Lost Traveler

Do mobile devices like smartphones enable adventure or inhibit genuine experiences?

Today’s the day. You’ve closed your laptop, un–plugged your headphones and latched your work bag closed. The open road is calling. Grab your gear — whatever that gear is — just don’t forget your phone.

In today’s hyper-connected world, that sequence is a common one. There’s no doubt the ubiquity of smartphones has changed our conception about what exploring means and what we need to experience it fully.

Now if we veer off course, we can quickly call up a navigation app and get our bearings. We don’t have to rely on our memories to recall a particular outlook, trail or restaurant. We can sort through a seemingly endless stream of photos to find it. The question becomes, “Are we better off?”

Whether you bike, ride or moto, touring with a mobile device can either be your biggest ally or your greatest impediment to enjoying the complete experience.

My wife and I ride Harleys. Each year Sturgis becomes a mecca of sorts for the more steeled and powered brand advocates. Cyclists ride from across the country to take part in a weeklong celebration of travel and the great American bike. This ride to Sturgis from Minneapolis captures the benefits and pitfalls of touring with your mobile device.

The benefits

Constant smartphone access allows you to easily plan a route and find restaurants on or off the beaten path. If we experience inclement weather, shelter is just a quick search away. Worse yet, if you encounter injured or broken-down riders, assistance is nearly immediate. A tow truck or emergency response team are a dial away.

Best app for navigation: Google Maps

Mobile devices also give you the opportunity to augment your planned route and embrace serendipity along the way.

If you crave indian food, you can find it. If you need a respite from the August heat, a keyword search brings up a dozen overlooks you can add to your route before continuing on.

Best app to find quick restaurant ideas: Trip Advisor

The pitfalls

The boons of traveling with a mobile device are plenty but so is the potential for mobile tech to maintain hyper-connection with work or friends causing disruptions on your trip. Say you do climb to the top of that overlook you found. You can see over the horizon for miles. Then — your phone begins to ring. I can’t imagine a more intrusive tech disruption.

Now, say your phone remains silent, and you’re able to fully appreciate the scenery. You reach for your phone to take a picture. Stop, and think, “How are our memories of traveling impacted by your ability to quickly capture a visual from the experience?” Can your smartphone really capture the glow of a sunset? Maybe. But, snapping the picture might also prevent you from appreciating the moment in it’s entirety.

Sharable experiences

There’s another layer to consider when touring with mobile. The ability to share your adventure via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or the suite of other available social channels. The question then becomes.

Is your adventure personal or social? Is sharing about your experience as important as actually experiencing it?

Modern-day explorers will continue to grapple with these questions and more as mobile technology continues to develop and offer greater functionality coupled with the ability to render quickly even in remote locations.

My rule of thumb is this: Never let your smartphone become a crutch, but do use it as a resource to guide you and enrich the experience.

For thousands of years, people explored without smart devices. Mobile tech affords more options now. Smartphones render travel safer. But the question becomes, is traveling with a mobile phone truly better? Does experiencing events with mobile tech in hand diminish or increase the experience? Are the memories gained more complete, or do you miss the moment altogether?

Talk to founding sponsor MentorMate more about creating mobile and digital experiences that add value.

Photo credit: Alphaspirit, Shutterstock