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Is Your Smartphone Camera a Boon or a Burden When You Travel?

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Tacey Rychter, an audience editor and writer with the Australia bureau.

I was hiking with a friend along the sandstone cliffs of Royal National Park, south of Sydney, on a weekend, when we noticed a guy balancing precariously on a thin rock shelf jutting out high above the ocean. The second his mate snapped a picture, I spotted a pair of humpback whales surfacing beneath them.

They both missed the stunning moment, completely. And O.K. for a second, I felt the tiniest bit smug about it.

Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a morality tale about how phones are ruining our lives, because then I remembered I had dozens of pictures on my phone of the very same hike (including a dorky selfie with an unimpressed kookaburra).

I snap pictures when I’m in nature out of habit, really just because I don’t want to forget the small details — like how that flower is oddly blue or how that sandstone formation looks like melting ice cream. Sometimes I also take photos so I can write about it later, because I don’t trust my memory.

But I do wonder what I miss too, by so habitually delegating memories to my camera and not my brain.

Some research suggests photos can enhance memory, but there’s a cost. I’ll remember the flower clearly, but I might miss other details — like a bird’s lilt or a whale’s fin emerging in my peripheral vision.

Sometimes I think the way to be more observant is as simple as “just turn off your phone!” — or at least put it away more often. I’m also curious how others have found small ways to be present and notice more deeply when they travel, without necessarily banishing tech entirely.

For example, I know someone who brings a notepad and a fineliner on every trip, sketching each day’s new surroundings even for just five minutes. Others write in a travel journal, after the experience.

As we finally head into sunnier weather, I’d love to lean on this diverse Australian community (that’s you!) to ask a quick two-parter:

  • Where’s your favorite place for a day or short trip within Australia? (Bonus points for somewhere lesser-known.)

  • What are your ways of staying present and more deeply observant when you travel?

You can email us at nytaustralia@nytimes.com. Keep your answers short (just a couple of sentences) and we’ll aim to include a few in a future newsletter.

If you’re looking for inspiration in the meantime, below are some recent travel dispatches from around Australia that will make you want to take a long weekend immediately.

It’s your last chance to see “Hard Truths,” an exhibition of prizewinning photography from The New York Times at the University of Melbourne that features powerful images from Mosul to rural Cuba and remote Australia.

The large-format works can be provocative and hard to look at, sparking questions about how the news media represents conflict and hardship, and how the world responds to it.

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