Let's All Boycott Data Plans for Travel

Photo by rawpixel.

I just read an article encouraging everyone to buy international data plans when they travel. I took umbrage before I even clicked on it.

One of the wonderful side benefits of travel, aside from the obvious things like experiencing a different culture and seeing famous things from National Geographic in real life, is getting away from day-to-day life and expectations for once. You're away. Having an experience. You can't be expected to engage with mundane trivialities of life at home via text or otherwise! (It sounds highfalutin, but it's also true.) Having a fully-functioning phone with data kind of destroys that bliss.

The article's argument was mostly safety-based: if you get stranded or into a dangerous situation, you'll be able to pull up a map or call for help.

Okay, so safety matters. Safety, as I tell my boyfriend as I strap on my helmet and reflective gear before hopping on my bike, is sexy. (Obviously. You have to be ALIVE to be sexy, and safety keeps you alive. Thus sexy. Duh.)

But how likely is it that your phone is going to save your life, really? First of all, it's not like you can't use your phone without an international data plan, it just means it will cost you more. Too much for casual use, but probably just the right amount for emergency use. Also, does everyone not know that you can download maps of areas in advance so you don't need data to navigate? That's at least 75% of the problem!

Also, haven't people been travelling for all of human history without data plans? Why do we suddenly need them just to survive the mean streets of London? They were WAY meaner back when Jack the Ripper was on the loose.

I realize after writing that paragraph that I am making the exact same argument some anti-vaxxers make: "people lived without vaccines for thousands of years!" The response to that argument, of course, is that many of them didn't live. They died. All the time. Or got so sick they were permanently disabled. From illnesses we now consider really straightforward because we cure them by sticking a needle in our arms.

So are international data plans the new silver needle delivering a vaccine of connectivity? Are they saving lives? If I don't get on board with this, will I be an anti-science crusader for outmoded causes of death and dismemberment? Or can I keep advocating that we let our phones turn into pumpkins that are only useful for telling the time and taking photos? (In between wifi hits, of course, I'm not a monster.)

Plus, the more people start travelling with data plans the weaker the "I'm travelling, I cannot be expected to answer the group chat" argument gets. To loop the vaccines back in, it's technological herd immunity. Avoiding life while travelling only really works if we all do it. So let's stay on board the wifi-only train and keep the "vacate" in our "vacations."

I am fairly confident that these international data plans aren't saving lives so much as enabling the "insta" in Instagram. This may be valuable, but it comes at a cost! That cost is all the group chat notifications you are getting all day long happening while you try to look pensively at the Mona Lisa.

Oh, and just to respond to the "why don't you just turn your phone off if you want to disconnect?" argument: first of all, that means I have turned off my watch and camera. That's silly. More importantly, though, if you are such a master of self-control that turning off your phone sounds reasonable to you, then good for you. I am happy for you with your nutritionally-balanced diet, consistent bedtime, and perfect control over phone use. I am sure you read all the terms of service before downloading the new iTunes update, too.

In the meantime, let those of us who are not superheroes enjoy the peace and quiet that comes from crossing a border into roaming territory!

Thank you for your time.

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