Reader Participation Day: Does Availability of Cell Phone Service Affect Your Decision to Visit a Park?

Got a signal? Photo by bradleygee via Creative Commons and flickr.

Are you one of the increasing number of people who suffer from nomophobia?

That's a term derived from "no-mobile-phone phobia," or the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. A recent survey in the United Kingdom found that about two-thirds of those questioned admitted to anxiety if they didn't have contact with the important people in their lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When the term first arose it applied primarily to the fear of losing one's phone, running out of "minutes" or draining the cell phone battery, but it's been expanded to include situations when you're in places where a signal isn't available. There's even a website dealing with the problem: The Mobile Phone Anxiety Centre offers "Tips for avoiding loss of mobile contact."

It's an issue that certainly has implications for many national parks and other natural areas. As we've reported on the Traveler in the past, proposals to construct new towers to expand cell phone coverage in national parks can be counted on to draw plenty of comments, pro and con.

So, what about you? Are you anxious about being out of cell phone contact during a park visit?

Would you actually decide to skip a trip to a park just because the answer to "can you hear me now?" is ..."no"?


Yes it does. I prefer the parks w/o cell phone service and go out of my way to avoid it. I leave where I'm staying numbers with people so if something critical develops, I will get the message first thing in morning or later at night.

Personally, I prefer not to talk on the phone while enjoying a vacation. That said, I enjoy using the technology on my smart phone to be able to google questions I might have about something I see or am doing, look at maps, etc...All of which I need a cell tower.

Good topic, Jim! Is it a good path for NPS to pursue pop culture trends while the true significance and health that these great places give us is marginalized? I have watched this transition from no cell service to what it is now at one Park and it's disturbing to see on some days more people talking on their cell phones ("you'll never guess where I'm at") than not. I see it as another part of the culture that keeps us detached from significance. Just saying...

I'm self-employed, and any time I go "off the grid" I risk missing an opportunity for a project. But I visit parks specifically to go off the grid and my clients know that. I call my primary clients before I leave to find out what may be coming up with them and to let them know that my availability when I get back.
With elderly parents, it's a different situation - I normally leave the contact info for my lodging and even the main phone number for the park in case of emergency. When my dad was hospitalized with his last illness, I cancelled a long-planned trip to a national park just in case things went badly, which they did.
But does being outside of cellphone range make me nervous? No. I embrace being out of range and feel comfortable with the way I manage contingencies.

I like to have cell phone service in the park for safety reasons. We like to hike and it is nice to know the outside world isn't that far away! We don keep our founds on silent, however!

This might sound shocking to younger Traveler readers -- it's certainly incomprehensible to my teenage students -- but the world actually existed before cell phones! In fact, I lived my first 37 years without one, and it's only been in the past decade that I've owned one. But I still treat it like my home phone most of the time; I don't bring it with me to work, and I often forget to grab it when I take trips. The availability or lack of cell service has absolutely no affect on my decision to visit a particular park. In fact, I echo the previous response, that I'm actually grateful to be somewhere that has no signal; it just adds to that feeling of getting away from everyday life that many of us enjoy in the national parks.

It is nice to have cell phone service but I would never avoid any location, let alone a National Park, simply because it was not available. I also would be opposed to putting cell phone towers in National Parks. Most of the visitors to National Parks (in my experience) are not there very long and can certainly live without for those few hours.

I wouldn't base the decision to visit a National Park on cell phone service but in general I would prefer to have it available.
Exercising self discipline so that I don't allow it to interfere with my experience is my responsibility.
Judicious placing of the towers so that they don't interfere with the scenery is the NPS's responsibility. I would prefer no service if there is no way to site the tower so it is discrete.
There is a safety factor. I also like the convenience of Google maps, etc.
I am not in the least bothered by the way other people use their phones. A loud cell phone conversation isn't any more disturbing than a loud voice conversation or out of control children or pets. It isn't about the device, it's about courtesy.

Part of the reason to go to most National Parks is to get away from the "rat race" and everything that goes with it. We all need a chance to get out in nature and just "be". Not having cell coverage is a little scary since we are all so used to being connected all the time. We need to remember it wasn't all that long ago that we didn't have the convenience of constant contact.

wouldnt stop of the reasons to go to the parks I do is to be disconnected...

Wouldn't make any difference to me. We are so busy hiking, taking pictures, watching animals, etc., that my phone is usually stuffed in a bag in the car anyway.
I do like having Internet access every other night or so to upload pictures to a web site to store.
But do I feel out-of-touch without cell phone service? Yes, and I love it!

I agree with Celbert. I have lived my whole life of 60 years without
being tied to the cell and will not start now. Most of our hiking in
parks is in the out back, I expect to have no phone service, so consequently
do not carry one. The problem is that most people are totally
inconsiderate of others, have it ringing or some obnoxious song on high
volumn, and talking loud so everyone can hear how important they are. My
advice, leave the phone in the car or at home or hotel, and make the
calls that you deem are important (most are not) at night in your own privacy so
you do not invade mine.

I tell people that using cell phones on the trail attracts predators.

Please leave our National Parks alone. They are perfect the way they are. No need for cell phone towers to clutter the landscape or encourage obnoxious phone conversations on the trails. If you can't live without phone availability, that's what they invented Disneyworld for.

Please leave our National Parks alone. They are perfect the way they are. If you must stay within cell phone range please go to Disneyworld. That is why it was invented, to have an adventure without any risk or inconvenience.

