Learning to not panic without cell data is a significant part of the abroad experience. Although I wouldn't necessarily say its one of the major challenges, traveling without the convenience of internet on your phone can be quite the nuisance. However, from my previous experiences I would say that dealing with international phone plans through Italian phone companies is an even bigger nuisance. After the first couple trips out of Italy, I decided that the best way for me to travel is without data.
Now this isn't as scary as I thought it would be. We're lucky to live in a world where WiFi is accessible almost anywhere and Google Maps allows you to download maps offline. So as long as you plan ahead, its more than possible to travel with a phone that can only make phone calls. Doing so makes traveling more fulfilling because you have to learn to not be dependent on your phone. Whenever we're faced with any sort of challenge these days, our first thought is to automatically turn to our phones to help solve the problem. Not even that long ago, this luxury wasn't an option and people really had to utilize other resources (like paper maps?!). I do think that not relying on my phone has helped me to become a smarter and more alert traveler.
I especially love taking my weekend trips now because it's a time to disconnect from technology and really enjoy the place I'm exploring and the company of the people I'm with. Over spring break, I took a trip with 3 friends to explore the coast of Portugal. Instead of using the traditional Airbnb or hostel, we decided to do some camping. This meant that WiFi was not something we had access to for a few days. And this was not nearly as tragic as it may sound. It was honestly one of my favorite trips I've taken yet just because I wasn't focused on my phone at all. I was completely present and carefree. Since none of us were glued to our phones, we got more out of our time together and were always having meaningful conversations. The best moments were at meals and realizing that it was the first time in awhile where I was eating with friends and phones weren't even on the table.
Traveling is more than just documenting everything I see with my smartphone and I've really learned to appreciate the beauty of travel when my data disappears. It requires you to get creative and think a little outside of the box. Although it did take making small adjustments to my travel style, it's become comfortable now and I wouldn't want it any other way. I've even started to notice that when I'm in Milan and I do have data, I tend to use my phone less. Learning to disconnect started from a challenge, but quickly turned into a healthy and satisfying habit so I honestly must thank these Italian phone companies for being so difficult to work with.
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Abigail is our 2016-17 IES Abroad Blogger of the Year! Abigail studies Economics and International Studies with a minor in Business Administration at Brandeis University—where she is also an IES Abroad Ambassador. As a Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 Blogger, Abigail illustrated her year abroad in Milan through her insightful posts and candid photography that navigated her growth in the historical city of Milan.