Life in the digital era can be pretty overwhelming at times, so why do we have such a hard time unplugging from our mobile devices and leaving our mailbox, the 24-hour news cycle and social media behind? Scientists say the constant buzzing and beeping of the smartphone might be as addictive as smoking. Our brains release dopamine with each new bit of information that reaches them through our phones and, much like nicotine addicts, we know it’s bad for us but we can’t stop.
Smartphone use is heavily linked to anxiety and sleeping disorders but the little shiny screen seemingly makes our lives oh-so-easy. Navigation, reviews, opening times and bookings–and in 2020 also the latest COVID restrictions–are all at our fingertips and almost indispensable for travel. In fact, we’ve become so reliant on it, that a phone and data-free holiday seems not only inconvenient, but impossible.
Although some people love their paper maps, swapping smartphone navigation for a road atlas is obviously not for everyone. “There’s a balance to be found between using the technology available to us wisely, but also in not allowing it to control us,” says adventurer Leon McCarron who in 2012 walked the length of China. Something as simple as switching off data might completely transform your experience of a backcountry camping trip or even a weekend walk at the local park.
Unplugging from the cellphone not only removes the anxiety-inducing distraction of work, news and social media (yes, your boss/clients can wait and no, you don’t need another picture of a chihuahua) but also opens you up to the wonders of the world around you. The smell of the campfire, the glimmering of the stars, the fresh air and the taste of cold spring water will be so much more vivid when taken in with full awareness and not competing with meaningless Facebook updates. Without the smartphone vibrating in your pocket, you’re more likely to have deep conversations or enjoy the comfort of silence among good friends.
While a digital detox sounds great to most of us–much like quitting cigarettes–for some it’s easier said than done. Somewhat ironically, there are many apps to help you limit smartphone usage and they are well worth a go, and not only during the holiday. Alternatively, swapping a smartphone for a minimalist phone (or, just an old, cheap cell phone) is a good solution for those who can’t trust themselves to not turn on their data.
As with anything, the key to a successful detox is to do it responsibly. Allowing your smartphone battery to go flat in the wilderness might seem like a tempting idea to help you curb the addiction. However, adventuring off-grid can be made significantly safer with a satellite messenger or a PLB device to be used in case of an emergency.
Admittedly, even short trips require more thorough preparations if you don’t want to rely on your phone’s data, but there’s no denying that a little extra effort goes a long way in making the most of your time off(line).