I think I must be the only person left in Fla without a cell phone?? When people ask me for my Cell # and I tell them I don't own one they look at at me first as if they misunderstood what I said and then they say i'm nuts! I just tell them --if you need to get ahold of me call my wife on her cell phone-- she usually knows where I am. Amazing that you can actually exist without one!! I say no cell toers in our NP's. John and Teddy wouldn't approve.

I go to the National Parks to hike and enjoy a little peace and solitude, to enjoy nature in all her glory. Absolutely NO need or want for a cell phone until I'm back at my hotel for the night!

We never choose parks because of cell phone coverage; good grief - can't imagine that being part of the equation. But I'm not happy when I can't upload my park pix to Facebook everyday. Yeah - I'm an addict, but its good for me to disconnect every once in awhile. LOL

What an interesting article. I have been so tied up with certain contraversial topics that, when I stumbled on this one, I thought this might be just what I need right now. We here comments made every day concerning the "necessity" of cell phones. In this one article, I think you have covered the spectrum of the pros and cons.
I personally hate phones as a whole. I spend one third of my life on them, one third on the computer and one third sitting at stop lights. I guess thats not quite true as I slip in a few other necessary activities during the day. But, many of you get my drift.
I do understand both sides of the coin. There are certainly times in our lives when all of us would feel better if we had a cell phone with a signal available to us when in every conceivable place and situation. Emergencies or convenience. I find myself doing the unspeakable at times, I turn the thing off. I don't put it on vibrate, I actually turn it off. I, at some point, figured out that someone could leave a message and it would be there when I turned it back on. I also realized I could do this at a time and place that would not inconvenience or annoy others. Man, this is fun.
I think this is a matter of personnal preference. There are those that want their phone to ring. They pull it out and check it regularly to make sure it's still working. If too much time passes and it has not sang it's song, they will call someone just to make sure it's not dead. If that is the life style they want, who are we to say they shouldn't have it. However, I don't think there is any mandate to provide the service required at every square foot on the planet. But, it doesn't really matter, because the cell service providers are going to decide that and it won't be about emergencies or convenience. It will be about money. Yes, the dollar.
I don't know that the NPS will actually have much of a say as to whether cell service will be provided in this park or that. If enough people want it and are willing to pay for it, the service providers will find a way to provide it. That's the way it works.
Now, for those that would rather not have cell service and it's annoyances disturb there day in the park, and I am with you brother, I guess we will have to find those places that the cell phone folks, I believe the term is nomophobiacs, well, the places they don't frequent.
I am sure this one will continue. I'm going to stay tuned in for a while, cuz I don't think there is a correct or incorrect comment to this one.
Ron (obxguys)

Personally I'm not concerned if there is or isn't cell reception in a park. I would just hope that other visitors would be considerate enough if there was cell phone reception to be respectful to other visitors.

No it doesn’t. Maybe the lack of cell phone coverage keeps out the idiots who are ill prepared for hiking in a national park. It’s hard to imagine how cell phone towers could be placed to cover the larger parks.

On the other hand, wi-fi in the park lodgings would allow people to keep in contact with the outside world without having people with cell phones chatting while riding a horse.

I'm sort of torn on this issue. What I really don't get is that the NPS tries asserting that they have rights when it comes to cell phone towers outside of park boundaries, such as the proposed tower in Gardiner. It's an area where regular people live their lives and not some idyllic hamlet that merely serves as a backdrop for Roosevelt Arch. There was talk about it being a possible eyesore, but the Gardner High athletic fields (with electronic scoreboard) are visible already.

I certainly understand that people want to get away from the constant drone of people talking into their little hand-held devices. However, communications can serve a purpose. I remember going on a solo hike in Yellowstone away from my party. I was a little bit overdue but couldn't get a cell phone signal. I would have easily just put in a call or message that everything was OK, but I later found that my group was ready to contact the NPS to perhaps start a search. I really feel it's a useful tool to have with parties always breaking up and having difficulties reuniting.

I don't really buy the argument that some people may come in poorly prepared because they think mobile phone communications might bail them out. Some people talk about seat belts and helmets with claims that such protective devices encourage people to engage in more risky driving or riding behavior. There are still pricey satellite phones and SPOT transmitters. What other really don't like is that people carry annoying phone conversations on the trail.

I do remember being on a trail where there was no cell phone coverage. A kid was lost from his high school outing, and strangely enough he found me. No map. Only a few extra clothes, and a few snacks. He was relying on remaining with his party to get out, and he probably would have been OK had that been the case. He had a phone but there was clearly no signal. When I finally got him somewhat closer to civilization, he barely got a signal to contact his group leader, but I had already used a pay phone to contact someone to pick him up. They were probably panicking, when a simple call would have indicated that he was lost, had found someone who knew the way out, and was otherwise in good condition. I'm not sure if his party had thought maybe he slid down an embankment or perhaps got injured and could make his way out.

I was also a little bit worried about helping out this kid beyond just getting him to the trailhead. In this day and age I was worried that someone might equate a HS age child getting into an adult's car as some sort of predatory thing. In the end I gave him a ride in my car because it would have been unconscionable to just leave him there. There was nobody at a firehouse (I think it was mostly volunteer). We finally to a store with a pay phone and I called it in there. Strangely enough, personnel from the fire department showed up to check on him and maybe wait for the local sheriff's dept (I saw a patrol car come on while I was on the road out) to come and transport him to his group.

Question: Does Availability of Cell Phone Service Affect Your Decision to Visit a Park?
Answer: Never

No. ;-)