Unplugged Travel: What I’ve Learned After 25 Unplugged Trips
I so vividly remember my first completely unplugged trip, five years ago, which I had tacked onto the end of a Seattle work trip, to Bainbridge Island of all places. I told clients I was taking a week off and wouldn’t be available, and completely turned off all electronics—for a week.
My fear at the time was that while I worked in travel as a freelance writer, photographer and content marketer, I was afraid that I was seeing the world through the lens of a camera, iPhone and writing assignments, rather than seeing the world as it was. My work revolved around technology and social media trends, and even many of my closest friends I had met through Twitter and Instagram. I was plugged into the Matrix.
On those first couple of unplugged trips, however, the struggle was real. I’d frequently reach for my phone or tablet, and quickly jerk my hand back, only to find myself doing it again minutes later. Truthfully, it was quite disconcerting, as I wondered if this was a byproduct of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) or if my tendencies toward technology were addictive. Nonetheless, by day or 4 or 5 I was riding that JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out) train. I even got lost, very happily, on Bainbridge Island in Seattle (it’s not very big) after leaving my phone behind to explore the island on foot.
After returning from that first unplugged trip, I discovered some revelations:
Hardly anyone noticed I was gone.
I hardly missed anything.
It hardly took any time to catch up on all of my emails and other correspondences upon returning (less than an hour).
This last point was especially important considering the average time that people spend on their phones. While the average time spent on mobile times was considerably less at that time, today, many different stats claim that the average mobile user, at least in America, spends two to three hours per day on their phone. For a week, that’s 14 to 21 hours spent on the phone, which is an entire day! And for a year, that’s 750 to 1,000 hours, which means that an entire month of our year is spent on mobile devices. I was spending a week completely off my phone, and upon returning, it was taking about an hour to catch up on everything. An hour!
However, the more unplugged trips I took, the more benefits I started to pick up on following every trip. During the trips themselves, I kept a notebook on hand, which I would fill with ideas, intentions and plans for the next three months and beyond. Then, once back, I noticed how inspired and motivated I was, and therefore more efficient. Not to mention, I found myself spending less time on technology immediately following each trip.
And so it was, this became my modus operandi, taking a trip like these, either near or afar, every three months. The purpose? To see destinations as they are, without the use of technology. But even more so, to see destinations on the ground level, walking among, meeting with and depending on locals and local transportation to get around and to see that destination through the eyes of the people who call it home. The purpose was never seclusion. Rather, the goal was to disconnect from technology so that I could better connect with myself and the world around me, both in a new place, and once I returned to my own home.
The pinnacle, however, may have been a few years ago on a trip to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which in many ways changed how I travel. The impetus was in part a birthday trip, but it was also the adventure as part of a life/bucket list project I had done the entire year. And that adventure was to go to the airport with a carry-on and no boarding pass, and to buy a ticket at the airport on a plane that was leaving within three hours to a place I’d never visited. Winner, winner, plate lunch dinner!
Though I actually missed the first flight, I made the following one first thing the next morning, and without doing any research, planning or booking anything beyond my flight. Honestly, it was maybe the most fun I’ve had on a trip, because nothing was expected, and I largely depended on the recommendations of locals and the people I met. Are there things I probably missed? Absolutely. And I have all intentions of returning to Kauai one day. However, the trip felt was so completely spontaneous, that everything, both good and bad, was an unexpected surprise. I’d do it all over again, but next time I’m taking someone with me.
Now, a few years, and 25 unplugged trips later (one every three months), I find traveling unplugged quite habit breaking, while also being one of the best habits I’ve formed.
This winter is actually the first unplugged trip I’ve missed in 7 years. The last one I took was at the start of the fall, and it’s like I can feel it. I feel a little bit like Jack in LOST, like I’ve got to get back to the island or else. While that’ll be resolved soon, it’s a reminder of how important these trips have been. I haven’t gone on a single one in which I didn’t come back better than when I left. And while I’ve always maintained that travel has this effect, I believe that traveling unplugged maximizes growth and creativity.
But don’t take this as me telling you how to travel. Truthfully, I simply hope that you’ll at least think about how you travel, and your relationship with technology. Perhaps that’ll lead to spontaneously getting in your car one day, turning off your phone and just driving and spending the entire day exploring somewhere you’ve never explored. Or maybe it’ll mean literally going off the grid on a camping trip, like what I did in the fall on California’s Lost Coast. Or, perhaps take a play out of the unplugged playbook from Danny Kimm’s, who I listened to on the Wild Ideas Worth Living podcast. Danny mentioned how he’s had friends over to his home, and actually made everyone put their phones in a basket until they leave. Interestingly enough, it’s how most humans have lived throughout history.
If you do unplug like this, or do so in the future, I’d love to hear your stories. Meanwhile, in the coming weeks I’ll be sharing tips for unplugged travel, as well as some unplugged trip recommendations.