Does Technology Ease or Erase Travel Experiences?

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Innsbruck, Austria

I have read many posts about technology and travel and I understand both sides of the argument. After all I traveled 12 months without a cell phone but was then happy to have one in Buenos Aires.

It wasn’t until today that I actually considered how it affected me. 

I woke up early this morning to begin a 12 hour journey from Innsbruck to Brussels. Normally I enjoy long travel days, it gives me time to think and catch up on podcasts. But this morning I felt stressed, knowing that I could not miss trains. I needed to stay on schedule.


I had to get home.


Last night Lily from Explore for a Year loaded the DB Navigator app for Eurail on my iPod Touch as well as the Google map for Innsbruck. She has been using travel apps to help l but my Touch is new so I had no travel apps on it.

I had thirty minutes to get to the train station but I wasn’t completely sure where it was. On the bus I worried I was going the wrong way but the Google map blinked I was headed in the right direction. When I arrived at the station the DB Navigator app told me what gate to go to and when the train was coming.

On the train it showed me the progress, consoling me that I was getting closer.


zurich train station

Some of my favourite travel memories are from getting lost or meeting people who helped me find my way. I remember Mexico fondly because so many people helped the gringa find her way, not knowing any Spanish at all.

If I had travel apps back then I think I would have missed out on those experiences.

But today I didn’t have time for them. I just wanted to get home.

So while I won’t use travel apps in the future, I am thankful for technology today.  At a time when I was stressed and emotional it really helped.

I am in Brussels overnight, one step closer to home.


Disclosure: Eurail generously gave me a pass to try, I wasn’t able to use all of it because I needed to go back home but click here to learn more about using a Eurail pass.

Join the Conversation

  1. michela @comunicami says:

    travel apps are useful, but when you need internet connection to make them work it’s so stressful: roaming costs are high and wifi is still difficult to find everywhere (and if you need to walk around the app turns useless!) :/

  2. I do love google maps on my iPhone; but you always need to remember to download the maps back at the hostel, or find a coffee shop with wifi. But agree, sometimes it is better when you can’t use them. Forces you to try to talk to the local sitting next to you on the bus, as you have no glue when to get off!

  3. I still don’t use any travel apps when I travel, but sometimes (like in this situation) they can really be helpful. I think that as long as we don’t become too dependent upon them (and use them sparingly) they can be beneficial.

  4. My wife constantly accuses me of being a technophobe. There’s no shame in that. I’d have a good old map anytime. And yes, getting lost sometimes does add to a journey’s memorability. Does one remember what happened in a trip that went smoothly?

  5. Stephanie - The Travel Chica says:

    Technology can be wonderful when we need things to be easy and fast. It’s knowing when to turn it off that is the hard thing for some people.

    I think you know when to turn it off.

  6. Nicolas De Corte says:

    To me, travelling in a lot about the interactions with other people, and it occurred to me that the more technology we have, the less we tend to talk to others.
    One example you’ve already given is when you get lost. I often had to overcome my fears of making a total ass of myself by asking people the way in sign language. This has taught me a lot about language and about the friendliness of others.

    But there’s more. When I started travelling independent about 6 or 7 years ago, it seemed like I had a lot more interaction with other travellers than I have now. Nobody had an iPod, iPad, iPhone, notebook or whatever. So all you could do was talking to each other. Now everone is listening to music or podcasts, watching a movie, blogging,… very asocial.

    I wonder what will be next. The downfall of guided tours? You just download the tour to your iPhone and you’re following the path through the Vatican together with thousands of others on an iTour. Without any interaction.

    I can imagine that you were very happy to have your technology when you needed to catch your train, but then again, if I know that I need to take a train in an unknown train station, I leave way to early. This gives me less stress and the time for some people watching in the train station…

  7. Lily (Explore for a Year) says:

    Hi Ayngelina,

    I’m was so happy to hear that you made it back home to Canada safely and promptly.

    I don’t use many travel apps, but + Google Map are my must-have tools for smooth travel in Europe. It has saved me so much time and it’s been a great way to confirm what the direction I’m already going.

    Hurray for iPods and Apps for easing travel, in this case 🙂

    – Lily

  8. Paul @ Driving Inertia says:

    I used both the Travel Ease app and the Travel Erase app. Unfortunately, sometimes I confuse the two.

  9. I agree with you, at moments when timing is crucial apps really help you out, but when you are on the road travelling for the long haul you aren’t really in any hurry and you can take your time navigating using traditional methods and asking people, which in my opinion is more fun.

    The only travel app I have is google maps which is only useful if you have a strong signal. It is also worthwhile noting that apps that require connectivity really drain your battery quickly. So we shouldn’t be totally dependent upon them.

    Anyway, welcome home! 🙂

  10. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures says:

    I’ve never used a travel app before. I have them all downloaded onto my iTouch and iPhone, but still have never used them. Maybe I like getting lost too much?

  11. Roy | The Riding Dutchman says:

    Travel apps are an amazing help if you are really lost! Just try to do without them first 😉

  12. Jeremy Branham says:

    I may be one of the last travelers on earth who doesn’t have some kind of smart phone. I’ve never used a travel app nor have I used an iPhone, Android, etc. I don’t even use GPS.

