Do I really need a smart phone to travel? It depends what you want. Having a phone is very helpful and I carry mine as a backup for emergencies and never use it unless I decide to contact a friend nearby. But if you really want to fully experience travel in Japan, I’d say turn off your phone and just forget it in your backpack. Grab a map, talk to strangers, and go where the wind takes you!
Obviously this is not for the faint.
As a traveler and not a tourist, try to travel and communicate without being dependent on technology. Self reliance is the best way to fully experience, learn, remember, and have an adventure abroad! I promise you that you will be stressed and challenged. However this type of stress will help you become independent and stronger. A little bit of stress will even help you remember some Japanese that you pick up along the way.
Mobile Phone For Convenience. Turn off the phone for a REAL adventure!
Many may disagree that I choose not to use a phone while traveling (remember I’m not a tourist), but personally, using a mobile phone during a trip really helps find stores, bus stops, train stations and train times, and so on… It’s good to have information for convenience and it can save your ass many times over and over when you get lost but I’ve seen my fair share of distractions and drama. The worst I’ve seen was a friend of mine having a breakup over the phone while visiting and traveling with me. He came to Japan to travel around, train ninjitsu, and see all the ninja dojos/sites but he ended spending 90% of his time and attention towards his phone because his SO was cheating on him.
If something happens, it happens! Something unexpected is almost always likely to happen in life and that’s part of the adventure of life! Leave all the junk and drama at home and deal with it when you get back. The best way to stay detached from home is to turn the phone off, get lost, and EXPLORE.
How about for taking pictures?
Many smart phones shoot high quality pictures these days (sometimes even better than dslrs). Even better, smart phone cameras are highly compact and very light to carry. If you’re satisfied with your phones, go for it. I know some of my friends that disable their network so they’re not on a leash. They just use the camera and GPS on their phones. However, I think they are better options for taking pictures and videos like using a gopro camera. Bring a real camera, as they are more efficient with battery power, data storage, and photo quality than mobile phones.
Furthermore, please stop the narcissistic selfies with the phone when traveling please. Ask people to take a picture of you whenever possible if you need a pic of yourself. Be social, open, and try to communicate with the Japanese people. You’ll be surprised how most of them are very hospitable to you. Remember that Japan isn’t a bad country where strangers will runaway with your camera. Although robberies do occur sometimes, theft of a camera from a tourist is rare.
It’s about Utilizing what you Have Around you!
Some people say I’m really crazy going without a smart phone but I always ask them, how did travelers do it 10+ years ago? Independence, critical thinking, and creativity will increase if you don’t rely on a phone when traveling. When traveling, I usually plan way ahead of time and write down what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it while leaving room for flexibility. I also make a copy of the final plan and keep one in my bag, and another in my wallet, so if I ever lose the main copy, I still know what to do. You can’t duplicate phone records so easily if you lose your phone.
I HOPE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS MY PERSONAL CHOICE. IF YOU ARE NOT COMFORTABLE TRAVELING WITHOUT A PHONE, DON’T DO IT.
Japan being a modernized first world country with a relatively solid public infrastructure compared to most of the world should not be a major problem for travelers. Compared to traveling to places like the countryside in Belize or Thailand, or some rain forest in Brazil, Japan is relatively easy and safe in which GPS and checkpoint communications is not necessary at all. If you’re not convinced try it out for yourself and try to determine how much more you can explore your surroundings.
Furthermore, a phone may prevent you from socializing with the people around you. For example, if a person gets lost, the first thing he/she would likely do is check their phone. Without a phone, the first thing I would do is ask for help from people around me for help and in the process make small chit chat and build friendship. The magic in asking for help in Japan is the hospitality!!! If there isn’t help, you’re probably up in the mountains or somewhere remote.
My Thoughts about Being Connected While Traveling
The way I see it, our generation is filled with so much convenience through technology, we’re continuously connected with people we are familiar with. In my opinion, it is always good to have friends and to keep in touch. But sometimes we have to let go and grow! We need to get out of our current environment and mindset to experience new things and build new relationships. Therefore, for me to completely learn my surroundings and challenge myself in a foreign environment to the fullest potential, I think it’s best to disconnect from what/who I’m familiar with for a couple of days / weeks and actually feel vulnerable to new experiences. So why complain?
I hope people understand that this is my personal choice. If you are not comfortable traveling without a phone, don’t do it.
I need to use my phone in Japan!
Those who do decide to use a smart phone for traveling, connecting your phone to the Japanese mobile network is quite easy. All you need to do is purchase a sim card and insert it to your phone. They conveniently sell sim cards at the the airport (Narita Airport has quite a few of these vending machines). The rates vary but it’s quite reasonable. You can also rent out smart phones and the best place to get them to my opinion for tourists is at the airport. It’s harder to find phone rentals outside of the airport as they require more documentation than just your passport.
All in all, people like myself find carrying a phone a distraction while traveling. I also forget about GPS. Sometimes I want to forget who I’ve known for a while and go without the constant bugging of people asking what I am doing or where I’m at. I also like to explore instead of using Google to find where the nearest train station is. A phone does make it convenient, but prevents you from thinking like a real traveler. I actually get maps from a tourist information booth and orientate myself using landmarks to get where I want to. The map later on becomes a great souvenir/ memorabilia too!
All I want to do is make the most out of my “travels”. Phones are like a leash!