The Cold Hard Facts About Smartphones and Travel

Picture this: you’re preparing for that well-earned trip abroad by finishing your list of what to pack. You’ve got all the essentials covered from spare underwear to your passport. But what item always makes it to the very top of your list of must-bring-absolutely-cannot-forget-100%-necessary-things-to-bring?

The answer may be completely unsurprising.


Would you like to take a guess?


I’ll wait…


Have you guessed yet?


Are you sure that’s your final answer?


Okay here goes!


The answer: your smart phone. Yup, that little portable computer that you occasionally use to actually call other humans has become the most essential travel item, and not just with millennials. A study recently conducted by Intrepid Travel and OnePoll, surveyed 1500 American travellers about their cell phone use while on vacation. The results aren’t all bad but they definitely don’t reflect our best selves either.

It would seem that phones are glued to our hands more often than not.

31% are so concerned with getting a good photo they forget to experience the moment

We’ve all been there. You finally reach that breathtaking landmark you’ve only ever seen on the big screen when you’re confronted by hundreds of iPad equipped tourists forming a human blockade. How disappointing is it to reach Machu Picchu or the Eiffel Tower and barely make out the landmark through the throngs of selfie-obsessed tourists?

50% of people spend more than 1 hour searching for Wi-Fi while on vacation

You know that friend whose first question to the bartender is always, “what’s the wifi password?” Well that burning question doesn’t stop at the airport check-in desk. For every minute you spend searching for a place with free wifi, you could be taking advantage of the whole reason you went on vacation in the first place: to get away from it all. Unless you’re expecting a direct message from the President of the United States, your Twitter feed can wait.

84% admit their cell phones and technology are distracting when it comes to daily life

Think about that for a second. 84% is a staggering amount of cellphone users, one that can’t be ignored. It makes sense too; cellphones have completely transformed our lives and have become more and more essential to staying connected with friends, family and our careers. But isn’t vacation the one time it’s completely acceptable to disconnect in favour of mimosas on the beach? It’s worrisome that the habit has become so strong that it borderlines on addiction…which prevents us from being in the moment while abroad.

44% would be willing to take a break for a few days from their phone

Of the nearly 90% of people surveyed who admitted that their phone use is a distraction, just over half would agree to abandon their phone for a few days. Are you one of the other 56% of people who maintain an iron grip on their phone? If so, ask yourself why.

41% of people choose locations to visit based on what will look good on social media

While it’s entirely understandable to turn to social media to find inspiration and conduct a little travel-related research, it’s less encouraging that our decisions are influenced by what we think will make us look “cool” online. We’re all for chasing that perfect holiday picture but if you’re using that as the foundation for your entire vacation…you’re vacationing wrong. As our friends at Intrepid say,  “Choose somewhere that inspires, excites and challenges YOU, not your fans and followers.”

But what does it all mean?

While these results are not necessarily surprising they do inspire an important discussion. In theory, few of us would disagree with the concept of “unplugging” but why is it so hard to follow through on? When did hashtagging #FOMO become more important the actual fear of missing out?  It’s important that we will take time to experience the world through our own eyes and not a camera lens.

Some tour operators are working to limit the impacts of our digital-obsession on our travel habits. In an effort to inspire those hyper-connected travellers to unplug and live in the moment, Intrepid Travel has just launched a range of Digital Detox Tours. What are they trying to accomplish exactly? The tours include the signing of an agreement which requires travellers to commit to turning off their devices for the duration of the trip. Travellers brave enough to take the leap will find themselves asking what would happen if you woke up every day and just felt 100% present in a destination? It’s a pretty powerful idea, right? With the Digital Detox Tours, travellers won’t have to wonder anymore. 

This article was written in partnership with Intrepid Travel. A big thank you to them and their awesome team for the stats.

Jackie is a travel-addicted Canadian who currently resides in Vienna, Austria. When she’s not writing travel guides or reading her new favourite book, she’s planning her next weekend getaway somewhere in Europe.

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