THE BLOG

Why I Failed To Travel Without Using My Smartphone

10/23/2013 12:41 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

It's a Thursday night in Tel Aviv and despite my best efforts to dress for a few hours of bar hopping, I feel incredibly naked.

Wallet? Yup. Underwear? Oh yeah. Shoes? I've got both of them.

The one thing I'm missing is my phone. It's locked away in a hotel room safe as part of an experiment I've brought upon myself: travel for a week without using your phone.

Sounds simple, right? Not quite.

See, I never made it to seven days. I caved once I got back from the bars -- just three days into the trip.

But before I divulge the details of my moment of weakness, let's back up a bit.

Roughly eight in 10 Canadians with smartphones say they don't leave home without their BlackBerry's, iPhones or Android-powered devices, according to a Google survey on smartphone habits.

You can count me as one of those eight.

I use my phone for work. I use my phone for fun. I use it to keep myself sane on my commute to the office. But I've noticed what started off as a tool has now become something of a crutch.

I panic when I can't find my phone. My phone comes with me to the dinner table even when I know it shouldn't. If checking emails was a sport, my phone and I would qualify for the Olympics.

So, I was curious to see if that same digital dependency that plagued me at home would tag along when I was abroad.

Like many people, when I travel, I pack my smartphone. Because a smartphone isn't just a phone any more: it's your camera, an impromptu translator when things get rough, and even a basic clock for some.

Like many people, having a smarthphone is like having a local friend. If you have questions, it'll have answers. It knows the lay of the land, the language(s) and even where not to eat. So to shut down and say goodbye to a close pal can be tough -- it'll even leave you feeling lonely at times.

A week ago I travelled to Israel as part of a group of Canadian journalists invited by the country's Ministry of Tourism. Just before takeoff we decided to take a group picture. That's when the urge to turn on my phone first kicked in.

Photos turned into tweets, tweets evolved into Facebook posts and I wanted to interact with them all. I wanted to join in on the fun; to see what I was missing out on. But no phone meant no phone.

Loneliness turned into awkwardness during meals where we'd snap photos of our food. There's plenty of commentary on phone food photography so I'll add to the discussion only this: the dinner table is no place for a DSLR.

For all the grief people give smartphone food photographers, at least they're discrete about it. Me? I'm the dude with a 135-mm lens invading your personal space.

When loneliness and awkwardness weren't running their emotional course, I felt embarrassed. Perhaps this is a byproduct of growing up in an age where essentially anything can be Googled, but travelling without a smartphone made me feel pretty dumb.

You didn't know why the Sicarii threw buckets of water off the top of Masada when the Romans laid siege to the fortress? Of course, it was an example of psychological warfare. Too bad you couldn't look that up on Wikipedia.

Still, despite feeling left out, stupid or embarrassed, I did take away a few things: travelling without a phone -- despite how difficult it may feel -- does have some benefit. I felt as if I was a better listener, I found myself enjoying the scenery with my own eyes instead of from behind a four-inch screen and when that wasn't the case, at least I didn't have to worry about roaming charges.

But let's get back to the part where I failed in my little experiment: Best intentions aside, when it's 3 a.m. and your stomach's filled with a mixture of Arak and Goldstar, willpower takes a backseat to impulse.

Mashing my fingers on the safe's keypad, I pulled out my phone and popped in the battery. And there it was: all the emails, text messages, tweets and Facebook updates, just waiting for me... along with an overwhelming sense of failure.

Perhaps I caved because the last thing I put down before going to bed is my phone.

Maybe it's because the phone is first thing I pick up after waking up.

Three years of smartphone habits are tough to shake within a week. But I'm okay with that. Because at least I know what my limit is. Maybe on my next trip I'll make it to four days. Hopefully on the trip after that, I'll make it to five.

And when I do, I'm sure it'll feel great. Just don't expect to hear about it through Facebook or Twitter.

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