Jenn Fields/Colorado Daily
Here’s a question for you and your Barcelona guidebook: How do you get from the touristy walking mall-ish Las Ramblas to the far more delightful (if you ask me) Sagrada Familia cathedral?
Answer: If you have T-Mobile, use your smartphone. Google will happily map it for you, including the Metro directions and walking times, and T-Mobile won’t even charge you a roaming fee that will cause all of that Iberian ham in your belly to sour.
My recent trip to Spain marked the first time I’d traveled to Europe with data available on my iPhone. This tiny addition altered my travel experience.
It almost made everything too easy.
During my first trip to Europe, nearly 10 years ago, I had a flip phone, which I probably left at home, because it was useless. I remember popping into an internet cafe in Paris to let a friend in Munich know what time my train arrived and crossed my fingers that he’d be there — figuring out how to call him from a train station seemed daunting at best.
I’m not saying it was equivalent to crossing the Atlantic in a steamer. But times have changed when you can point your phone at a sign in another language and ask it to translate.
Back to Spain. Asking a phone how to get somewhere is just the start of the delights of having data while traveling. After all, in the past, I could have looked that up on wi-fi from the hotel, or from any number of restaurants or public places, especially in a big city. The clutch mobile moment happened when my entire family, exhausted by a final push to see more of Barcelona’s fabulous, whimsical works by Antoni Gaudi, was searching for a place to eat lunch.
Blood sugar was crashing. Spirits were sinking. We looked more like Goya’s creepy Black Paintings (at Madrid’s Prado Museum) than the colorful tiled lizard at Gaudi’s Park Güell in Barcelona.
My brother got his phone out. “This place has amazing Yelp reviews. Just a block over.”
It also had a mob of people waiting on the sidewalk. He tried again and Yelp guided us around the corner, where we had an amazing farm-to-table lunch and luckily didn’t have to wait for a table.
After we left, and after I walked back to the hotel and promptly passed out in true siesta style, I wondered whether we would have stumbled upon that restaurant without a smartphone. Doubtful, I decided, and this troubled me. Isn’t stumbling upon fantastic places and people one of the main reasons we travel? Had our smartphones circumvented experience?
Two days later, I went wandering the alleyways of Old Town with my other brother. I used my phone to find the music hall — also whimsical and beautiful — but on the way back toward the hotel, I pocketed my phone.
That’s when we stumbled into a bustling market two blocks from where we’d been staying for six nights.
“How did we not know this was here?” I asked him.
We passed stalls of fruit and fish and legs of ham, pausing at a stand simply labeled “organic” that piled so much stuff — green rice, red noodles, plus veggies and unknown sauces — on top of what we ordered that we couldn’t remember what was under it until we dug down.
“This is what we get for not wandering,” my brother said as we sat on a dirty curb and scarfed, and I nodded in agreement.
My phone made getting here and there in Spain easier. But it’s still good to stumble upon things.
Follow Jenn Fields on Twitter: @jennfields.