When was the last time you were away from your smartphone for more than 24 hours? How about 12 hours? If you can't remember when it was, you should really consider trying it out someday. With the rise of smartphones and data plans, there is an unlimited amount of entertainment to consume every waking moment of your life. You could spend days just on YouTube. Or reading Facebook posts for hours at a time. Or taking photos of every entree and every sunset that passes in front of you. I'm not saying that a beautiful photo isn't worth taking, but let’s think about a day without a cell phone. I will use one of my own adventures as an example.
The First Step
Last summer, I was feeling overwhelmed by media. I was watching several tv shows every day, keeping up with Facebook and Reddit, and watching a handful of weekly podcasts. My freetime was no longer free, but full of passive entertainment. It wasn't a bad thing, but I was making no real life progress while in this state. Because of this, I decided to unplug for just a day. I was to leave my phone at home in the morning and go someplace new.
Living in Seattle, we have access to a handful of beautiful locations by ferry. I chose to take a ferry across the water to Bainbridge Island. While still at home, I mapped out my path, memorized my bus routes and ferry times, and grabbed my ID, debit card, and house keys. Right before leaving the house, I turned my phone off and set it on my bedside table. It suddenly felt like a useless glass brick. Knowing that I was walking away from it took all the power out of the little supercomputer. No Siri to keep my tethered. No possibility of checking in or posting a photo. No chance to communicate with me in any way.
What a feeling! I immediately felt a sense of freedom mixed with uncertainty. What if my family has an emergency? What if work needs me to come in? Thinking ahead, I had told my boss that I was going to be incommunicado for the day, so I didn't need to worry about that part. But when I thought of it, the chances of some extremely important phone call to come through was one in a thousand. Or ten thousand! Unlikely enough to warrant no concern. So I walk out of the house and toward my first bus stop. The adventure had begun.
With no phone on the bus, I was extra aware of where I was in Seattle. For one, I didn't have any sort of GPS to keep track of me for me, but more notably, I didn't have a phone to distract me from my surroundings. I was actually enjoying the sights and sounds of an average bus ride. Everyone sitting around me was wrapped up in there screens; I even felt a tinge of superiority, having broken free from the reigns of technology (all the while knowing I would soon be back with them).
Finding My Way
Once at the ferry terminal, I was forced to ask around to make sure I was in the right place and to figure out when the next ferry came. Twenty minutes later, a ferry came and we all boarded with no problem. The ferry embarked and slowly left Seattle in its wake.
When we were far out on the water, I climbed to the highest level I could and went out onto the deck. The wind was whipping across the vessel and the rain had picked up significantly, but that didn't stop me from savoring the moment. Within a few minutes, my hair was soaked but I felt more alive than ever! Kids were running around below as parents hid in the shelter of the awnings or indoors.
Before we docked, I found a map of Bainbridge Island. You know, one of those folded papers with colors and lines on it. I studied it until we reached land. I wanted to get a good feel for the town so I wouldn't get too lost.
We finally hit land and exit the ferry. I walk to the city and stop at every place I see. First the art gallery. Then a bike shop. A little cafe. Then I finally land at a Mexican restaurant that a friend had recommended. I go inside and sit at the bar while a few locals watch a football game. Groups of people come and go, but the locals stay throughout. One older man sits next to me and we end up talking for a couple hours about sports, his family, Seattle, Bainbridge, and everything in between. Wanting to continue my journey, I eventually wish him well and press on.
After a half hour of aimless strolling, I come across an expansive harbor with hundreds of boats tied up, but not a single person to be seen. I walk along a path for awhile until it leads to the docks. Most of the longer sections were closed to the public, but I found one little dock that extended pretty far out into the water. I walked out to the end of it and sat down. The sun was getting ready to set behind me and the rain was picking up again. It was getting me soaked, but it felt nice. So nice that I took my shirt off and put it under my umbrella to keep dry for the ferry ride back later.
But what happened next blew my mind. The sun was able to peek through the rain enough to paint a rainbow over the Seattle skyline across the water. The end of the rainbow ended right in the middle of Capitol Hill, right where I live. It was the brightest, most vivid rainbow I had ever seen. I was stunned. Such a gentle, yet powerful symbol. I thought for a moment that I should have brought a camera, but that thought quickly faded as the scene continued to glow. The sun eventually gave way to the night, so I walked back and found a tiny little cafe that also happened to have a full bar in it. The Pegasus, I think it was called. I go in and sit at the bar of the mostly-empty bar. Two girls are working and I get talking to them. Ten minutes later one of their boyfriends comes in and joins me at the bar. The four of us spend a couple hours chatting and sharing stories of our hometowns. The girls even have us try little cocktail experiments that they just invented.
The time was getting later so I said my goodbyes and headed home. Not sure when the ferries or busses were running, I just got there and waited for awhile. At this point, it had been awhile since I even realized I didn't have my phone. It felt like being on vacation. Away from responsibility. Away from distraction and stress. It was one of the most memorable days of my life and it didn't cost more than a meal, a couple drinks, and a ferry ticket.
So if that doesn't make you want to try a day without a phone, I don’t know what will! These are a few of the things that happen when you leave your leash behind:
- You actually engage with strangers on a deeper level
- You don’t think about doing something for the photo opportunity
- You DO think about doing things for the experience
- You learn to navigate and read maps
- You gain a stronger sense of north, east, south, and west
- You get to impress people by saying, “I left my phone in Seattle today”
- You don’t text your best friend every time something interesting happens
- You don’t get hit by as many cars
- You make more eye contact
- Most importantly, you get to experience life first hand
Now it's your turn. If you are up to the challenge, pick one day this month to leave your home without your phone or laptop. Even if you don't go a full day, take half a day to go exploring without a leash. Go talk to people! Make new friends! Do something that doesn't have a hashtag slapped all over it.