A couple weeks ago we went on an incredible sailing trip with six friends in the British Virgin Islands. And for me, the most memorable part of the trip isn’t the beautiful sunsets, the free-flowing Pina Coladas, or the listerine-colored water. The highlight of the trip is that we did not have phones or the internet for a week. And it was so profoundly wonderful.
At first it was like waiting for the world to end on May 21, 2011: you knew nothing bad was going to happen, but still you couldn’t help but feel a little anxiety. After a few failed attempts to connect to a non-existent Wifi connection and after reading up on astronomical roaming charges, I decided to just switch it off.
That’s when the magic happened.
During our seven-day vacation we swam, we walked, we talked, we cooked, grilled, shopped, slept, laid on the beach, told jokes, created inside jokes; we debated, we sailed, we worked together, we drank, we drank some more, we ate, listened to music, danced, rode around in our dingy.
We sat on the edge of the boat and watched for fish and sharks. We came up with a band name for every person on the trip. We posed random questions to the group and made each person answer. We drew pictures in the sand. We laughed so hard it hurt. We took turns doing creative dives off the side of the boat. We took turns showering off the back of the boat. We played Dominoes and cards.
I wondered, later, how much of that would have happened if we’d all had access to our phones? Would we have so deeply connected?
Memorably, we cooked dinner five out of seven nights on the boat. I enjoyed the challenge of cooking with limited ingredients and frankly, the “tiny” galley was twice the size of our Manhattan apartment’s kitchen. This is a photo of our final meal. Local fish with a curried coconut sauce, grilled garlic bread, and a bowl of salad with peanut sauce dressing. Would you believe the boys found the coconut on a deserted island? They spent the better part of an hour trying to open it with nothing but brute strength, sharp rocks, and sheer determination. How could I not incorporate their trophy into our final meal? As I grated the fresh coconut meat into a bowl, I marveled at the real luxury of vacation: the freedom to spend an hour opening a coconut and another twenty minutes preparing it.
On Friday night when we arrived home I had about 250 e-mails between two accounts (I’m lucky, Andy had close to 800). As I scrolled through the detritus, 78% of my inbox was Groupon (delete), new Twitter followers (open and delete), bad PR pitches (delete), automated update e-mails (delete). There was so little of substance. I hopped back on Twitter and Instagram to check in and felt woefully out of touch. I couldn’t find an entry point into the conversation. So I walked away from the computer, put down my phone, and continued without the internet for the majority of Saturday and Sunday too. I felt calm, focused, and most importantly: present.
It’s been a week since we returned and I’m back to the grind. But the experience of not being connected has created a paradigm shift inside my mind. I used to wonder what was happening on the Internet when I’m not connected. Now I wonder what I’m missing in real life when I am. And to think I was terrified of being out of touch for seven measly days!
Here’s my advice: you can go cold turkey for a week or more. You may get the shakes at first or crippling thoughts that something important needs your attention. But I promise you, after the first six hours, you’ll take a deep breath, exhale, and (if your experience is anything like mine) feel like you’re truly on vacation for the first time in four years.