“Was that an earthquake?” I yell over to the next campsite, shaken out of my mid-afternoon focused journaling exercise by a sizeably jolting picnic table.
“I do not know,” an adorably accented voice answers. “I am from Poland! We do not have earthquakes in my country. I think maybe a big bear walk by!”
“Yup! That was an earthquake,” confirms the sleepy Asian-American guy from San Jose, sticking his head out of another neighboring tent.
Eighty-five miles into the Denali National Park wilderness, without service, wi-fi, Twitter…we wait until a Ranger comes by to confirm that there was indeed seismic activity, it wasn’t anything major and that the rest of Alaska (and the world) is still there. We settle back into our blissful Luddite-ness, but all have something to chat about at dinner and the nightly educational talk at Wonder Lake Campground (tonight’s is on moose – not as giggle-inducing as Tuesday’s lecture on beaver, especially since the drunk lesbians broke camp this morning).
Ten days later, back in San Francisco, the first question a good friend has for me is “How did you survive without your phone?”
“I read two and half books! I filled up three journals! I met all kinds of people (including the awesome Polish people next to me durin the quake)!” I exclaim, recounting the above story.
Then I sigh, “I honestly wish there were more places in the world without service.”
Even traveling abroad now I can easily find wi-fi or justify splurging on a data plan. It’s one thing to say “I’m going off the grid,” but let’s be honest it’s hard. My iPhone is also my camera when I travel and it’s hard to resist the temptation of just that eensiest signal. “Is it really going off the grid if you post to Instagram seven times a day?” another friend recently teased me.
On my last two trips, to Amsterdam and Alaska, I did try to make a conscious effort to not spend so much “online” time. It’s hard. Two of my tricks are to always have a book (both one physical item and the million I’m trying to slog through on my iPad) and, for any trip longer than a few days, to pack a packet of Field Notes. Warning to the introverted – the latter seems to be a magnet for conversation initiation. (My Italian waiter at Trattoria di Donna Sofia in Amsterdam’s Jordaan stopped by my table to tell me: “You write so fast! When I was in school, I would just stare at the paper. But, you! You, WRITE!”)
Still, both methods of disconnect have made me more open to connecting with my fellow humans. Isn’t that what travel is about? Is sitting on your smartphone the whole trip akin to only eating at McDonald’s? Staying in the familiar virtual confines of Facebook instead of venturing into the unknown beautiful world around you?
Go on, you can do it.
Next step: implement these unplug methods in my real life too.