Published on August 6th, 2014 | by Kevin Lawson

Having your smartphone stolen on holiday isn’t as bad as it seems!

Having our phone stolen whilst we are on holiday is something we all dread. For in a light-fingered instant, the thief has not only taken an expensive piece of technology but also severed our connection to family and friends. It’s a moment of abject misery that’s enough to ruin our time away from home and one that the millennial generation find especially painful.

In a recent survey of young adults born from the 1980s and beyond, rental experts Zipcar found that nearly 40 percent of millennials believe that losing their smartphone was tougher to deal with than losing their car, access to a computer or to a TV set. Given that a further 40 percent also stated that they substitute meeting up with friends in person for texting, email, social networking and video calls, their heightened feelings of hardship are understandable.

However, consider this question for a moment. What if, instead of improving the experience, the muffled beeps and alerts from your smartphone were actually ruining your holiday? It may seem unthinkable – considering we now use our phones in place of maps, laptops and even watches – but to award winning travel blogger Mike Sowden having our umbilical chord to home with us all the time, means that few of us ever really get away from it all, “In the days before Internet access was so ubiquitous, you actually had to find ways to connect with friends. Now you have to make the effort to disconnect and that’s a big inversion.”

There is plenty of evidence to back Sowden’s opinion. According to consumer behavior experts Mintel, on average, we all spend over 10 hours a week online. This time increases by an extra hour and a half for millenials, a group who also happen to own more smartphones than any other generation. When coupled with the rapid expansion of telecommunications services across the globe, disconnections from our virtual lives – even whilst we’re on holiday – have become few and far between.

For example in July 2013, London Heathrow launched free Wi-Fi in its airport, allowing travellers 45 minutes of free web-browsing at all of its five terminals, whilst American Airlines took things one step further and offered customers Internet connectivity on all its flights. This means that travellers can now grab a coffee at the airport, eat their inflight meal, pick up their bag at the other end and head inland without losing connectivity.

This constant link has had massive implications for all phases of holidaymaking. Whereas planning a holiday used to require a trip to travel agents to flick through pages of travel brochures whilst you sat back imagined sun as hot as the tea you were drinking. For the digital travellers, the browsing, booking, check-in and tourist information are all just a few taps away.

Do you you want to know when the next train to Paris is? Well there’s an app for that. Do you crave the opinions of other holidaymakers about which hotel to book? Then TripAdvisor is ready to help. Are you a vegan worried by rich French cuisine? Then and Google Maps can guide you to a plethora of vegan-friendly restaurants within a one-mile radius.

With such potent tools at our fingertips, it’s little wonder that our behaviours have changed. In their most recent tourism study, Mintel found that a staggering 92% of holidaymakers have researched and booked a trip away without leaving cyberspace. Whilst in 2012, Text100 found that over three quarters of world travellers think that independent online reviews are important decision-making tools.

At the forefront of this new wave of digital information providers are bloggers like Sowden, who has made a full-time career out of showing his audience how to tailor these services to their own needs, “I really don’t like flying, so whenever my budget allows, I’ll take an overland route. There’s a website called The Man In Seat 61,” which describes in forensic detail all the train journeys from London to all the major capitals of Europe, that Sowden used for research before travelling to Greece. “I followed the instructions to the letter and it was a wonderful experience that was as much of the attraction as the holiday itself.”

This shift away from high street agents hasn’t gone unnoticed. Forward thinking tourism companies have jumped on these behaviours and have developed new ways of communicating with potential travellers. Having won leading marketing campaign category at the World Travel Awards for the past three years, tourist board, Welcome to Yorkshire are at the bleeding edge of this change. Their marketing manager, Graham Poucher explains how tourism boards have adopted new ways of connecting to potential holidaymakers, “One thing we look at is search engine optimisation. We try to make sure that when people search for keywords like Yorkshire, that we’re the first of the returned results.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, for whilst simple searches for destinations, areas of natural beauty or climate are advantageous, they remain the ‘old way’ of marketing to travellers. According to recent research by TripAdvisor some 70% of potential holidaymakers will start planning a holiday without knowing their destination and will instead look for the type of holiday they want first. It’s something that Poucher is well aware of; “Travellers are looking for variety, excitement, quality and value for money. We focus our marketing efforts on promoting the places to see and things to experience that reflect these themes and inspire people to come to Yorkshire.”

With our phones enabling such empowered research it’s not surprising that we take them with us on holiday. However, once everything has been planned, just what are we using them for? According to Text100’s Travel and Tourism Study, 2012, the 63 percent of world travellers’ use a mobile device on holiday is to keep in touch with family and friends back home, with 43 percent taking/sharing photos and videos, whilst they are away. This hasn’t gone unnoticed and travel providers are now vying for some of our holiday time by encouraging holidaymakers to use social networks whilst away. Over the last three years Welcome to Yorkshire’s main methods of communication with travellers has been conducted via Facebook and Twitter and they aren’t stopping there, as Poucher explains,  “We have recently created a 100 things for visitors to do on Foursquare and are constantly encouraging people to use their devices to save their holiday memories as we think this heightens the holiday experience.”

As more and more of the industry gets in on this act, there is a real danger that holidays become another form of work, one complete with its own to do list. After all can we really be enjoying the experience if we’re constantly tweeting or facebragging to our friends back home? It’s a problem that Sowden often feels when he is gathering material for his blog, “I always feel a real tension between wanting to have the experience and wanting to record it, because if you are fully recording everything, there is something between you and that experience, whether it’s a notebook, smartphone or a camera, it’s getting in the way.”

For digital natives like Sowdon, this is a real issue. The balancing act between staying in the moment, capturing it and boasting to friends about your holiday is difficult even for professionals like Sowden, “I try to digitally detox when I’m away and say ‘ok,’ well I’m going to go for a walk and for the next four hours I’m not going to use the Internet.” Before finding himself drawn back onto his phone to test the popularity of potential story ideas, “I use Facebook ‘likes’ to see how one of my thoughts has resonated with readers. By proxy you start seeing all the things your friends are up to and posting, you disappear down a rabbit hole and lose a few hours of precious holiday time.”

So what’s the answer? With the tourism industry only interested in us using our smartphones to help build a cache of new marketing materials we’re going to have to try and break our own habits, or as Sowden says, “We need to renegotiate with ourselves, especially when we’re on holiday, the way in which we use some of these technologies and need to be more critical and selective.”

So next time you are away, instead of sharing another picture of a hammock and a golden sunset tagged with “another tough day at the office,” why not try turning off your handset and really relax? Without the distractions of home and a map app guiding your every step, simple things like getting to the beach become an adventure of their own and getting lost along the way becomes part of the fun. Do so and you’ll end up in places that haven’t already been shared by blogs or friends – you’ll have a holiday that you can claim as your own.

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