5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going on a Digital Detox

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If you've followed along on my adventures for any length of time, then you can probably guess that I'm the type of person who's used to being “connected” all the time.

In fact, you could easily call me a bit of an internet addict.

Along with publishing regularly here on my blog, I also post daily on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I've recently gotten into Snapchat (find me – dangerousbiz!), I add to my Pinterest boards regularly, and let's not even get started on how often I check my email.

Like many of my fellow bloggers (and, well, millennials in general), I've become dependent on my smartphone. On Google. On Facebook. On being able to be connected 24/7. In fact, I AM connected nearly 24 hours a day – as a travel blogger, it's basically my job.

GowithOh apartment in Barcelona, Spain

But I know this isn't healthy. Along with getting headaches from staring at a computer screen so much and putting on extra pounds from working from my couch 10+ hours per day, my addiction to being connected affects my personal relationships, too. (I mean, my cat doesn't get NEARLY enough cuddles.)

So in March I decided to set a challenge for myself: I agreed to go on a digital detox trip and leave all my technology behind.

I teamed up with Intrepid Travel for an 8-day adventure in Ecuador. I was the only one of my group “detoxing” at the time, but the “Ecuador on a Shoestring” trip I went on is now offered as an official digital detox trip by Intrepid. I was basically the guinea pig asked to disconnect and experience pure, old-school travel the way it was meant to be.

For a whole week I didn't log in to my blog, or post real-time updates on Facebook. My Instagram and Snapchat feeds remained silent, and my email inbox built up in my absence. I even traded in my Kindle for a paperback book (yes, they still make those!), lest I be tempted to spend more time behind that screen.

Digital detox
All the things I didn't bring.

And yes, it was difficult. I struggled with being disconnected, and I struggled with shifting my focus from documenting every aspect of my trip to just living it.

But I survived, and I learned a lot, too.

Here are five things I (as a tech/internet addict) wish I had known before going on a digital detox trip:

1. Ignoring social media is easier than you think

I thought it was going to be difficult for me to ignore Facebook and Instagram and my fledgling Snapchat channel for an entire week. Social media is such a part of my day-to-day routine that I expected to really feel a sense of withdrawal without it. But you know what? The easiest part of my digital detox was ignoring all of that.

I didn't miss the constant notifications, the Twitter check-ins, or stressing over which photo to share on Instagram. I didn't miss frantically trying to find good wifi to upload my snaps, or obsessing over how many likes my Facebook posts were getting. After the first two days, I found myself not caring about any of it.

In the Ecuadorian Amazon
No wifi in the Amazon? No problem!

2. You really WILL feel disconnected

It was easier than I imagined to ignore my social accounts for a week, but ignoring them made me realize just how much I rely on social media to stay in-the-know. After a couple days of not checking in at all online, I began to realize just how truly disconnected I felt. Without Facebook, in particular, I felt totally out of the loop with what was going on in the world. (Not that this was a completely bad thing – I got to spend a whole week without hearing about Donald Trump!)

When I got back home, though, I realized that I didn't really miss that much. Even though I *felt* very disconnected, the Internet (and the world) went on without me and I was able to get caught up pretty quickly.

Casa del Arbol in Banos, Ecuador
No Donald Trump news for a week? WHEE!

3. The “downtime” is when you'll struggle the most

I won't say it was all easy. The “downtimes” during the day – that hour before dinner or the 30 minutes you spend waiting to board a bus – are the toughest. Usually, when faced with some spare time like that, I'll pull out my phone and check my email, get caught up on what my friends are doing on Snapchat, or scroll through my Facebook newsfeed.

But without my smartphone to fall back on, I found myself at a loss for what to do during those downtimes. Those moments were the ones when I was most tempted to sneak a peek at my phone or jump on the hotel computer in the lobby.

4. I NEED photography in my travels

I was supposed to go into this digital detox without a camera. And I DID leave my baby – my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II – at home. But I secretly brought along a little point-and-shoot, because I had a feeling that I would regret it if I didn't come home with any photos from a trip to a brand new country (and continent).

As a blogger, I know I have a different relationship with photography than the average traveler. My photos are not only my memories, but they also help me tell and share my stories with others on my blog.

And, as I learned while trying to part myself from my camera on this trip, taking photos has actually become a part of my travels – the two are not mutually exclusive any more; I don't truly enjoy one without the other.

Hiking to the Virgin Mary statue in Banos, Ecuador
Not being able to capture photos like this makes Amanda cranky.

In fact, after three days of not taking any of my own photos, I actually found myself becoming resentful. Even though I understand the theory behind banning cameras on a digital detox trip (we ALL have met the traveler who sees everything through a viewfinder, right?), not being able to capture scenes as I saw them actually began detracting from my enjoyment of the trip as a whole. Which is why I DID take some of my own photos in the end.

5. Disconnecting will not change your personality

The whole idea of disconnecting from the online world during a digital detox is so that you can connect, instead, with the people and places you're experiencing without being encumbered by thoughts of Facebook status updates or Instagram posts.

