Cellphones and Your Vacation: To Unplug or Not?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Travel booking site Hotels.com wanted to know exactly how addicted we are to our mobile devices so it surveyed travelers on their willingness to unplug, then sorted results by nation - and found huge national differences.

In this research, there are lessons for all of us - starting with the self assessment: could I stand being unplugged on a personal vacation?

Know this: even in the U.S., accept that large chunks of the country have spotty or no cellular coverage - can you say Vermont? Huge swaths of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico. Even big slices of Texas.

You won't find dead zones in many big cities, but drive into the woods in Maine - or just steam along an interstate in barren west Texas - and there is no, "Can you hear me now?"

Go abroad and, in much of the world, your phone is a brick, and if it isn't, you may wish it had been when you get hit with an extortionate bill.

So ask yourself this: are you willing to surrender your mobile devices on holiday? Voluntarily or involuntarily?

That means not just no email. Also: no Twitter, no Facebook, no Pinterest, no websurfing, no checking stock market prices or sports scores. Can you go cold turkey?

That's what Hotels.com set out to learn.

A staggering 85% of Thais said no way would they unplug and that set a high bar for mobile addiction.

Korea - home of Samsung, LG and more - grabbed second place with 78% saying nope.

Japan finished third, with 69%.

Know that the first six countries are Asian.

It's not until Norway at #7 that Europe pops up.

What about the U.S.? It came in at 17th place - behind Germany, Ireland, Italy and more.

A possible explanation: pretty much all of Ireland, Germany, Italy has good cellular coverage, unlike America. It is hard to imagine an Irish resort that lacks cellphone connectivity; it may not exist.

But then explain eighth place finisher Brazil or 13th place Russia, both - like the U.S. - large countries with huge tracts of land with no coverage.

In the United States, we simply are not nearly as addicted to cellular as some believe - but some of us definitely are (35% per Hotels.com) and most of us are vocally annoyed about the lack of coverage in specific cases.

Sometimes unplugged is exactly what we want. Portland, Ore. journalist Sam Greengard, who just returned from a getaway to Lopez Island in Washington State, happily related that he had experienced "very sketchy" cellular coverage.

But, he stressed, he had been there before and knew the drill. "I like having a break from the e-drip," he said. "Life doesn't end because the phone doesn't work."

Sandra Powers, a co-founder at LawyerReviews.com, drew a useful distinction: "I can see poor cellular reception at locations that are remote. At a resort that is intended for people that are looking for a 'digital detox,' it would be understandable. But otherwise, no."

In other words, when - like Greengard - you expect poor coverage at your destination, fine.

The trouble happens when the poor coverage is unexpected. Said Powers: "As a consumer, I would hope that a resort or hotel would be forthright about poor coverage, but I am under no illusion that the owner of such a resort will advertise this fact."

"I think resorts and hotels with spotty coverage should be forthright about this on their websites," said Michelle Schroeder, who blogs at MakingSenseofCents. "However, either way I always ask this question before I book just to make sure."

That is excellent advice.

Our suggestion - before clicking "Reserve Now" - always check your wireless carrier's coverage map. But know that info is not always reliable, mainly because zip codes - especially in resort areas - can be enormous and coverage can be uneven.

If there are any questions, always ask the resort - preferably via email - before booking. Why email? If there is no coverage when you check in and you have an email that promises there will be, refuse to pay and demand a refund of any "non-refundable deposit." They lied. You don't owe a dime.

Or maybe you want an unplugged holiday. In which event: use coverage maps to tell you where to avoid.

They cut both ways, don't they?

--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

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