I’m an old, old man. The times are a-changing.
Sure, I might still adventure in Pakistan and bang babes in Bali (in an emotionally intimate and monogamous manner), but there’s something that shows my age over the current generation of travellers…
When I first hit the road many moons ago, I didn’t have a smartphone. No Insta, no Tinder, no Candy Crush. Nada.
I DID… eventually… embrace the wilds of social media. This old, old man did quite well for himself on a little thing called Snapchat. And while I can attest some of my current success to these happy-snap days, it also led me to one undeniable conclusion-
Your phone is RUINING your travels.
I’ve been at both extreme ends of the spectrum. I’ve travelled no-phone and I’ve travelled all-phone. A phone has its time and place in the world of the modern traveller – it’s a powerful tool. But all too often, we let the tool use us.
Your not-so-smartphone is putting a big, plexiglass barrier between you and genuine, authentic offbeat travel and the true transformational POWER it provides. And I want you to stop. I want you to put it down, take a breath, and appreciate how much beauty there is around you.
This is an intervention. I want you to STOP letting your phone KILL your travel experience. There, most certainly, is a right and a wrong way to use your phone when travelling
And I’m going to teach you how to do it right.
So buckle up, kids; this old, old man still has a few tricks to teach you.
Because let’s face it, phones can ruin your travels and maybe even ruin your life if you let them.
Yo! In this post I’m going to introduce you to my patented two phone system; this is possibly the most valuable thing I have to share with you… It has truly changed my life, reduced my anxiety, and helped me win back serious amounts of time in my week.
I’m going to breakdown the trap of your phone in your travels and WHY it’s unhealthy, but if you’d like to skip ahead to read about my two phone system, click here!
Your All-Connected Phone Ruins Connection
Your phone ruins your ability to make genuine, authentic connections with people. A bold claim, but it’s true.
You’ve probably seen this yourself. You walk into a common area, hoping to dive right into hostel life instead, phones everywhere. Everyone is on their bloody phones.
No one is talking and YOU feel like the weirdo for attempting to start up a conversation. Then the normative pressure creeps in, and out of your pocket, you pull out your own device.
Maybe you’ll post something on your story about how wild breakfast was today. Or how many friends you’re making hostelling around the world.
But it doesn’t have to be like this! I mean, why did you go travelling in the first place? To find the edges of your comfort zone.
When I first hit the road, I had an iPod touch (mad shoutouts to my old playlists). Sometimes that glorious little beast could connect to WiFi. But I was in India where WiFi was – how can I say this kindly – a steaming pile of sacred cowshit. (That was me putting it kindly.)
But without the phone to guide me, map my way, and tell me where to eat, I was forced to leave my comfort zone and do some real growing. And some real talkin’ with strangers.
Talking With Strangers (Sorry, Mum)
To be totally frank, talking with strangers is a fucking important part of travel. And it’s always been one of the hardest parts for me despite the mountains, hitchhiking, and brushes with Giardia. Believe it or not, amigo, I have major social anxiety.
It’s something I’ve always struggled with, even now has a wildly successful and charismatic sex-god with an ever-chiselling set of abs. And that’s totally fine. Mental health challenges are normal for EVERYBODY and learning to manage mental health on the road is one of the most rewarding accomplishments to be found in travel. Even more than bagging the peaks of Pakistan.
I have always used my phone as a shield in times of acute anxiety (usually in response to new social situations). It’s such an easy way to look busy, and it’s a mistake many travellers make. But you have to control your mental health, otherwise, your mental health will control you.
These days, I still fall into bad habits. I pull the phone out, look busy, and then I have a little talk to myself. And I say, “I’m not doing this – this is not healthy.” And then I put the phone down, walk into the unfamiliar environment, and I immediately introduce myself to three strangers.
Talking to strangers is a necessary part of travel. It’s where the best stories are found.
You want to come back with epic stories. But you want the right kind of stories: the ones you tell your grandkids. Not the ones you post on Insta.
The right stories are not made in pretty places with pretty sunsets that you make prettier with pretty filters. They’re made in grungy sweaty dens surrounded by other renegade vagabonds. They’re made on the rug-strewn floor around the open fire in the house of the local family that just invited you to stay.
