I never thought I’d find myself going to a new city without Google Maps at my disposal or a way to call friends if we got separated at a bar. Yet, here I am on my last night in Dublin listening to the music from Grafton Street, feeling the breeze through my window smiling at my phone with pride.
I will admit, I was on my phone when I had wifi. I called Mom every night and managed to keep Snapchat streaks. However, I experienced a new city the way one always should: uninterrupted. I walked the streets aimlessly. When I forgot which direction home was in I asked. I found that locals are actually quite kind to the lost tourists here.
I would also like to begin this with a disclaimer: I had a friend with me, and would have been much less comfortable when I was traveling far away from Trinity if I didn’t have her with me. Traveling alone is scary, and that discomfort shouldn’t be minimized. It is a skill that needs to be developed, just like writing or a sport.
The buskers are talented. To listen to them with my ears instead of a screen made them much more human. To meet guitarists because I smiled at them through performances gained me both new personal interactions and suggestions for ice cream (visit Murphy’s!)
As a fairly shy girl, talking to new people feels like a chore. Forcing myself to do so in a foreign environment made me more confident in myself and the people living in it. After this experience, I’ve decided to do most long trips this way to ensure that I get the same lessons and cultural experiences in all the places I go.
For someone who’s iffy about doing it without a map/phone here are a few tips:
Find a common landmark and understand how to get places from there.
I was lucky enough to stay at Trinity College. Most locals know where Trinity is, so if you’re lost they can point you in the right direction. Walking usually won’t get you too far from home, so if you do get lost, just know that you had to walk to the point you’re at and will get home.
Learn to smile
I know it’s crazy. For a long time, I thought seeming cautious and intimidating would keep me safe. However, a friendly smile will usually get you a lot further than an uninterested look. It sounds so basic, but I found myself enjoying the intentional practice of smiling while walking around in a place I didn’t know.
And with that smile, always do what scares you. If you have the chance to swim in a sea you might never see again, do it. There’s always going to be an unflattering angle, an awkward outfit, or uncomfortable situation standing in your way. Push that thing aside and run full-speed into that water (unless it’s dangerous. Don’t run into water you shouldn’t swim in). Point being, always push yourself to do the cool extra thing, even if it’s something you wouldn’t do at home.
Embrace the lack of technology
As an ultra high-stress person, I was probably the least stressed I’ve been in years because I wasn’t staring at my email waiting for a message from my boss or at Instagram wondering why I didn’t look like “that.” Granted, those are both problems that I need to take care of for my own personal well being, but embracing the separation from my phone really helped me recognize those problems and want to address them when I got home.
Something about being at the Cliffs of Moher and being forced to take a photo with my camera and look at it as a human instead of through Snapchat made the view that much more breathtaking. Seeing Galway without a map made me think about how people got around all those years ago when it was just a developing piece of land. To see a piece of history as if you’re living that history makes you feel small, yet so very large in such a mystifying way. It had a grounding effect that made my mind quiet. I got to stand where people created the life that I now live.
To be privileged enough to look at a space described in history books deserves the respect of undivided attention. And then that thought reaches on, making you remember that all the spaces you visit deserve that respect because they’ve accepted you in. They are willing to teach if you are willing to listen.
To enjoy travel without a phone is to enjoy it the way it should be enjoyed. It helps you get lost, and thus find yourself in a whole new culture. It allows you to look with your eyes and your heart instead of simply through a screen. And in that looking, you might just find some things you didn’t know were even there.