Smart Traveling Without A Smartphone

My friend Matteo thinks I'm crazy for what I'm not carrying. "Deficiente," the 31-year-old engineer from Parma, Italy, says. 

"Man, how can you not have a phone? You must be the only person in Italy without one."

I'm traveling overseas without a phone, smart or otherwise. Many would say it's not smart. Maybe even dumb. I say it's one of the best ways to truly get to know a country, despite the inherent communication challenges.

I'm not saying it's easy, and I'm most certainly not an anti-tech snob.

It can be hard to forage through a new culture by yourself and rendezvous with your local host laterwithout the advantage of a phone. And exchanging email addresses at a club usually isn't as sexy in analog mode as it is with digital. But try harder. Forget getting the number. Take her home. Tonight

Being "disconnected" makes you more connected to your environment and the people around you.

No mobile to use to check Google Maps, decipher a word or check the rating of a hotel.

Which means ... what?

Which means you have to think fast, be creative and inquisitive, and talk to people—sometimes in their language.

It's hard. Almost blasphemous for most Americans. But try learning a few basic phrases. Better yet, listen to the way the words roll off the tongues of native speakers. Now you try. When you sit down to order dinner, do as they do. Watch eyes light up and smiles beam. You're no longer the ugly American, now you're the American not the like others. Gee, thanks guys ....

You're saying, Adam, how will I get from point A to point B? And how do I figure out the exchange rate and how much to tip? Simple. Pick up a map. And. Read. It. Forget the exchange rate. If you're in Europe the dollar's under water, and if you're in the developing world, the dollar is king.

And there is no tipping anywhere besides the United States, Canada, and sometimes Britain. So bugger all that. 

When you're forced out of your comfort zone, things get interesting. You have to make an attempt, because if you don't, you're going to be stuck in your room. Alone. 

It's not always easy throwing technology to the wind. You may recall a time when people didn't have mobile capabilities. How did they survive travel back then (how did we survive anything, you may wonder)?

They did it by putting one foot in front of the other, deciding what to do, pulling out a travel guide or phrase book when things got tough, and maybe even sticking out a hand.

"Hi, my name is Adam, and I'm American."

Trust me, people won't flail or flinch. Here's your chance to dispel the myths the rest of the world has learned watching "Jersey Shore" and "Jackass".

It's your chance to be you; to share, to take a chance, to not feel compelled to look down every 15 seconds for a status update and to tweet. It's worth the effort. Besides, pretty soon you'll be back home and able to fill every waking moment with texting and mobile surfing.

Eh. F*****g Americans.  

Tell me your experiences outside your country in the comments. Did mobiles save or shrink your vacation? Do you have any useful anecdotes for others? Share them!