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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
*Note: I did receive a complimentary digital detox tour in partnership with Intrepid Travel. However, as always, all opinions are 100% my own!
I totally get that – it would be a long time to go without talking to anyone back home! (But it makes you think about how we survived back before texts and emails, doesn’t it?!?)