They’re made crossing mountain ranges with the friends you made on the road while you softly serenade them with Stand By Me. They’re made as you and that same friend are both spewing up everything you’ve consumed in the last two weeks as the local BBQ goat you shared the night before comes back for wild retribution. There’s solidarity in all of these moments because stories are born from the experiences we share with people.
But none of that solidarity can come if you let your phone lead your travels. If you’re too busy sharing fake stories, you miss the real ones.
You need to ask for directions, engage people at the hostel, and even get lost sometimes. That’s WHEN travel starts happening.
And all those strangers? Well, 99 out of 100 times, they’ll help you. They’ll be kind to you. And you’ll get a damn good story to boot.
Talk to strangers. Hear their stories. Find out how they see the place you’re travelling: their home.
After all, they know it best.
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When you unlock your phone, what does your finger inevitably open first? Social shitting media. And you know why?
Because they designed it that way. Every form of social media is intrinsically designed to psychologically manipulate us into continuing to use it. They prey on our biggest fears, attend to our greatest narcissisms, and indulge our most delicious brain chemicals.
Those glitzed-out bum-floss bikinis and glammed-up picture-perfect shots? Sure, they’re an enjoyable product to consume, much like a mindless reality TV show is an easy guilty pleasure. You need to remember that these people are manufactured products.
Their locations are just that. Locations. The influencers are characters. Hours and hours go into the hair, the makeup, the lighting, the staging. We all NEED to understand that what they are selling is not reality.
Influencers, honestly, should be held accountable for what they sow. We’ve hounded the mainstream media for years for setting up unrealistic expectations of life, love, and the self, so why do we give influencers a free pass? The product they sell hurts us AND… it hurts travel.
Influencers sell ‘travel’. They sell ‘experience’. Shit, man… they sell lies. And we start to believe those lies are what travel is all about.
And that ruins our chance for genuine and sincere travel experiences.
It’s not only that consuming these products ruin travel via distorted expectations, but it’s also this weird, niggling obligation we feel to advertise our own travels. Pics or it didn’t happen, right?
When you initially enter the Insta ecosystem, you might have good intentions. Follow your mates, share some snaps from the road, and stay connected. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Once you see everyone else’s perfect travel lifestyle – they never get blue on the road, nor do they ever burn out – you start wondering what’s wrong with you. How come you don’t get as many likes? No one is sliding into your DMs.
It gets in your head, and that’s only normal. That, by definition, is the psychological trap the Zuck-squad designed into these apps: they keep you hooked by preying on your mental health.
But you’re beautiful, and your travels are REAL. It’s just that you don’t have a near-limitless budget, bang-on lighting, a make-up team on standby, and wayyy too much time on your hands. At least, you shouldn’t have that much free time… if you’re really travelling.
Here’s a thought, and it’s something worth trying. Go travelling and leave the socials uninstalled on your phone (you can still access them via the browser if you need to). Take photos – take lots of photos. Photos are fun!
But take them because you enjoy it. And because you’ll treasure the memories.
Leave all the posting and sharing until you finish your trip. Until you’re back home, settling back into life, and the post-travel depression is hitting you hard. You’ll have oodles of time to post all dem pics then, and maybe it’ll put a smile on your dial revisiting the memories too!
Or maybe, just maybe, by the time you reach that point, you won’t even want to post them anymore. Well, congrats. You just beat the Zuck-squad at their own game. 😉
The Other Pitfalls of the Phone Life
It’s not just social media that bubbles up through the phone ether and pulls us into its void! In your pocket is a device that carries a shitton of distractions. Phones, apps, and software are intentionally loaded with features that keep you online. Even the ‘good stuff’ can land you in a time-sucking vortex.
Wikipedia has a feature that allows you to randomly generate articles, not to mention its insanely addictive linking structure. You start off one morning reading about the first ruler of Oman before moving along to the ancient trade of geoducks, and then suddenly, a few precious wasted hours later, you find yourself correcting grammatical errors and misspelt homophones. Admin life!
But above all, there are two noticeable culprits that serve as the absolute bane of travellers. Two dastardly delinquents that the ENTIRE traveller community knows too damn well.
Dating apps and FOMO.
1. Dating Apps
Y’know what? I’m just gonna go on the record here and say it: fuck Tinder.
