No-tech travelers’ tips

This item appears on page 29 of the September 2019 issue.

Two ITN readers wondered if traveling without being tech-savvy was still possible (Feb. ‘19, pg. 54), so we asked subscribers who travel without a smartphone or laptop computer to answer these questions: What tech problems or hurdles have you faced recently when traveling or even when making travel arrangements, and what solutions did you find? If you manage to get to wherever you want or to book arrangements without using any of the new personal electronics, what is it that you do to succeed? What are some of the drawbacks you have experienced or just live with? Are there types of travel or facets of travel that you now avoid because some sort of IT (information technology) is required?

While not everyone who wrote is free of high-tech devices, here are responses received.

I am a poster child of “no tech.” Lucky for me, I’ve always located a good travel agent. This is a must.

In foreign countries, the problem is that hotels, day excursions, tour leaders, etc., all expect that I will have a cell phone to confirm meeting times and places or changes of plan, but my Consumer Cellular nonsmart cell phone does not work outside the US. My only solution is having someone at my hotel’s concierge desk call for me and/or relay messages.

In hotels, sometimes I don’t even bother with the TV or air-conditioning because I’m overwhelmed by the complexity of the remotes, which come with few instructions. (Opening the window can sometimes solve the lack of AC.)

Forget about being included in post-trip evaluations from tour companies, hotels, airlines or cruise lines because those are conducted by email. I do not have email. (My travel agent tells me he has about 100 other clients like me.)

Even in the US, there are problems. On a recent trip in Hawaii, I asked for simple directions from both a hotel concierge and a rental car agent and was told to just use my GPS.

Nevertheless, except for the “you can’t be for real” look on people’s faces when they learn I’m not tech savvy and am showing no remorse about it, travel is still the same rewarding experience.

Catherine Donahue
Anchorage, AK


Despite not being tech-savvy, I have continued to travel to Europe two or three times a year the same way I have for decades. Well, not exactly. I no longer need to resort to mail, phone or fax for lodging reservations or trips to the airport for plane reservations. My home computer greatly simplifies making those arrangements.

And the computer is handy for checking events and opening hours as well as bus and tram routes and schedules.

Otherwise, I rely on guidebooks (Lonely Planet, Rick Steves, Rough Guide, Fodor’s and Frommer’s) for planning, on puzzles for evening entertainment in my room and on maps for navigating around my destinations. (I was amused in Rome last year when a couple failed to locate the Colosseum with the GPS on their phone, so I showed them on my map. We were fewer than a dozen blocks away.)

I must confess to having purchased an iPad a decade ago to email my partner of 51 years back home while I’m in Europe. We agree that this is a luxury, not a necessity, having survived decades of being out of touch when I traveled.

Ironically, this one device has caused me problems. On an Overseas Adventure Travel “Jewels of Bohemia” trip in April 2018, my email wouldn’t work on the iPad, so our tour leader emailed home for me to explain why no emails would be forthcoming.

Flight problems have been resolved at the airport. When a flight to Amsterdam via Frankfurt was diverted to Munich because of snow, a Lufthansa agent booked my partner and me on an afternoon flight to Amsterdam.

One year, winds delayed my flight from Rome to Frankfurt and I missed my connecting flight home. When I arrived at Frankfurt, an agent who met me as I deplaned had already booked me on the next flight.

On a trip to France, the first flight, the leg to Washington, DC, was canceled because of mechanical problems. An agent at the airport rebooked me through Paris, and I arrived in Metz sooner than I would have with my original reservation.

Staying at Hôtel de la Mer (4 Place Massena; in Nice, France, in February 2019, I was required to log into their Wi-Fi system, which required a mobile phone number, something I don’t have. The manager kindly entered his for me.

I am often saddened seeing people in museums taking photos or selfies rather than admiring the artwork. Or they walk along engrossed in their smartphones rather than in the sights and sounds around them. People who are accustomed to instant news and contacts would undoubtedly miss their phones, but that’s obviously not a problem for me.