And while I did succeed in disconnecting from my devices on this trip, I don't feel like I connected significantly more with people or places than I normally do on a trip. And that's mostly because going on a trip like this isn't going to change your personality overnight.

Not using my cell phone did not suddenly cure me of my introversion. Not answering emails after dinner did not mean I sat up late at night drinking chicha with the locals at the Shiripuno village in the Amazon. Instead, I spent more time reading a paperback book and writing in my journal. I still went to bed early and had my “me” time. Being away from my devices didn't change that.

Would this have been different if everyone on my trip was also disconnected? If we were all in the same iPhone-less boat? Honestly I don't know. Maybe we would have been more social as a group – but maybe not. My travel style is very ingrained, and I think I still would have sought alone time, regardless of whether or not we all had phones.

Splitting the equator in Ecuador
Yup, still the same old me.

Am I the wrong kind of person for a digital detox?

When I came back from my disconnected tour, it took me at least a week to pull my thoughts about it together. I tried to look at it from an outsider's perspective – were my struggles likely to be the same kind the average traveler would face?

Was my balking at the no-photo rule normal? (My boyfriend, who hardly ever takes photos, certainly didn't understand why I was so upset about it.) Would the average person find it more or less easy to cut themselves off from Facebook for a week? Am I perhaps the wrong kind of person to write about a trip like this?

Because here's the thing: I know that I travel differently than most people.

While I AM usually connected on the road, I've learned some semblance of balance – being connected doesn't generally detract from my experiences, and I know when to put the phone and camera down and just enjoy the moment. In fact, as a blogger I think I'm naturally more likely to pay attention to things when I travel rather than be wrapped up in my smartphone. And that's because of you: my readers.

I want to know what that cacao fruit feels and tastes like so I can tell you about it later. I want to do that crazy adventure thing because it will probably make a cool story next month. I want to go on that hike because I'll bet you'd like the view at the top.

Would I care as much if I had no readers? I don't know. I don't know because I am not that person.

Working on a train
Working, working, working.

My travels are not just MY travels now – I take my audience along wherever I go. While my trips are still largely about me (about where I want to go, what I want to see, and what I want to write about), I still have you, my readers, in the back of my mind. Always.

It hearkens back to one of my very first blogging conferences, where somebody said “It's not about your trip – it's about your reader's trip.

And I think it's impossible for me to completely break away from that way of thinking, digital detox or no.

Even on this trip, I was thinking about you. I was thinking about what I would tell you about a digital detox and what it was like for an internet addict like me to go a week without blogging and social media. And even though I wasn't talking to you at the time, you were still with me in a way.

Send the average millennial on a trip like this sans iPad and Facebook, and they may indeed have a completely different experience!

Street art in Banos, Ecuador
The average millennial without Facebook for a week.

Would I recommend it?

Even though I'm not sure my digital detox experience reflects what it would be like for the average traveler, I DID learn quite a bit from my time spent disconnected. And yes, I WOULD recommend it, especially if you've never taken (whether intentionally or unintentionally) a disconnected trip before. It makes you realize a lot of things about your habits, and also can just be a nice break from all the online noise. Plus, it's good to challenge yourself once in a while, right??

I would be interested to go on a trip where ALL the travelers are sans technology, to see if that would change the experience even more. For now, though, I hope my lessons can help you decide whether a digital detox trip might be right for you!

If you want to check out the digital detox trip I did in Ecuador, you can find it here: Ecuador on a Shoestring

So what do you think? Would you ever try a digital detox tour?


Things to know before going on a digital detox


*Note: I did receive a complimentary digital detox tour in partnership with Intrepid Travel. However, as always, all opinions are 100% my own!


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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55 Comments on “5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going on a Digital Detox

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  1. Given that I do a lot of backcountry travel, including 11 days rafting in the Grand Canyon last year, I guess I’ve been doing “digital detox” trips all along 🙂 I think it’s a nice concept, but don’t subscribe to the rigidity of it, especially including cameras in the mix. No way am I going to travel without at least a camera phone – I work full-time in an office – looking at my vacation pictures is what gets me through until my next trip 🙂

      I’m on another semi-digital detox right now, overlanding in Africa. We’ve only had wifi about once every 2 or 3 days. But yeah, being able to still take photos along the way makes it a lot easier this time around!

    I’m not sure I could do this! I’m a self confessed tech addict. I had a similar experience recently when I was on the MS Hurtigruten when the internet went out for the last few days. It wasn’t a complete tech detox (I used my laptop and kindle but without internet) and that was bad enough for me!

      It’s different, though, when you *know* you’ll be without Internet and can kind of mentally prepare yourself for it. When you expect to have wifi and then don’t, I think it’s actually way worse!

    It’s interesting to read about your detox experience and we think it’s a good challenge to try. So far we only tried to keep a healthy balance (yeah, what does healthy means… ? :D) with the digital world – during travels and in general. Blogging definitely makes a difference, we’ve actually never used any social media other than Facebook sometimes before we started our blog.
    And we can absolutely relate to your struggles about being without your camera as taking pictures is part of our travels, too! Actually, we think that taking pictures can help you recognize beauties which would otherwise maybe remain unnoticed, because you are looking for the beautiful, the extraordinary, the unusual for that perfect shot. 🙂 On the other hand, we sometimes decide not to take photos during short trips like a whale watching trip or a helicopter tour, because if we focus on taking pictures then we can easily miss the experience itself.

