It seems incredible to me now, but I backpacked around England in my youth sans cellphone, using the occasional English phone box (sadly, they were never bigger on the inside) and even travelers cheques (younger readers can consult the local museum of lost things). Lest I sound too curmudgeonly, today, my travel routine has become a testament to technological advances, with the accompanying cadre of Apple products in tow. And yet, there are a few things I still routinely do as a backup, should technology fail while on the road. Although articles abound on high-tech ways to make travel easier, I thought I would present the top five low tech things I’ve learned through trial and error.
1. Sometimes, Google maps is not your only option.
When leaving a hotel or residence, I snag a business card, piece of stationary from the room or something with the address, and an idea of the nearest cross street. Although this sounds ludicrously simple, when you’ve been on the road for a certain amount of time, all hotels (and downtown cores of cities, for that matter) start to have a strange sameness about them — and you don’t want to be walking up and down a street in Madrid trying to find that hotel that you left three countries ago in Lyons.
2. Always carry cab fare in local currency to get back.
I love to wander a city, especially at night, but should my path take me past the road less traveled and into somewhere that may be a little less than safe (or if I’m just plain lost), the comfort of being able to hop in a cab to go back to my residence for the night is immeasurable (especially if your phone is down and Uber is not an option). Here is where knowing your cross street, or a general idea of how the streets around your residence are laid out, comes in handy — are they in a spiralling arrondisement system like Paris, or a perfect grid like Melbourne?
3. Be able to describe your destination.
When you are asking directions, sometimes the local name of a popular square, park or attraction can be different from the official one. Can you describe the general area you want to go to, or a major landmark within the site? I’ve gotten further in Poznan trying to get to a specific area of a park by showing a picture to a driver of a particular statue by the entrance I wanted, especially when my halting Polish failed spectacularly.
4. Print your boarding pass.
I know, I know…I am one of the few still presenting a printed boarding pass to the agent at the gate, but the number of times I have stood by a line of broken check in machines and cast a baleful glare at the line snaking around the check in desk is pretty high. A boarding pass tucked in my passport (which you have to show anyway) frees up juggling a phone with my carry-on, and takes an extra three seconds at home to print or the hotel’s business centre.
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5. Remember your hotel room.
For safety’s sake, don’t carry those little sleeves with your key card and room number — but a post it note or slip of paper in your wallet will do. Most hotel rooms range from three to four numbers, depending on the size of the property, which are easily disguised as a phone number (round out the other numbers with your best friend’s digits, or some other recognizable code). If this seems like a silly precaution, I recall a time in the fourth leg of a four day on, four day off run of travel that had me bouncing between Toronto, Paris, Dublin and Bangkok in the space of two weeks — I couldn’t have told you reliably what country I was in, let alone the number of my most current hotel room. You can also use this tip to prevent having to call security when you have inevitably forgotten the four digit code on your in-room safe.
So there…five tips to prepare for times when your trusty phone becomes a paperweight and you’ve forgotten how to travel low-fi. Here’s hoping you’ll never need them.