I’ve just returned from nine days in paradise. My husband and I, along with two very dear friends, enjoyed a wonderful time together in the US Virgin Islands. In preparation for the trip, I made a conscious decision to leave my laptop and iPad at home. I wanted to get away from work and knew that having the technology with me would make it too tempting to go between my worlds. We did take our smartphones so we could use them for camera function, mapping Apps, and yes, the occasional check in with email, and sneak peak at world events.
The impact of this decision to unplug while on holiday was pretty astounding. For one thing, I didn’t have any migraine headaches. I slept better, was more relaxed, laughed more, and looked around more. One could argue that this was a natural result of “being on vacation,” but I think there was more to it. I think it was largely a result of my head not being always buried in my digital device.
It’s not a phone, it’s a camera
Dawn, one of our travel companions, made a conscious decision not to take photographs. She is normally the person capturing all the moments for the group. However on this trip, she decided to leave her smartphone in the hotel safe. That decision freed her up to enjoy more moments in real time.
I was not as able to let go of my photographic responsibilities so easily. I snapped over 400 images in 9 days. I found myself wanting to message these images immediately to the people at home, and even to the people on our trip, sitting right next to us. Crazy.
I was frustrated that we didn’t have underwater capabilities because the fish, turtles, and coral were so spectacular during our many snorkeling adventures. But soon I came to accept the freedom and joy of being in the moment, rather than trying to record the moment. I would have missed so much of the live experience if I had access to technology.
When I returned home from vacation, it took me over an hour to download these photos from my phone and upload them to a shared site where they now sit waiting for someone to do something with them. Those 400 photos have now become a burden.
I made the decision NOT to upload my vacation photos to Facebook during my vacation for privacy and security reasons. I haven’t uploaded photos on social media since returning. This decision has made me feel surprisingly at ease.
It’s not a phone, it’s a directional device
The island of St. Thomas is still recovering from the back-to-back category 5 hurricanes in the fall of 2017 (Irma and Maria). Many of the houses and buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. The reconstruction process appears to be very slow. On top of these challenges, the island is experiencing extreme drought conditions (coming up on 60 days without rainfall). The already narrow, winding, and dangerously curvy roads are now crowded with water delivery trucks.
Signage on the island is dreadful. Trying to figure out the roads to take to get to certain beaches or restaurants was quite a challenge. So, we resorted to using our smartphones and the Google Maps App and the Waze App. Imagine four adults in a car all concerned about what a 4×6 digital device was doing (or not doing), worried about its battery life and recharging the device. Meanwhile, we were missing all the great views and losing our spirit of adventure. Getting lost is half the fun.
In the end we mastered our way around the island, feeling a sense of accomplishment. We also discovered new and cool places and spaces that we otherwise would not have come across if we stuck to Google Maps.
It’s not a phone, it’s an adviser
What restaurants are best? Where should we spend our time? What are the reviews? TripAdvisor App to the rescue. Once again, our heads were into technology. Turns out that the best recommendations came from the local people, not the smartphone. A docent named Bill gave us advice on where to snorkel on St. John. It was simply spectacular. An employee at a surf shop gave us a recommendation on a great place for lunch. From the outside of the restaurant, located in an unattractive strip mall, it looked like nothing. But from the inside, it was WOW through and through. One of the best meals we had on our trip.
And then there was the choice of grocery stores. Do we follow the TripAdvisor advice to shop at Moe’s Fresh Market where all the tourists go, or do we take a chance at Pueblos, where the local islanders shop? Moe’s was upscale, clean and expensive, with all the foods and brands we are used to. Pueblos was rough and tumble, authentic, great value, and ever so interesting. In the end, we shopped at Pueblos and thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, our only regret from this vacation is that we didn’t stop at Pueblos one last time before we headed to the airport!
It’s not a phone, it’s a distraction
Having our smartphone on us at all times became a distraction. We were concerned about losing it, damaging it, or having it stolen. In fact, none of these things happened, but the worry took away some of our joy and free spiritedness.
We were concerned about running out of power, so having the charger with us at all times became a bit of an obsession. One time in the rental car the plug in part of the charger got bent and we all became quite upset. Now, it’s silly just to think of that moment.
We enjoyed reading real books printed on real paper. We saw many tourists reading books on their Kindles and other digital devices. I found myself worrying that they might drop it in the pool or have it damaged by sand.
In the beginning of our holiday, I found myself periodically checking in with NPR and CNN to see what was happening in the “real world.” But after a few days, I stopped doing that, and I didn’t miss it.
It’s not a phone, it’s a decision
As summer holidays are upon us, we each have a decision to make. Do we unplug and give ourselves the opportunity to be fully present with our families and ourselves, or do we remain plugged in and distracted? Do we allow ourselves the experience of letting go and truly being in the moment? Or are we so addicted to technology that we continue to feed our need for stress and self-importance?
I encourage you to make the conscious decision to leave your technology at home during your next vacation. Tell your work colleagues, clients, and family that you are unavailable during this time period. And if you can, skip the pictures, and just live the moment. While we can’t do this all the time, we can certainly attempt to do it once in a while. How about this summer?