      Yeah, it’s sometimes tough to strike that balance – both with social media/work AND photography! I like to think that I’ve been doing this long enough now that I can usually predict what will make a good shot and what won’t. So it’s easier to put the camera down (well, sometimes at least!).

    Ouch! You did a fantastic job Amanda but could I reeeeally let go. For a week!
    Probably not!

    Like you, I have my readers and most of them are a completely different dynamic to yours. Many of them want to know and follow where I’m going because they want to do the same, but are too busy or scared to do so. I’m talking up to the ages of 45 here!

    Having said that, I do a detox every weekend and every December. At the weekend, I’m not on social media at all. And in December, I make it a point of duty not to take up invitations for social events, etc as there’s more than enough private parties to go to during this time. And no. I don’t write about my private friends lol!

      Ah I wish I could force myself to completely disconnect on weekends! I do spend *less* time online on the weekends, but it’s tough for me to completely switch off unless I’m out doing something!

    Wow! Sounds awesome…… I know the pain and stress of being contected all the time. 🙂

      Yeah, it can definitely be a pain, especially when you need to work and can’t find a good signal! That’s one of the worst feelings ever.

    Oh I so need a detox haha, blogging and traveling and always being omnipresent on social media is killer sometimes. And yeah, for health and my bum and aching joints. But it’s hard, especially trying to gain traction on the travel blog side and having to always be social and putting up new stuff. I wish I could just go away to a cabin and write postcards to people and have them put up the articles for me ha! Though of course the travel blog would suffer and thus taking me back to square one. I’m actually thinking about taking a detox next year though, and doing a fire watch in the mountains of the west coast US where you live in a remote cabin looking out for forest fires for 2 months. Solitude and a crazy detox. We’ll see. But maybe this life on a sail boat coming up for 5 months will be enough? Anyway, thanks for the tips Amanda!

      It’s really tough to disconnect entirely when it’s kind of your job to be connected! I’ll be interested to see how life on a sailboat treats you, though! And the fire watch certainly sounds intriguing!

    I’d only do a digital detox if I really cared about the person(s) I was traveling with and we all agreed to do it. I don’t feel a huge need to bond with complete strangers while traveling haha!

      That’s fair enough and also a good point – it might indeed be way more fun to do a detox trip with a group of close friends!

    The question is why? :-).
    I would not do it at the moment as there’s too much going on :-).

    But it would not be an issue to disconnect. I grew up with no electricity and lived before the Internet and social media and did just fine. Yup, I used an encyclopedia and I still go to the Library and read books when I’m in town or see one when I travel.

    There are many people around the world that are not digitally connected and there life is fine and goes on.

    And as for the photo, just go back…

    Great story and thanks for sharing how you coped :).

      I did it for the challenge and the story, of course! 😉

      But yes, I, too, remember life before the internet and smartphones. We definitely did cope! But it’s so different to go back to traveling without all of that. For me, it definitely was a challenge!

    Being away from the Internet, a laptop or a phone for a week would be easy thing for me.
    Being away from my camera more than a few hours while on traveling and I would get very cranky as well!

    Maybe you don’t need a total detox because like you said, you try to actually enjoy your travels and experience as much of them as possible so you can write about it later on.

    I guess that in a way a detox is great if you want to finish that book you have been reading for months or if you want to finally do some writing.

    I really enjoyed reading about your experience like always!

      Well, I DID read a lot of my book on that trip! Haha.

    Being a travel writer and photographer is definitely a delicate balance between the cyber world and real life.

      It so is! And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best at striking that balance!

    I would like to go to a concert (or to a famous landmark for that matter) where no one is allowed to use their phones for constant pictures. When it gets tough experiencing something because digitals get in the way, it’s too much for me.

    I wouldn’t give up photography on a trip. I, too, like taking keepsakes of a holiday and travelling wouldn’t feel the same without a camera. All the other things, like social media I could easily go without. Most trips I do, without even noticing. When I’m travelling I’m enjoying myself too much to stay in contact with the rest of the world, but maybe that’s just me nowadays 🙂

      There are definitely days on the road when I totally forget to post anything on social media – I’m too busy having a great time!

      But yeah, I have a problem with all the selfie sticks and annoying people trying to get the perfect shot of themselves, especially at places that are already really popular/crowded.

    One thing I can’t go without is a travel diary! I have diaries with a cover reflecting the location of my travels. The Paris one has a Parisian postcard theme; the Balkans has a brocade style cover. During down time, I’ll write about where my travel group is and what I saw and did while exploring the locale. Helps complement my photos!

    Calling home from a place that offers phone and internet services (if you’re able to find one) does add up!

      I really need to start journaling more on my travels – it’s definitely a great way to add to the memory!

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