    I definitely see where these could come in handy and would love to have them at times. However, thanks for showing the other side of it too. Sometimes technology takes away from the joy of traveling.

    1. Lauren Fritsky says:

      You’re not the last traveler without a smartphone — I’m in your camp as well. It provides a lot of laughs when I take out my cheap phone with no Internet capability while everyone else around me is Tweeting from their iPhones.

  13. Michael Figueiredo says:

    It’s funny that you wrote about this… I just posted an article about some useful (and fun) travel apps. Maybe next time you’re traveling you can try them out? 🙂

  14. I suppose that being lost can be a fun experience, but while you’re lost you can’t have the experience that you would have had wherever you were going. The technology just presents a different set of questions to ask. Instead of asking for directions, ask where you can connect to wi-fi. Or as everybody else says, you can just turn it off and play “lost gringa”. I think I’d rather have the technology along with me though.

  15. Gerard ~ GQ trippin says:

    I’m a techie at heart and tend to use my ipod touch or smartphone whenever I can to get around. Hopefully I can get over this since I hopefully won’t be too rushed during my RTW.

  16. In some cases technology can make travel worse than before. Before online booking became so prevalent, most hotels and hostels had to advertise their prices and be competitive – now if you don’t book ahead, the rack rates can be outrageous. The strategy often seems to be to jack up the rack rate, and offer big discounts online.

    Spontaneous travel if you’re not constantly online actually seems to be getting harder, particularly in Europe.

    My apps of choice though are also, and google maps. I’ll throw in iTravelfree which makes lugging around a guidebook also less necessary… For me these types of apps are about reducing clutter – you don’t need to hunt around for printed maps, lug around timetables or a guidebook, and give more freedom to explore.

    The more difficult challenge is to break the internet addiction.

  17. Wishing you all the best with what’s happening with your family right now, hun. Technology can be a complete blessing in these emergency circumstances.

  18. I straddle the fence when it comes to technology as well. But it all comes down to balance, really. I hope you make it home safely, wishing you safe and smooth travels.

  19. Ian [EagerExistence] says:

    I just wrote a post about how much I love the Internet. It helped me out a lot in Spain.

  20. Good discussion you got going here. What we get in efficiency we lose in human interaction.Recently I was in a place without internet and had to call someone (in transit without internet on the phone) who in turn called another friend with internet to find out the hours of operation for our intended destination. It felt incredibly inefficient at the time, but since the chain of communication involved contacting good friends, maybe it was a way of building greater rapport through our inter-connectivity…

    1. Ian [EagerExistence] says:

      This reminds me. One time, in Crete, I was with a girl… I didn’t have change, or a phone card, or a WIFI connection… but she had a mobile phone. We were lost. So she called her best friend in Athens, and got her to lookup Google Maps and give us turn-by-turn directions over the phone.

      Sure, we could have asked a local for an obscure street name they may not have known… but we managed by ‘building greater rapport through our inter-connectivity’ (as Lusso said). And we even used technology in the end 😉

  21. Tyler @ says:

    Same questions as “is technology good or bad”, isn’t it? All in how we use it.

    I don’t have a smartphone on my trip but would if i could find a flexible cheap phone plan. Has such a thing ever existed?

  22. TheWorldOrBust says:

    Nice Post! I think technology while traveling is both a blessing and a curse. While I love traveling as it is an escape from my ball and chain (cell phone) and my computer, I still feel like having my netbook abroad is a godsend as I can research things to do, keep up with emails, etc. But there is something so liberating about saying you won’t look at anything with a screen for a few days…

  23. I think technology can help us a lot especially in emergency situations. Nevertheless, I prefer the good old way: running around with a guidebook, a map and a compass (Sometimes)…

  24. dtravelsround says:

    I’ve never used a travel app while traveling … I don’t know if I would want to for the same reasons you state about getting lost and being able to have those experiences. If I knew everything as it happened, I think there would leave a lot less to being impulsive.

  25. I never used any of my iphone apps while traveling. How does your plan work for the phone/ipod while traveling?

  26. I’ve had problems the other way around…I’ve grown used to Google Maps, for example, on my iPhone or even finding the address I’m looking for on an email I’ve received…Then, when my iPhone has failed, I’ve realised just how vulnerable I am…

  27. No travel apps here, or iphone for the matter! But your mention of a kindle with 3G kept me thinking…

  28. Raymond @ Man On The Lam says:

    I’ve recently been keen on apps for Android, but it sucks when there is no wi-fi…

  29. Well, despite my general anti-technology stance, I will admit that such devices/apps are useful at times. I actually would have missed my train in Romania two days ago if I was not able to quickly look up whether or not I had entered a new time zone on my phone. Minimal use seems to work best for me…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I’m with you, although I tend to slide into manic use. I really need to be careful with how much I am ‘connected’

  30. I think with technology travelling experience is easier with help of applications like google map and google translate.

  31. Bethaney - Flashpacker Family says:

    Oh I definitely need to download this app for our Eurail trip!!

  32. I get this question so many times from clients. What to do about guidelines in Social Media. It seems to be one of their biggest concerns. My response is always the same. It’s not Social Media they should be worried about it’s the people they hire. If you can’t trust the folks that are working for you because they may do something that would hurt the company then Social Media is not the issue.

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