I’ve gotten laid on Tinder. I mean, I got a 4-year marriage segueing into a lifelong friend out of Tinder, and that was pretty alright! But at the end of the day, fuck Tinder.
I can’t lie, Tinder while travelling has its uses. Maybe some sex-positive humans would tell you Tinder is good for the world, but I’m a love-positive human.
I believe in genuine authentic connection (with a little Sally on the side huehuehue). Tinder and the dating app life perfectly encompasses the degeneration and McDonaldisation of love and romance in the 21st-century; it’s the symptom and the disease.
It’s a Smash or Pass app, bro. Nothing more, nothing less. And it’s one that is only further aiding the absolute destruction of our collective mentality towards sex and relationships. You’re being sold toxic behaviours – from BOTH genders – as a product
Sex and travel have always gone well together. Almost as well as drugs and travel. As for sex, drugs, AND travel?
You don’t need dating apps. Travellers fornicate like rabbits. You could pay a traveller $10,000 to keep their dick in their pants for a night and you’d walk away the next morning with a cool $10,000 still burning a hole in your pocket.
As for locals? Dude, you’ll be beating them off with a stick: you’re the exotic foreigner. Have you ever walked around Asia with blonde hair? That’s a lot of non-consensual hair-stroking you have to deal with.
Getting the nerve up to talk to the cutie with a smashing booty is TOUGH! But that’s the point. You’re not ordering a Happy Meal in the drive-through; you’re connecting with another human on the deepest physical and (allegedly) emotional level possible.
The best things in life have to be earned.
If you’re going travelling, you’ll bone. It’s unavoidable… and unavoidably fun! But that’s not WHY you travel.
And then, the question simply becomes… why bother with the app?
Go and talk to the stranger in the hostel or at the bar without the ulterior motive. Trust me – sometimes a longggggg conversation will rattle around your mind for years. You’ll be thinking about the connection you had for far longer than you will be thinking about just another hookup.
You travel for the reasons that you want to travel, whatever that may be. But if that’s just to sleep your way across the seven continents, why even bother leaving home? If you’re swiping for a smooching on the road, you haven’t even set sex as the ulterior motive: you’ve set it as the primary motive of your travels.
So instead, save the dating apps for their two undeniable best uses:
- Finding SICK gigs in a new town.
- Finding drugs on the road.
Because if you hook-up with your hook-up? Well, you just scored the holy trinity.
2. Being Too Contactable and FOMO
Sometimes, being on the road is lonely. One of the best ways to combat the solo traveller blues can be to pick up your phone and just call home.
That’s great! That’s you using your phone as a tool of communication! It’s a healthy way to mitigate the isolation and homesickness.
But there can come a time when being too contactable stops serving you. You can start to feel that sneaky obligation to reply to messages the second they light up your phone. And seeing hundreds of photos from home can trigger major FOMO. That is Fear Of Missing Out.
If every second your phone is lighting up with photos of your friends back home, or your family’s latest dinner, or the neighbour’s dog, or the newborn bubs of friends you went to high school with, it can feel like life is going on without you. Cue a spiral of despair. Cue homesickness.
Of course, if you were at home you’d be looking at your travelling friends uploading shots of epic mountain landscapes, epic train rides, epic street food… and it would feel like life is going on without you. That’s a big fat FOMO. Cue a spiral of despair.
The grass is always greener, hey?
At the end of the day, life is going on with and without you. You can’t be in all places at once. But, someone else having fun doesn’t mean you aren’t. Happiness isn’t a zero-sum game, friend.
If you committed to getting the hell outta dodge and pushing yourself through travel and all things that come with it – including the Moody Blues – then you need to know when being connected via your phone is doing more harm than good. Sometimes, you just need to put it down and limit the communication with the homies back home.
At the end of the day, if they love you, they’ll get it. You’re a traveller.
Smartphones Encourage Overtourism
Using a tool wrong means it won’t work in the right way. Using your phone wrong is no different.
It disconnects you from those around you and gives you this weird compulsion to post everything while still feeling crappy because your posts don’t look like their posts. Don’t feel bad; we can’t all afford plastic surgery. 😉
However, your phone ALSO prevents you from having spontaneous travel adventures. It limits you to the well-trodden trail. And let me tell you, the well-trodden trail can only carry so many more trampers.
