By: Grace Coburn, Greenheart Travel short-term programs intern
“When am I ever going to be able to see or do this again?”
This is a question I frequently asked myself while studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic during the fall of my junior year of college. Being thrown into a new adventure, I used what any millennial would use to get to and from places– a smartphone.
Whether it was just getting around the different cities I visited, taking pictures or checking in with my family back home, I found myself constantly using my phone the first week of my travels. Although I have pictures to document visits to famous monuments, I wish I had disconnected from my phone earlier in the journey.
Getting off the grid and using an old school map
While visiting Munich, Germany for the famous Oktoberfest festival, I was forced out of my comfort zone when my phone died after a long day of traveling. That day I used what my generation deems “old fashioned” — a paper map. My friends and I were able to navigate the crowded sidewalks and read foreign street signs that we weren’t accustomed to. While walking the streets of Munich, paper map in hand, I noticed and was able to appreciate many things I did not when using my phone. The architecture, people and the streets in Europe are nothing like anything you will see in The States, appreciate it while you can! Although it took a little longer than it would have on a phone, my friends and I all agreed that we were much more proud of ourselves for getting there without using modern technologies.
After feeling so pleased with myself in Munich, I chose to use a paper map for the duration of my travels abroad and it was one of the best decisions I made during my four and a half months in Europe.
I decided to choose a plan where I had unlimited SMS and very limited data. I relied on WiFi and only used the data if there was an emergency. I found that it allowed me to communicate with the new friends I had made while abroad to make plans but it still permitted me to disengage from my phone and engage with my surroundings.
When I needed to communicate back home, there were plenty of wifi based options that I could use, making a phone plan even more unnecessary. Skype, what’sapp, Facetime, Google Voice, there are so many options. FOMO is definitely something you can experience while you’re abroad. Having everyone together at home while you’re having a new, amazing opportunity can be hard. It is important to limit Skype calls and check-ins to ensure that you’re disconnecting from back home and connecting with new friends and opportunities presented to you abroad. Something my family and I did while I was abroad for the semester was Skype once a week and have quick periodic texting check-ins letting them know what I did that day or what I had planned for that week or weekend. So parents, don’t freak out if you’re not hearing from your kids every day because no news is good news!
Many, understandably, use their cell phone as their camera because it’s convenient and cheaper to use. If you do choose to use your cell phone as your camera, be sure to pick up a few disposable cameras or digital cameras as well, especially if your phone is doubling as a map because there’s a good chance your phone will die on you, leaving you camera-less on the London Bridge (Yes that happened to me. Regrets). Worried the photos won’t turn out? Ask around, maybe someone in your family will be willing to lend you a digital camera as a backup! GoPros also take great quality photos and allow you to be engaged with your surroundings and not distracted by the content on your phone.
Snapchat has become more and more popular, especially with millennials. Although it’s so tempting to share everything you’re doing while abroad with those who aren’t there to enjoy it with you, it’s important to find a balance between sharing and oversharing. While abroad I found a balance after realizing that there’s a time and place for Snapchat. I only used Snapchat at idle times. By that I mean when I commuted to and from school or going to and from sites, I left my phone in my bag. Only after enjoying the sites or coming home for the day was when I snapped a quick picture of the site or what I saw that day.
Looking back I understand why I was so connected to my phone in the beginning. I was in a new place and I knew no one in my program. I was definitely out of my comfort zone. And I know I wasn’t the only person who felt this way, it’s normal for someone taking on a new adventure to be reserved at first. Take for example Jen, author of JenRunsTheWorld blog. She participated in the Teach in Italy with Greenheart Travel. One of her travel tips was turning off your phone and internet;
“Because of my lack of a constant internet connection in Italy, I have been able to enjoy life a little bit more. In addition, I also haven’t been able to make or receive calls or texts unless I was connected. My life has felt a little more peaceful and I’m glad I’m not as dependent on my phone anymore.”
Enjoy your abroad experience because the second you get on the plane to go back home you’re going to be wishing that you’re staying!