How My Travels Changed After Smashing My Smartphone

By Dustin Main Phones, Plan an Adventure, Stay Safe and Secure5 Comments

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A few months ago, I found myself hiking alone, hopping across streams in a rocky wadi (canyon) in Jordan. The sun was warm and shining bright above me, while the air was cooled by the trees, the shrubs, and water flowing by.

I could feel the nature and the freedom of the unknown around every corner. It was putting a giant smile on my face. This is exactly what travel is about for me.


I pulled my phone out of my pocket and powered the screen on. While I didn’t have a data signal in the wadi (and hadn’t for more than a day here), I’d been tracking my progress with the GPS to make sure I could find my way back out. Sadly, the clock told me this was my turnaround point.

“Just a few more minutes,” I told myself, “let’s see what’s around that next bend.”

So I hopped across the stream again to navigate up and around the corner, when the rocks on the slope slipped under my feet, and my outside leg went right along with them.

I hit hard; like those times you find yourself on the ground, dazed and numb, unsure whether you’re actually OK when someone asks you. I did an inventory on my bones. Nothing broken, but the flesh on my arm was pretty torn up.

My camera, secured by a BlackRapid strap on my right side, was fine. It was lucky enough to be cushioned by my body. I reached in my pocket to pull out my phone. Less lucky… smashed like I’d never seen one smashed before.

So for the past 3 months, I’ve been smartphone-less for the first time in years. Here’s what it has meant for my travels and work on the road.

The Thing I Missed Most Was the Clock

I haven’t worn a watch while traveling for years, and this is the biggest thing that I noticed day-to-day. To deal with this, I’ve had to carry around my Nexus 7 tablet to keep track of the hours in the day.

I’m On Time, and So is Everyone Else

Smashed Galaxy Nexus

Just imagine what my leg would have looked like…

Without the fallback of a text message saying “Running late. Be there in 5!” people really try their best to be on time. I purposely tell the people I’m meeting that I can’t really be contacted by phone, and it’s made everyone more aware of time… even in persistently laid-back / flaky Chiang Mai.

The Cloud Is Awesome

Thanks to the automatic backups that my Android phone does in the cloud, the only things I lost were 2 short notes I made in Evernote the night before. All of my contacts, WiFi passwords, e-mails, books, music… you name it; all were safely backed up automatically.

I Didn’t Check Social Media as Much (and That’s Good)

It can be too easy sometimes. You have a spare minute or 2, and you instinctively reach for the phone to see if something interesting is happening somewhere that you’re not. 99% of the time, the answer is no.

I ended up following a self-imposed break from social media and it was pretty great. Less is more in the crazy world of tweets and likes.

What Did We Do Before Google Maps?

One of my friends still swears by paper maps, while another pops in an earbud and has his phone navigate him through the streets on his motorbike. I’ve always found myself somewhere in the middle.

One thing is certain, when you’re in a new neighborhood and you have somewhere to go, having a decent map on hand can make life a whole lot easier. I ended up checking Google Maps on my laptop before I left for the day, and then using a mixture of paper maps and the cached maps on my Nexus 7 tablet if I had it.

Not terribly elegant, but it worked.

A Smashed Smartphone Didn’t Affect My Work

It turns out that if I didn’t return an e-mail the second after the 3G pushed it down to my phone, the world did not actually collapse in on itself. (Admittedly, I knew this before). In fact, I ended up using more pen and paper for my interviews, and I found that to be less jarring for my subjects than typing madly on my phone in front of them.

A Smartphone Isn’t Necessary for (My) Travels

I (almost) never make calls anyways, and my smartphone has always been a mini-computer instead of a “phone.” While having the ability to make calls can certainly make things easier, I’m usually using the data connection for e-mail, news and maps.

I did make more use of my Nexus 7 tablet than I would have otherwise. I’d often have it in my bag as a giant clock / music player anyways. It’s only slightly awkward.

