Travel Notes

Great Travel Advice for Experience Seekers: Ask a Local, Not Your Phone

A close friend recently told me of her trip to Tokyo, during which she got lost outside a train station while looking for a restaurant she wanted to check out with her sister. It’s easy to do in a massive metropolis like Tokyo.

Looking confused, a random stranger approached her asking whether she needed help. This person didn’t speak the best English, but it didn’t matter.

He knew of the restaurant and stopped what he was doing, paused his travel plans for a moment, and guided my friend and her sister all the way to the place, a 15-minute journey through a confusing array of narrow alleys with tiny eateries and no signs in English in sight.

The man had missed his next train, but it didn’t matter. He wanted to help.

Here’s the best part: My friend never told me what the restaurant was like or even if she ultimately enjoyed the ramen she had read about somewhere and wanted to try. Instead, she told me about this random stranger who stopped her outside that busy train station. She’s told many people that story.

She remembered the person, not the place.

The moment gave her the validation to join everyone else who likes to say how friendly and polite the Japanese are — and why in many ways she wants to go back.

Apps are meant to help us travel, but we’ve lost real social connections in an age of social media.

When we travel we want to remember an experience. But it’s often other people who create that memorable moment for and with us. It could be a businessman on his way home, and If you’re staying at a hotel, it could be a knowledgeable concierge, a bellman, waiter or bartender.

It’s a conceit others are embracing.

There’s a brilliant campaign running on the Eurostar, the high-speed train service that connects Paris and Brussels to London. The message is simple: “Ask a local, not your phone.”

It resonates because with just six words, the request captures a moment in time in which we live — and puts a spotlight on a behavior of which we’re all guilty.

We’re living in an age where apps essentially dictate everything we do and control what we look at and where we go. Walk down any busy street and most people are staring at their smartphones.

The rest of the travel industry has embraced this, too, with apps designed to help us improve our travels and discover new places.

But something went wrong along the way, and it’s something the marketing geniuses over at Eurostar have tapped into: We’ve lost real social connections in an age of social media.

To support its campaign, Eurostar sent travel journalist Juliet Kinsman to Paris. Watch her journey below.

With the stories that Marriott TRAVELER publishes, we’re always trying to make a connection back to the interesting individuals that make a place worth visiting.

These personalities give a city the attitude we hopefully love and want to experience again. “We are why we travel” is our mantra, and it’s the “we” in that line that matters a great deal to us.

Let’s all try to embrace that idea of putting down our phones and having a conversation again.

You never know where talking to someone might take you.


Marc Graser is Marriott International’s Editorial Director. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.