This month I took a solo trip to Japan (Part 1 and Part 2) - no friends, and no data. I decided not to buy international data partly because I didn't have enough time in the airport, and partly because I didn't want to shell out the cheddar - Japan is expensive enough. Though this decision made for some inconveniences I am very glad I did it, and would recommend that everyone take at least one data-free international trip.
When I first arrived in Japan, I had a very positive and truly uplifting experience with a stranger who helped me when I was wandering around lost and alone at night. I know for a fact that this would not have occurred had I bought data for my phone. However, I can admit that the no-data thing can create certain difficulties. So, here are my top four tips for travel without data.
1. Plan Ahead - Do your research and then print out maps/directions before you leave home. Think about where you want to go, and at least have a general idea of how to get there. Know the name of the place you're going, the main landmarks, the important train stations.
2. Tap into Wi-Fi - Most all hostels and hotels will have their own free Wi-Fi system. Use it! Everyday before I left my hostel I would look up where I was going, and exactly how to get there, as well as check up on the world of social media. Additionally, many cafes and restaurants will have their own Wi-Fi systems, so if you're lost and no one will help head into the nearest cafe, grab a coffee and the Wi-Fi password, then figure out your next step.
3. Screenshots - This one is so, so helpful! I have about 20 screenshots on my phone of several maps, direction lists, and various places I wanted to go. It's super easy. Just pull up your map or directions list, take a screen shot, and then bam! - you can access the map at anytime even without internet. This way you have it on hand in case you get confused or forget, and it's also a helpful way to show someone else where you're trying to go in case the language barrier proves to be insurmountable.
4. Talk to People - This one can be hit and miss, but in my experience of Southeast Asia so far, most people are willing to help if you ask nicely and are clearly having a hard time. It doesn't always work i.e. they don't know where it is, or don't have the language to explain clearly. Best case scenario, they take you there themselves. Worst case scenario, they can't help and you ask someone else. If the first person can't help, don't get discouraged, just ask a different person. Natives know their city, someone will be able to help. Make sure to smile, say please, and many thank you's. It's not their duty to help you, and they are doing you a kindness by even trying.
I really do believe that going data-free can be a great experience. It was not that long ago that people didn't have cell-phones, much less smartphones - and everyone still traveled successfully. So look up from that screen, look around you, and talk to people. Don't be afraid to take the risk - you will get where you're going, and any snag or wrong turn will either be a learning experience or a funny story in the future.. Who knows, maybe it could be both.
Enjoy the beautiful view!
Photo Credit: Friendly