I’m not saying that a good app doesn’t come in handy, especially for navigating through those last-minute travel disruptions that seem so commonplace these days. For example, I always download the app of the airline I’m traveling with so I can easily rebook cancelled or delayed flights. HotelTonight is perfect for finding a room during that unexpected layover and AroundMe gets me to the nearest gas station or cheeseburger with no muss or fuss.
But there’s a point when enough is enough. I know it can be hard, especially for beginning travelers, to resist the reviews and information you can find out there on a gazillion travel apps. But many of my most treasured travel memories are of places I got to know in the pre-app world: when I wasn’t searching for the most comfortable bed or the restaurant to end all restaurants. Nothing on your smartphone – none of the accolades and expectations of people you don’t know – can replace your instincts in making any travel experience truly your own. Here’s one I’ll always remember.
I was in Verona, Italy, and not altogether happy with my hotel – it didn’t feel “Italian” enough to me. So I went for a walk and ended up on the outskirts of town in a corner café. Nothing special: Lunch was a convenience-store-grade ham-and-cheese sandwich. But I loved being among a dozen or so Italian-speaking patrons and having no idea what any of them were talking about. Then suddenly a medley from the musical Hair came on the café radio, and soon everyone was singing – in English. “Let the sunshine in, let the sunshine in, the suu-u-uun-shine i-i-inn!” After a little laughter and applause, everyone went back to their separate conversations in Italian. But for me, Jupiter had definitely aligned with Mars. I’ll never forget it.
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