousands of decisions ranging from how do I eat, to what is the best itinerary for 5 days in xyz country.
However, I was finding myself living vicariously through my LP, afraid to venture off its suggested paths into the unknown world of self-reliant exploration. As a stepping stone away from the Lonely Planet Holiday towards Independant Travel, I have discovered the WikiTravel Holiday, the Google Holiday, and on a trip to Belgium and Holland in 2007, the Smart Phone Holiday.
I had become so accustomed to travel that I spent almost no time researching the trip before our departure. My brother and I had pieced the trip together on a shared google map of trappist breweries in Belgium. We decided to hire bicycles and virtually all of our research including accommodation, cycling distances, people to meet up with, brew pub opening hours, bicycle rentals, and restaurants came from various applications on my blackberry. At historical locations, I could simply wiki the name of the place, and we had an instant self-guided tour full of interesting little tidbits of information to help explain what we were seeing. On the train into a new city, we would search for accommodation, plug the address into google maps, route the path from the train station to the hotel including exact route distance, and organise our hotel choices with all of this in mind. Quite a departure from the usual walking-aimlessly-carrying-6-months-of-gear-on-your-back-looking-for-accommodation ritual that backpackers in Europe can empathise with.
What’s dangerous about the convenience of travel is that we have gotten lazy. That year, I rarely prepare anything before a trip, knowing much less about the place I was going before I departed. This had very negative impacts on my depth of experience of new places. I used to have rules: always know how to say ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Excuse me’, and ‘Hello’ in the local language before setting foot in a new country; have some knowledge of the political and social history of a place; it’s staple cuisine and traditional dishes; etc. In fact, I had become so laissez-faire with travel in those years that I caught myself looking up the significance of places and sites after I had gotten back from a trip!
Did my BlackBerry only make me lazier? Or did it add layers of conventional information, alternative stories, historical reference, and sub-cultures to my experience? Why spend so much money and time traveling when you can’t invest those few hours before you leave to learn things that will make your experience exponentially richer? If I depend on GPS all the time, will I entirely lose my good sense of direction? I take pictures with my BlackBerry and immediately in near real-time send them to friends abroad, yet I never get around to putting words to the pictures anymore? Is access to third party (English) information conveniently enabling me to avoid engaging with people right in front of me?
I think I know the easiest solution: a Lonely Planet Application for BlackBerrys.