Once you start frogmarching towards the restaurant where Greg from Tripadvisor had “the most delicious croissant ever”, you don’t stop to smell the roses. Or in this case, try a croissant from any other bakery in town.
When we all follow our pre-programmed itinerary, places meant for solitary introspection and wonder end up as a stinking mess of tourists. When Boracay Island in the Philippines started trending on Instagram, it didn’t take long for overtourism to rear its ugly head and force the beach to be closed down due to the raw sewerage being dumped into the crystal blue waters.
Overtourism is the antithesis to responsible travel, and it’s slowly destroying our planet. Why do you think I prefer hiking the Karakoram of Pakistan? Because a lot of the Himalayas have been sold to the highest bidder, and Mt Everest risks becoming the world’s most elevated garbage dump.
Overtourism is a much wider-scale issue not directly caused by the advent of the smartphone traveller, but it certainly hasn’t helped either. A hashtag booms and the crowd stampedes in. Some eateries float to the top of Tripadvisor, the rest stay at the bottom. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
And sure, maybe uploading a pic of you standing really far away from the Eiffel Tower holding it between your pinched fingers would score more likes on your phone. But it’s not going to unlock that juicy personal growth that you wanted so badly when you left home in the first place.
Real, authentic, raw, transformational travel happens WHEN you step off the beaten path. It happens when you make your own path and make your own story – one that isn’t strictly for uploading. If all you do is go where you’re told is best, you end up blocking yourself off from mind-blowing, life-expanding, warm and yummy travel GOODNESS!
I mean, screw it. Throw your phone out of the tuk-tuk and ask the fruit vendor what her favourite thing to do in town is. I guarantee, she’ll send you someplace magnifique.
And ultimately, you’ll have a better day eating unidentified (but succulent) meat in hot, soupy broth somewhere in the bowels of the market than just another smoothie bowl. Sure, the broth may seek violent ends on the way out, but y’know what…
That’s just part of the adventure.
Growth Starts at the Edges of Your Cellular Network
Ok, so you threw your phone out the tuk-tuk. Now what?
The anxiety bells start ringing. I’ve been there, man. It sucks. Mental health is no joke.
Walking boldly into a common room full of strangers can be scary. Waiting at a train stop in rural nowhere land can be intimidating; you’re the only foreigner around for a 200-kilometre radius and all eyes are on you. So what’s the first thing you do in those situations?
You pull out your phone.
Your phone can become a crutch. It can help you hobble through new encounters or put you at ease in seemingly scary places.
But I will gently and lovingly scream at you, THE WORLD IS NOT A SCARY PLACE. Stop reading about the terror attacks on your phone, and start drinking chai with the friendly vendors without it.
You don’t want to learn to walk using your crutch. You want to ditch the crutch altogether.
Of course, it’s going to be terrifying. Of course, you’re going to want to fill the anxious void.
Maybe you smoke a little cheeky something-something to take the edge off. Maybe you fall back into some instant gratification from social media. Maybe you take a while to learn how to be comfortable in a room full of strangers.
But you will learn. Because you’re a traveller, and before that, you’re a human. We’re an adaptable sort.
Maybe, instead, you converse with the people around you. Maybe you start to fill your travel journal. Maybe you push your phone a little deeper into your back pocket (or leave it behind altogether at the guesthouse). Trust me – at some point, you’ll notice the rewards.
And you’ll be grateful you pushed yourself – outside of your comfort zone.
Suddenly, you’ll find yourself cruising into a new city on the back of a truck you just hitched a ride from. You’re still smoking a cheeky something-something, but your phone is somewhere at the bottom of your backpack. You walk into a room and instantly CONNECT with the people in front of you.
The world has opened up! And you’re thirsty for more adventure!
Growth, change, all that juicy personal development – it all happens at the edge of your comfort zone. And that means putting ya phone away! Because your phone is too damn comfortable.
On the Other Hand, Smart Phones are Not ALL Bad…
A phone has its place in your travels, sure, but it’s a cheat code.
Why ask directions when Google has the answer? Why talk to strangers when Google can tell you the best itinerary for the day? Why get lost when Google can order you an Uber (AND pizza for your Uber ride)?