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Back in Jordan that day in the canyon…

So after I gathered my wits, I rinsed my arm off and wrapped it in a longyi to protect it, and headed back out the way I came. On the way out, I met a young goat herder whose goats were foraging on the the greenery lining the sides of the wadi. He invited me over, and I showed him my phone and arm.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his less-smart phone to compare, and started played some of his favorite tunes for me from its distorted speaker. Then we had some lunch on the rocks by the stream.


Ahmed the goat herder, and I

Smashing your smartphone is hardly the worst thing that can happen on your travels. Remember what brought you along the journey in the first place, and never take anything you can’t afford to lose.

Have you lost / smashed a piece of gear on your travels?  How did it change the way you traveled?

About the Author
Dustin Main

Dustin Main

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Dustin just can't get enough travel or technology, but when he's not directly feeding one of those insatiable habits, you can probably find him at some far away ice cream shop taking pictures of empty cups. That, or on top of a mountain somewhere shooting photos and finding adventures to share on his website "A Skinny Escape".


  1. Avatar

    Yep – the first time I rode a scooter. Rainy, dark, hit a unmarked, road-colored speedbump. The iPhone never had a chance – but thankfully, it was just the screen that cracked. A day later and it was back up and running good as new.

    I use Google Maps constantly while traveling – partly because getting off-the-beaten-path requires GPS coordinates (especially in Thailand where LOTS of roads have no names!)…

  2. Avatar

    Not yet, though my old Motorola Droid Razr is acting so wonky that I feel like smashing it. I took a hard fall in Dhaka a few weeks ago with the lens extended on my Nikon L820 which slammed into the pavement. Man, you don’t want to fall down while crossing a street in Dhaka, but somehow the Nikon survived and, obviously, so did I.

    1. Dustin Main Author

      I think that maybe it’s time for your Droid Razr to meet its demise… 🙂

      Glad you made it out of Dhaka in one piece!

  3. Avatar

    I lol’d a little, people are to obsessed by their phone’s at times, I’ve lived for the past year without smartphone and any other mobile phone. Mostly because I didn’t need it, people who would have needed me could reach me on my home phone or leave a message on facebook, which I would check sporadicly. My two year younger sister is entirely different, looking at her phone 24/7, who has a panic attack at the thought of losing her phone. I have to actually ask her to put her phone away to talk to her.
    Well I’m going to travel for a year on the 27th of march and because of that I turned on my phone a few weeks ago, I thought I still knew the pincode, but after three times trying the PUK-code was needed. I had no idea where my code would be at, so I decided to get a new simcard, I threw away my subscription to internet, texting and calling last year and went prepaid so it wasn’t that much of an decision to get a new simcard.
    I’ve had my phone on for a whole one week and I’m ready to turn it off again or at least go a lot smaller, because I really only want to use it in emergencies.
    So to get back to your post, yeah you don’t need a smartphone, in my opinion most people think they need it, which in turn feeds their insecurities about that they would miss too much of the world if they wouldn’t stay connected. But when you are traveling aren’t you trying to see new things, sure it doesn’t take away it comes in handy to have certain apps, but just like it is with everything “do it moderately”.
    This went on too long lol, well nice post either way.

  4. Avatar

    I enjoyed reading this post. Thank you.

    I travel a little – more than some, not as much as others – and right before a trip from my home in the Middle East to the US in July 2013, I came across an online ad for a new device, the Asus Fonepad, a close cousin to the Nexus 7 tablet. Without thinking twice, I went to the store to buy it, replacing a 2006-era Blackberry-like Samsung with 3G, QWERTY keyboard, non-touchscreen, and Windows Mobile operating system. That is, a really smart phone before the term “smartphone” became popular, which I had bought inexpensively in late 2009.

    I too do not use my mobile device to make a lot of phone calls, and the 7″ screen is so much easier to read and use – for example, with, you guessed it, Google Maps. With native 3G, of course, I can use everything on it wherever there is cell network coverage. All for just a little more money than the WiFi-only Nexus 7. A no-brainer.

    I did recently make one inexpensive “upgrade” to the Fonepad: I bought a Samsung pocket point-and-shoot with WiFi and 5x optical zoom for less than $40. It was a display model, but otherwise new. Woohoo!

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