People are usually surprised to discover we haven’t owned a cell phone since 2010. Far from being Luddites, we actually make our living online so we get plenty of time in front of the screen; it just happens to be laptops instead of phones. In fact, the last couple of months as we created Declutter Clinic we were pretty much chained to them for 40+ hours a week.
You know, exactly like the life we worked so hard to leave behind back in 2010.
We tried to limit our time online, but it was hard to tear us away when we had a deadline looming and no real requirement to do anything else. We did manage to go for a walk every day, but other than that we spent a lot of time surfing, working, and entertaining ourselves with movies in the evening when we were too brain-fogged to do anything else.
You probably know exactly what we’re talking about because you’ve experienced it yourself.
It was time to recenter ourselves and reconnect with the lifestyle goals we committed ourselves to 3 years ago before we ended up right back where we started.
Willpower is Overrated
If you’re anything like us, you don’t have the guts to cut the cord on your own. And that’s okay. We’re not big fans of willpower. That is one muscle we’d rather not develop. Who wants to be an expert at depriving themselves?
Instead, we usually seek out fail-proof scenarios to help us change our behavior. In the instance of a digital detox, we had to remove our temptation entirely by strapping on our backpacks and walking the gorgeous West Highland Way in Scotland for 8 days.
Just us, a tent, and a heckuva lot of granola bars for 94 miles/152 km.
Our electronic devices were all safely packed up and entrusted to a baggage transport service. We wouldn’t see the laptops, iPad, Kindle, or iPods until we made it to the B&B of our final destination in Ft. William in 8 days… a mere 192 hours, but who’s counting?
The first night we ate a big dinner to load up on calories, stopped at the convenience store to buy junk food, and then went back to our budget hotel to watch reruns of Big Bang Theory in bed while stuffing our faces with sweets.
Obviously our digital detox was off to a great start.
What You Do When You Don’t have Internet
The next day we strapped on our bags and set off walking.
At first, we manually Googled each other with questions we’d normally look up online.
“How long do you think until the next town?”
“What’s the weather forecast for tomorrow?”
“How do you pitch a tent in the wind?”
There was no Wikipedia, no Weather Channel, and no guru to guide us on these vital questions. We simply had to figure them out ourselves, starting conversations about things we’d been managing digitally for years.
We started watching the sky for signs of changing weather, or asking locals as we passed through villages how far we had to go. It felt revolutionary to be so primitive.
What We Discovered
Over time our conversations shifted. We went from the short, choppy conversations with a definite purpose to the more meandering conversations that can end up in surprising places.
On day 3, Warren jokingly told two lively older women at a coffee shop at Loch Lomond that we wrote erotica for a living. After sharing a fun laugh, we strapped on our packs and began walking again. It wasn’t long before Warren said,
“You know, we could write an erotic novel.”
We then spent hours mapping out the characters and plot points of a travel-based erotic novel. Imagine huffing and puffing and grunting your way through a rocky climb while discussing the finer points of seduction in locations around the world.
When we came to villages we stopped for meals and pints of beer, talking with fellow travelers along the way. We sometimes played cards or read books, but mostly we talked to each other or did our own thinking.
It wasn’t always deep thinking, either. I remember spending a great deal of time one day wondering if my life would be easier if I grew my hair out and whether it was too late to really appreciate the benefits of Lasik eye surgery now that I have to wear reading glasses.
Increased focus is the change we noticed the most during the digital detox.
Our interests and thoughts remained generally the same, but the level of focus increased exponentially. We could think about haircuts, erotic novels, travel, relationships, books, and food with more attention and focus than ever before.
There were no interruptions, no distractions, and conversations were funnier, more intense, and generally more satisfying. (Or maybe that’s because we were mentally writing an erotic novel.)
After the sixth night, when we were pelted by rain and heavy wind in our tent all night long, we resolved to stay in a hostel the following night. When we arrived, we took the most delicious shower in the world, enjoyed a hot meal, and took a nap. We woke up later and decided to make hot chocolate in the common room. We opened the door and the TV was on.
We made our hot chocolate and immediately went back to the serenity of our room.
As the trek wound down and we finally began our descent into Fort William, a quaint village at the foot of the mighty Ben Nevis, the UK’s tallest mountain, we were feeling pretty good.
We went 8 days without the internet and survived. We walked 152 km, wild camping most of the way, and withstood driving rain in rugged landscapes for hours at a time.
We mentally wrote a book. I passed within inches of a group of cows without freaking out.
Perhaps bravest of all, we took on a physical challenge together, went a week without showers, and didn’t have a single fight. It was teamwork all the way, especially the night we had to put up the tent in the wind and rain.
We call this digital detox a success, and in the days afterward we’ve had a renewed focus on our relationship, our business, and in our desire to see the world.
Want to know more of the lessons we’ve learned as we adventure around the globe? Read Married with Luggage: What We Learned About Love by Traveling the World, available in print or ebook now.
Readers rank it at 5 stars and write things like, “You won’t want to miss this book–it has the power to challenge and change the common assumption that over time, relationships inevitably grow less exciting and less passionate.”