I know I’m not meant to say this being a blogger at the whims of our cruel overlord and all, but GOOGLE CAN EAT MY BUMHAIRS. Google’s main purpose is to optimise the process of living and reduce the struggle, but the meaning of life is found in the struggle.
In essence, Google wants to take the life out of living. So why the hell would you want Google defining your travels?
Buttttttt, there comes a time when the stubborn kid who threw their phone out of a tuk-tuk has to admit, ‘Ok having a phone did have its perks…’.
Besides, I promised to give you tips on how to wield this beast of a tool with deft touch! Do you want the phone to control YOU?
So, how do you make your phone work for YOU?
The biggest tip I have for making your phone work for you? Define its purpose.
What exactly are you using your phone for? How do you use it solely for that?
Usually, people want to use their phones to connect with people and because they’re convenient. Phones can be really great for many things:
- To call your mum.
- For storing a tonne of music for an epic hike or long bus-stint.
- For taking a quick happy snap of the sunset to prove that it wasn’t just the Manali hash making it look pretty.
- Musicians, circus peeps, and excercise junkies all know that some apps are just indispensable.
- While other apps can help you learn a new language on the road.
- Or Google Translate is a great tool for talking to locals who don’t know one lick of English.
- And Maps.Me is one of the best travel apps for scoping out some trails for a spot of day hiking in a new area. (Spicy hot take: Maps.Me is the best map app; eat a dick, Google.)
- Using Couchsurfing would only be possible with the help of the website/app.
- And Tinder is not just for dates – it can be awesome for connecting with other travellers if your hostel’s empty and you’re ready to leave your lone wolf hours behind. (Or for finding doobies).
These are the proverbial babies you don’t want to be thrown out with the bathwater. Just because you don’t want to be swallowed by the vortex of screentime on the road, that doesn’t mean phones don’t have their place in your travels.
A phone is a tool. Who controls who? You’re the boss of this.
How to Overcome the Phone Problem and Disconnect
Ok, so you’ve defined the purpose of your phone and you’re ready to start setting it aside more often than not (as opposed to the all-in method of tossing it out the tuk-tuk). It doesn’t happen overnight. However, slowly slowly everyone will develop their own methodology.
I’ve been wrestling with my phone reliance for a long time, and these are a few of the ways that I have cut the little bugger out of my life:
- Set up a screentime monitor: This is a way to keep you honest about the amount of time you’ve given to your phone each day.
- Get everyone to put down their phones: This is slightly dorky but I swear it works! If you’re at a group dinner or just chillin’, get everyone to put their phones in a pile at the centre of the group. Putting aside time to connect with each other face to face works wonders.
- Delete your social media apps: Seriously, you can access them all from the browser anyway. Besides… who wants Facebook knowing what porn you watch anyway? (Jokes! They already know.)
- Turn off notifications: You can’t get FOMO if you don’t know what you’re missing out on. Do it app-by-app or just put the whole thing in ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode.
- And keep the phone in Airplane Mode: My phone – work aside – spends a solid 80% of its lifecycle in Airplane Mode. And the extended battery life for more tunes on those long bus stints is SUPREME.
- Reply slowly: Sure, work hard and hustle. But respect your needs and boundaries.
Not every email needs an instant response. Not every text is urgent. Send your friends long voice messages every few days. Go quality over quantity.
- Buy a Nokia and a road map. Go at it old school stylez. Call ya mum once you’ve made it to the next town with your trusty bit of paper.
But above all, call ya mum. She misses you. That’s the point of a phone.
The Will Hatton Two Phone System
What I am about to share may be the single best thing I have to teach… Introducing, the two phone system!
It’s not a super complicated whiz-bang system! It’s just a way to put a barrier between you and the dreaded workaholic tendencies of the hustler-life.
It’s really simple, friend… Our phones can be AMAZING tools. But it is SO FUCKING HARD to be on your phone without ending up on social media, checking your email, or seeing if somebody has messaged you on Whatsapp.
So, I decided I would have one phone where I am reachable and another where I am not – we’ll call this my ‘disconnect phone’.
