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Why Travel Notebooks Won’t Be Extinct Anytime Soon

It’s just not about having paper and pen handy when your phone dies on you. Though that certainly helps. The real beauty in keeping a notebook around is that it’s simple to use, and there are no stupid things you have to worry about like it getting stolen or anything ridiculous like that.

I love my phone just as much as anyone, maybe even more so. As tempting as it is to go completely all-digital on the road these days, even I can’t deny it’s almost always easier to pull out some paper, a writing utensil and to jot something down. The travel notebook will never be dead simply because I’ll never get the hotel receptionist to write “ma la xiang guo” in Chinese simplified characters and I’ll never be able to sketch a pumpkin to show an elderly Turkish lady as efficiently on a phone.

Confirmation numbers, addresses, phone numbers and small maps are just some of the things you can jot down if you’re carrying one around. While grabbing business cards are usually the easiest way to navigate your way back to the same place, the space a notebook affords you is just so much more flexible than a small rectangular card. The one really nice thing about notebooks is, well, they don’t run on batteries. (Portable batteries can be useful, but it’s also another thing to carry around.)

In particular, I find non-Roman languages particularly hard to write—especially if it’s Chinese, Arabic or Russian—and find it a lot easier if I can get a local to write down addresses down for me. (This goes without saying but you might want to make sure you’ve also got a pen.) It’s really useful for showing taxi drivers or pedestrians on the street where you’re heading. In addition to writing down addresses, phone numbers are super handy to note even if you don’t have a phone. After all, you may not have one, but the taxi driver will most likely have one.

So sit down everyone, ‘cause it’s one of those times I get to recite another story from Erica’s collection of mishaps. Once upon a time, long ago, on a ship from Shanghai to Osaka, there was once a girl who decided to sail from the open seas in the hopes of being able to rub two more cents against each other.

On the second afternoon during the two-day voyage, she decided to take a little break. Because she couldn’t disengage herself from her phone, she brought it into the washroom with her where she promptly put it above an overhead rack above the toilet. Unfortunately, it was anyone’s guess that the ship would suddenly decide to lurch at that moment, and, because of a freak wave, sent her phone rushing into the guzzling waters below it. Instinctively, without any regard for bacteria, she grabbed the phone from the depths of the bowels of the loo, where the screen slowly darkened, along with any hotel confirmation numbers or addresses she might need.

Upon finally making it to Osaka, she figured out her way to Tokyo, the capital city of Japan. But once she stepped off the train, things suddenly got a little bit more complicated. Not knowing where she needed to go, or being able to communicate in Japanese, she took out her laptop and spent several hours wandering around the streets of Tokyo until she found an open Wi-Fi connection (not common at all in that city), while people milled around and stared at her.

Now, does this mean all of my problems would have been solved if I had been carrying a notebook? Probably not. But I would have probably saved myself the embarrassment and from wasting seven hours. So unless the home office threatens to spontaneously combust in a fiery apocalypse those two weeks you’re away, you might want to leave the phone at home or at least in your back pocket.

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