How Smartphones Change How We Travel

Smartphones change how we travel just a few years after this phone collection from 2006 (courtesy Steve Jurvetson on Flickr CC)

Smartphones change how we travel, even just a decade after this phone collection from 2006 (courtesy Steve Jurvetson on Flickr Creative Commons)

When I ask myself, “How did we manage to find our way on road trips/find a place to eat/find a hotel/find things to do, before everyone had a phone?” I have to smile.

At 56, I’m old enough to remember exactly how we did it.

A stack of paper maps, a dog-eared guide book, phone calls from hulking pay phones, snail mail, plus asking random local people lots of questions (and hoping they had enough of a clue about their own town to be able to answer.)

Email sped things up considerably, but smartphones change how we travel in fundamental ways.

I recently had a long conversation with an old friend about how people travel today. He is particularly fond of a US$1.99 app on his iPhone called RoadAhead. It tells him which highway exits have what services; no more wondering if there is a local restaurant alternative to that big McDonald’s sign, for example.

Here are some thoughts from that conversation….

Two Big Phone-Driven Changes in Our Travel Habits

I see two ways that our travel habits have changed, thanks to smartphones and ubiquitous mobile devices connected to the web:

We are more confident, and therefore more willing to be spontaneous and take risks

**  Map apps mean we know how to get to our destination without any help. We can get there without asking directions from anyone….a boon to introverts and shy people in particular….so we worry less about getting lost. The Google Maps walking and public transport directions are lifesavers for me in large cities, too. For example, they told me that a city bus would pull up 50 feet from me in eight minutes to take me to hear some Philadelphia summer music on the waterfront.

**  We can roll into town without worrying too much about where we’ll stay, thanks to last-minute lodging apps like Hotel Tonight. On a long road trip, I never worry anymore if I don’t have a hotel reservation, unless I’m traveling to more isolated areas.

**  What’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Unless I have a particular restaurant in mind from previous research, I’m not concerned about finding good places to eat, thanks to my trusty Yelp app plus Google reviews, with locations laid out on Google Maps so I know right away where the worthwhile eateries are around me. Yelp has only failed me once, but a single mediocre pizza joint in Dallas is a small price to pay for years of consistently spot-on recommendations.

**  If I haven’t made plans ahead of time for things to do in town, it’s easy to find local event calendars in the palm of my hand.

**  If I want more information about what is around me or the history of that gorgeous building in front of me, there are apps like Foursquare and Field Trip that can tell me about it.

**  Even something as basic as the weather is easier to sort out. We can check ahead to see about conditions where we’re going – so we know what to pack – and we can get very specific weather information for exactly where we are, including when to expect the next rain shower. The “should I take an umbrella?” question is solved.

We are more sociable as travelers, even when we’re alone, because our friends and family are in our purse or pocket

There are certainly two schools of thought about always being connected to everyone – it’s great or it’s awful.

I have felt both ways, sometimes even in the same day.

Some say that apps like Instagram are ruining travel, as folks have become a version of that annoying neighbor who used to insist on having us over for Kodak projector slide shows of their vacations.

Still, most of the time I truly enjoy sharing my travel experiences “in the moment” on social media. I get a lot of positive feedback and questions, so I know that most of my network likes to see where I’m going and what I’m doing, and several people have made their own travel plans based on what I’ve shared.

If you are a little nervous about veering off of the beaten path, it is comforting to know that your friends and family are reachable at the touch of a button.

If your network is well-traveled, they are an available resource when you have questions, day or night.

We just need to remember to be sociable with the actual people in front of us, too.

How have smartphones changed how YOU travel? Let us know down in the comments.

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