travel

Reflections From a Week (Mostly) Unplugged

Last week, I (mostly) unplugged. For the first time since starting my business, I left on vacation without my laptop, with the intention of Zing Collaborative being closed for a full week. I was inspired to do this by Danielle LaPorte, Marie Forleo, and one of my clients - each of whom shuts down the businesses 1-2 times per year, where the office is fully "closed" and everyone has an opportunity to relax and unplug. 

I say "mostly," because I did use my phone for a few things. While we printed out paper maps prior to departure and used them about 90% of the time, there were a couple of questionable situations due to road construction that I checked on Google Maps. I also sent a couple texts to my house sitter to confirm logistics, to my mom, to a girlfriend who I'd be meeting up with later in the trip, and to reply to two girlfriends who had texted with life-changing news. 

Otherwise, my phone was typically off, on airplane mode, or left behind. Below are a few things that I noticed from this small experiment.

1. It was hard. 

I love my work and therefore love being plugged into it. Being plugged in doesn't really feel like work; it just feels like what I do as part of running a business and serving my clients. As a result, unplugging felt unnatural. I snuck a few peeks in my inbox while Jake was inside a gas station about halfway through the road trip toward our first destination, trying to get just "one more look" before arriving - where I felt that the unplugging rules really applied.

Not checking social media was hard, too. These days, Instagram is my social media platform of choice, and there are just so many pretty things to look at in those tiny boxes. The boxes are seductive and tempting. During my last few scrolls prior to leaving, I noticed my ego, which paid a lot of attention to other people who were going on trips and posting about every single detail of every awesome thing they were doing.

2. Until it wasn't. 

The first day was the most challenging - especially since it was a travel day and I therefore felt straddled between my "normal" world and my "unplugged" world. However, I noticed that after settling in and getting through those first 24 hours, unplugging became easy. We rode our fat bikes through incredible trails along crystal clear, roaring streams with absolutely stunning views. We ate delicious food by the campfire and at little restaurants in town. We did, we saw, and we engaged with our worlds with an occasional photo or two on the old-school "real camera" that we had packed, but that was it. And it was lovely. 

3. We talked to people. 

One of the things that strikes me most about this little experiment is how many people we met during our trip. We often meet people here and there while traveling - but on this trip we met so many people. We met Matt and Tonya within 30 seconds of walking up to Black Rocks Brewery, and talked to them for a good hour about biking and life. We met Brian, who has taken 17 extended road trips in his camper van, and is currently in the middle of a year-long stretch. During this year-long stretch, he's never once stayed at a campground and instead finds free places to sleep in his van: parking lots of libraries, police stations, Cracker Barrels, and churches, he shared. We met Craig, who loves Natty Light and once had to drive the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile through the hippest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, which increased his already-strong feelings of hatred toward the large, long, and awkward vehicle. We met John and Susan, when John came knocking on the camper to share some info on a bike route while Jake was in his underwear, causing quite a bit of hilarity. We met Michelle, who started a tiny business on Etsy which has now blossomed to the point of being featured in Target and Martha Stuart Living. We met Justin and Jason, who we hope will come visit us in Madison someday. We met Sarah, who started the coolest restaurant I've been to in a long time, and Randy who moved from Brooklyn to start a super hip little coffee shop in Ephram. The list goes on.

Being unplugged created more space and openness to engage with others. Of all the things I noticed while being unplugged, this was the most powerful and unexpected. 

4. I became more aware.

A few days into the trip, we walked into a bakery where every single person in the bakery was on their phone. Specifically, they were looking at Facebook. An older couple sat in silence, each scrolling independently through their Facebook feeds. They didn't say a word to each other for the entire time we were in the bakery eating our cookies. There was a father, engrossed in his Facebook feed while his kids talked to each other, and tried to talk to him. And there was the young woman behind the counter, scrolling away in her idle moments. There isn't, of course, anything bad about using Facebook or about spending some quiet time checking social media. However, the air of disconnection in the bakery with every single person's face looking down at their feed was palpable. I noticed myself feeling a bit of sadness as I looked around to connect or smile or look another person in the eyes (it was a very small bakery), without any eyes to meet.

5. Coming back was easy. 

After being away for a week, jumping back in felt easy and exciting. I was happy to get back to my rhythms, my clients, my kitchen, and my projects. What surprised me, though, was how easy it was to catch up. Being away for a week allowed me to come back to my inbox with excruciating clarity about what was most important and how to address it. I spent a few hours catching up the evening of our return, and a couple more the next day, and that was that. I've had more energy this week back than I've had in a long time. I feel refreshed and clear. 

6. Carrying it forward. 

Unplugging for a week is great, but what about in everyday life? I believe there are many things we can do to bring a bit more presence into our worlds that don't require a week in the woods. 

  • Leave your phone in your [bag, backpack, purse, glovebox] when you're engaging with others/engaging in activities. A number of studies have found that the mere presence of a cell phone on the table during dinner can negatively impact perceptions and the quality of conversation, even if the phone isn't being used.  
  • Practice experiencing something [gorgeous, cool, incredible, breathtaking] without taking a photo of it. I've been amused lately to pull up to popular, gorgeous places in nature to be met with a row of cell phones, lined up to capture the perfect shot. Once again, taking a photo of something isn't bad, but there's also power in just experiencing it, noticing it, and allowing it to sink in. 
  • Ask, "why am I posting this?" According to a number of articles I've read, people report that seeing vacation photos, of all photos on social media, make them feel the worst as they're scrolling. Now, of course, this doesn't mean we can't share a photo or two from our vacation to capture our memories and our moments for ourselves, but posting every detail of everything we do, see, and eat is just plain obnoxious. This article has some good tips (and is also hilarious because it's true). 
  • Consider a sabbath. One of the happiest and healthiest places on earth is Loma Linda, California due to its large Seventh Day Adventist population. Adventists take a 24-hour sabbath each week, taking time to focus on family, faith, and nature. We can do the same by taking a day each week to disconnect from our technology and connect to the things that matter most. 

7. Just for fun - resources and favorite things.

We spent our week unplugged camping, fat biking, and spending time in nature. After much experimentation, we've found a few favorite camping staples:

  • Kodiak Cakes: The perfectly fluffy, protein-packed pancake (just add water)
  • Aero Press: The rumors are true. This makes the best cup of coffee I have ever had. Plus it's light, small, easy to pack and store, and is loving toward the environment with its tiny paper filters. 
  • Action Wipes: Vegan, cruelty-free, wipes for times when showering isn't an option. The wipes can be recycled/re-used for other purposes. 
  • Dr. Bronners Soap: socially and environmentally responsible soap that I love to take camping. I like the travel-sized lavendar scent, which makes me feel like I'm at a spa in the campground shower.
  • Eno Hammock: perfect for sunny, breezy days 

Do you have any favorite ways to unplug, or to bring more presence into everyday life? If so, I'd love to hear!