In answer to the subscribers who wondered about it, yes, it is still possible to travel without your own personal IT system, and I hope it remains so for years to come. Those who like their devices can use them, and those who do not can survive without them.

Helen Harper
Mill Valley, CA


In response to the request for all of us Luddites to describe our travel styles, one thing I notice happening with increasing frequency is transfer companies requesting that you text them about your whereabouts upon your arrival at the airport of your destination. I do not travel with a smartphone, however.

I’ve missed one transfer because I didn’t receive meeting instructions that were emailed after I left home, and one company declined to proceed with my booking request when I explained I wouldn’t be able to text them.

So far, I’ve been able to come up with alternatives, such as a hotel shuttle van or a different transfer company, but it looks like texting will become more of an expectation moving forward.

Femi Faminu
Los Angeles, CA


My wife, Rebekah, and I do travel with our smartphones and normally pick up new SIM cards when we arrive in a new country. While having pocket computers is great, we don’t like to rely on them because there are many ways for them to fail.

To organize each trip, we like to use a classification folder, a 2-prong folder with multiple dividers in it. The front divider has a calendar with color-coded days for hotels and flights, the second holds air and car reservations, the third is for our hotels (with the names and addresses written in the local language as well as in English), and the last tabbed section has destinations we want to see, including each site’s address.

We find it very reassuring to have everything we need organized and on paper for our trip. The color-coded calendar alleviates confusion about when things are taking place.

James Klein
Albuquerque, NM


I find that it’s often much more straightforward to minimize the use of tech for a trip, though the fact that I managed so successfully for so long before tech became so intrusive probably makes it seem more natural to me.

The key to trip planning and execution is using a guidebook that is current, comprehensive and, most of all, compatible with your objectives and travel style. I have found Lonely Planet and Rough Guide to be particularly helpful. Rick Steves, Fodor’s and Brandt are also useful.

Guidebooks identify hotels (and also restaurants), and if the hotel is part of a chain, such as Best Western, IHG, Accor or Marriott, you can make phone reservations using an 800 number.

Sometimes I can phone a hotel directly. Many hotels are staffed 24 hours; otherwise, I must pay attention to the time zone difference. Phoning directly often offers better results than sending an email, as the latter can get lost in the email shuffle.

When planning a trip, I’ll phone a hotel to inquire about airport pickup and local tours. They’re usually very helpful. Employees tend to speak basic conversational English, especially if the hotel has been listed in guidebooks.

Recently, I phoned a hotel in Aurangabad, India, and arranged a private car (with AC) and driver for three days for the modest sum of $60. Admittedly, they confirmed the arrangements via email.

Travel agents local to the destination are also an option and are often identified in guidebooks. They can be phoned in advance or will make arrangements for you upon your arrival in person (though, for a room at a guidebook-recommended hotel, it might be cheaper if you simply show up). Local tourist offices will make hotel and tour arrangements, too.

Also, if you don’t carry a device, tourist offices and travel agents may offer telephone or computer use at a reasonable rate, which may be an option if your hotel does not offer such service.

Airlines still will make reservations by phone, albeit for a $20 or $30 fee. Foreign airlines often waive the fee, particularly as a courtesy for a fairly expensive ticket or if using the website is problematic.

Jim S.


Living in the Stone Age is challenging, but I prefer the challenge. At 77 years old, I’ve lived without high tech most of my life. Why do I need it now? Trying to keep up with it is a headache.

I always travel with reputable tour companies like ElderTreks (Toronto, ON, Canada; phone, in No. Am., 800/741-7956 or 416/588-5000) and Road Scholar (Boston, MA; 800/454-5768). They know I don’t have “intelligent” equipment. We communicate by phone and regular mail, and, so far, I haven’t had any problems.

In the case of an emergency, the tour guide will deal with the company.

I don’t need to be in contact with my family, constantly making an obsession of it.

I enjoy my trips (at least four a year) immensely.

Marta Pazos
Glendale, CA