A couple of weeks ago, several family members became aware of my intention to travel alone.
“Why would you do that?” a cousin wondered aloud. “You’re going with someone else and hiding it from us, huh? Or do you want us to come with you?”
Because I can. No. And, please, no.
The whole point of my week-long solo vacation through the Olympic Peninsula, Victoria, BC and San Francisco was to escape the daily grind. To be away from all distractions and alone with my thoughts. I wanted to attempt to go beyond isolation and cut off contact with friends and family for a few days. Several years ago, this would have been a relatively simple task for me to pull off. Not anymore. Too much of my life and work now revolves around social media and the Internet.
As a March 7 Pew study finds, the vast majority of adults surveyed between the ages of 18 and 33 (aka the millennials) are “digital natives” and way more active on the Internet than older generations. The vast majority of respondents said they use Facebook. More than half have posted a “selfie” photo. Another way to look at it: an entire generation is accustomed to posting photos and updates everywhere and at any given time. Many are just now becoming weary of information overload. Have you looked around lately in public spaces? It appears most people are staring at their phones rather than making eye contact with the person next to them. Though our digital networks are growing, our human connections are stunted.
The inspiration for my self-imposed technology blackout was Internet guru and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, who explains the importance of “technology shabbats” in the first segment of her “The Future Starts Here” series for AOL. Watch Shlain make a strong case for building productivity with technology, but unplugging at least one day a week in the short video below:
Aside from booking nighttime accommodations, I had no real itinerary as I drove north on U.S. Highway 101. To ensure I couldn’t cheat or give in to my compulsive use of social media, I deleted Instagram, Facebook and Twitter from my iPhone. For a good 48 hours, I had no cell service or connection to the world. My phone functioned merely as a camera.
(Note: I’m not the only journalist who recently unplugged for a few days. In this Sunday column, Seattle Times digital life columnist Monica Guzman offers her thoughts on tech-less vacations and the search for simplicity.)
A wise person had warned me that traveling alone could be challenging. She reminded me to let go of expectations. So I gave myself permission to do whatever I wanted sans Wi-Fi connection. During my three nights and four days on the Peninsula, I awoke without an alarm and slept whenever I felt tired. I left most of the books I’d packed with me unread. At times, I felt lonely. But I didn’t deny it. I drove from place to place on my own time frame and found joy in simple, spontaneous pleasures such as walking along beaches and through rainforests, sitting at the base of a “medicine tree” believed by some native Americans to have healing powers, chatting with strangers in Forks and La Push, observing life on two reservations, hiking out to the northwestern-most point in the U.S. (Cape Flattery), and soaking in the natural pools at Sol Duc Hot Springs in the Olympic National Forest.
By the time I reached the next three legs of my vacation in the Wi-Fi-equipped urban cities of Port Angeles, Victoria, BC and San Francisco, it had become much easier for me to keep my phone in my purse. Sure, I continued to snap lots of photos. (And I couldn’t help but check email a few times.) But I refrained from posting anything to social media right away after I realized how much I appreciated the mental break from thinking about captions, filters and 140-character updates. I was better able to take in what was happening right in front of me with clear eyes, and to know that I was experiencing those moments for myself and no one else.
Not only do I believe it’s healthy to travel solo once in a while. I’m now certain that some of us must intentionally unplug from technology to declutter our minds. You don’t realize how much you’ve come to rely on friends and your phone for connection and stimulation — or as Shlain suggests, appreciate their true power — until they are no longer at your fingertips.