The Good and Bad of Pokemon Go for Travelers

Are you planning to catch 'em all on vacation?

Screenshot of Pokemon Go
Niantic, Inc

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll already know all about Pokémon Go.

The app has broken all kinds of download records, and players around the world have become hooked on catching the cute little characters wherever they appear.

With some Pokémons only available outside the US, plenty of people are already planning to extend the hunt from their hometown to their next vacation destination — but is it actually a good idea?

The Good

It's a Great Free Tour Guide

While it's not designed to be a tour guide, Pokémon Go does a surprisingly good job of it anyway. Pokéstops are typically attached to points of interest around a city, and you'll often be able to see a dozen or more on the map no matter where you're standing. Even if you're too far away to collect a Pokémon, a tap brings up a photo, and another tap gives a brief description, to help decide which stop to head for.

Walking around the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, I've been continually alerted to great street art, historic buildings, hidden statues and much more, all under the guise of hunting out those little imaginary characters.

The game takes me down little roads and alleyways I'd never normally check out, and I've learned much more about the area I'm staying in, and several other parts of the city. There's a tiny chapel, a beautiful stained glass window, and a traditional music museum within a five-minute walk, and I doubt I'd have found any of them without the game.

Meeting the Locals

The game has been hugely popular, with hundreds of people regularly gathering in the same place while hunting a rare Pokémon. Even without the flash mobs, Gyms and Pokéstops naturally bring players to the same places, and that's just as true when you're traveling as when you're in your own neighborhood.

My partner recently headed out on a solo Pokémon hunt here in Lisbon and found herself in a nearby park with local parents, kids and others enjoying the summer sunshine. Several of them were also playing the game, and within minutes she found herself chatting with perfect strangers about the game, her time in Portugal, and more.

If you're looking for an easy, unforced way of meeting the locals when you're traveling, Pokémon Go could well be it.

Spicing Up Your Travel Photos

If you're tired of the same old landscapes and selfies in your vacation photos, Pokémon Go offers a fun alternative. The game uses augmented reality (AR) to overlay Pokémons on the world around you via your phone camera, and we're already seeing people bringing out their creative sides and incorporating the characters into their travel snaps.

There's no reason you can't do it either. Once you find one of the characters, it will move with you within a limited area – so spend a few seconds finding the most interesting background. Once that's done, use the inbuilt Camera icon or take a screenshot on your phone, and share your masterpiece on Facebook, Instagram or wherever your friends hang out.

A photo of the Colosseum in Rome could only be enhanced with a Pidgey on the top, right?

It's not all good news when it comes to vacationing with Pokémon Go, however.

The Bad

You're Much More Distracted

Getting out to explore a new city and find hidden highlights is great, but how much are you actually experiencing if you're continually looking at your phone or flicking virtual balls around the screen?

One of the best parts of any trip is immersion in your surroundings – the sights, sounds and smells of everything, from the fantastic to the mundane – and the more attention you pay to your phone, the less attention you're paying to everything else.

That distraction can be dangerous, not just to your travel memories, but to your safety as well. Being totally focused on your phone makes it easy to accidentally walk into obstacles, stumble off a curb, or step into traffic.

People are already falling over cliffs, trespassing on private property, even illegally crossing borders while trying to “catch them all”, and thieves are seizing the opportunity to lure players to deserted areas at night to steal their phones.

Is traveling to the other side of the country or planet, only to view it through our smartphone screens, really the best way to spend a vacation?

It'll Kill Your Phone Battery

Any app that regularly uses the screen, GPS, camera or cellular radio on a smartphone will drain the battery, and Pokémon Go does all four.

In order to hatch in-game “eggs”, a player needs to walk a certain distance with the app open (and screen on). GPS and data are used pretty much continually, and the camera fires up every time you try to catch a Pokémon. The end result? A very sad battery icon within a few hours.

You can help matters by enabling Battery Saver Mode, which at least turns off the screen when the phone is upside down and reduces the amount of communication with the game's servers. Even so, you'll need to take a portable battery on your trip and keep it in your pocket or bag, if you plan to play the game and still rely on your phone for anything else.

No Data? No Pokémon

Finally, if you're traveling overseas, or to an area that's poorly-serviced by your carrier, cell data becomes a concern. If you can't get coverage, don't expect to be catching any Pokémon either.

When traveling overseas, even if you do have signal, be aware of how fast your connection is and how much data roaming is going to cost you. It's not really possible to play using a Wi-fi connection unless there's a city-wide service available.

Slow connections make the game harder and less reliable, and although Pokémon Go doesn't use much data, it still adds up if you're playing for hours on an expensive roaming connection.