On my disconnect phone, I have the following…
- Audio books and podcasts
- My meditation app
- The occasional cheeky uber eats
There is no inbox, no social media. I do have Whatsapp but only my partner, my Mum, and my right-hand man have that number.
Every evening at 5:30 pm, my main phone goes into a box upstairs and I then transition to my disconnect phone. I leave my primary work phone upstairs so I’m not tempted to check it once I move into my evening routine.
Typically for me, this is listening to a podcast whilst stretching, smoking a joint, or journalling. And maybe dropping my baby girl a message to convince her to swing on over for some boom-chicka-wow-wow. 😉
My primary work phone stays in the box until the morning. I wake up and then, only when I have done my meditation and journalling practice, do I take the primary phone out of the box. While I hold some stretches, I clear my Whatsapp (my WhatsApp is normally pretty hectic – usually theres’ at least 20 chats I need to respond to in the morning as I run a lot of my businesses primarily through voice messages).
I then aim to put my phone away again and to check it only a couple of times throughout the day – I am contactable for work, but I’ve also had my own time in the evenings to check in with myself.
When I do put my work phone away, I can still use the apps I NEED.
I can still motivate myself with music. I can still take a break and read or meditate. I’ve still got maps for when I decide to try out a shortcut that takes us on a scenic detour. My closest compadres can still reach me if they need to.
But the socials.. the email… the work… the being constantly tempted to see if my phone has a dopamine hit lined up for me? That goes away with the notifications OFF.
I can truthfully tell you that this system has absolutely changed my life. It vastly reduced the amount of time I spend on my phone and reduced my anxiety. Check out my 2021-in-review guide to see how much this system improved my performance last year.
This eliminates the temptation to message anyone – or get sidetracked replying to emails – when all I wanted was to skip a song in my bonafide backpacking playlist. Not only is it good for my mental health, but I can give my full attention to the person in front of me! All without sacrificing the useful features of a phone.
Will has gone from broke backpacker to serial entrepreneur and… there are secrets he wants to share with YOU.
Over on Ditch Your Desk, you enter the mind of Will Hatton: blogs about online entrepreneurship, personal development, mastering your productivity, and an honest look at the digital nomad lifestyle.
9-5 or anytime, anywhere. The choice is yours.[Visit] Ditch Your Desk [Read] Online Entrepreneurship 101
If Your Phone is Mightier Than You, You’re Doing It Wrong
An ancient adept has said: “If the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way.” This Chinese saying, unfortunately only too true, stands in sharp contrast to our belief in the “right” method irrespective of the man who applies it. In reality, everything depends on the man and little or nothing on the method.
Again, who controls who? A tool is just that – an objective and impartial instrument.
Sure, the Zuck-squad, Apple, and our benevolent Google overlord may intentionally design these gizmos to keep you addicted, but at the end of the day, your phone doesn’t give two shits whether you use it or not. The whole thing comes down to YOU.
Your smartphone is ruining your travels (and maybe your life), but it doesn’t have to: it’s a choice. You either control the tool or the tool controls you. It’s a binary choice, and sometimes, life really is just that simple.
I had to learn the hard way that my phone was ruining my travel experience. A lot of the team at the Broke Backpacker has gone through a similar journey – some have hitchhiked continents without it, some have sailed the world and made the choice to be disconnected whilst doing so.
If you’ve fallen into the trap, that’s no stress! This was your intervention, and the road to recovery starts right here.
Ultimately, travel is about pushing your boundaries and figuring out how to be the best version of yourself. Learning to manage your phone usage – a necessary step in modern times both in and outside of travel – is one little piece of that puzzle. The skills you learn on the road will take you far.
So whether you took the ‘phone out the tuk-tuk’ method or something a little more surgical like my two phone system, start taking CONTROL of your life back today. There’ll be some rough moments; you’re quitting a drug. There’s a natural dopamine withdrawal – that’s exactly how Google and the Zuck-squad designed it.
But like all great addiction-kicks, the light at the end of that tunnel shines very brightly indeed. The travel will be tastier and the human connection more profound.
And if all of that fails, fuck the whole thing off, buy a road map, a Nokia phone, and a journal. You won’t get lost… or maybe you will?
But that just means you’ll find yourself along the way.
Thanks for reading – that was fun! 😀
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