Going off the grid: Disconnected on my Digital Detox Walk

Technology, technology, technology

Three years I have read, written, lived and breathed the topic ‘Technology Enhanced Tourist Experiences’. On my PhD journey, I have studied the impact of technology on and its role in travel experiences. I did not only study the topic, but have have always travelled with ‘my technologies’, as probably many other people in my generation do. As a researcher and a Generation-Y, digital native born, I am fascinated by technologies, their potential to enhance our daily life, and our experiences before, during and after travel. However, not this time. I decided that it was time for me to try the opposite way and try to ‘disconnect’.

I use lots of technology, check my emails, notifications popping-up on my smartphone screen sometimes a minute-routine. I am constantly connected, and like being connected, while I see that the boundaries between my home/family life, work life, social life and travel life increasingly blur and come together. This time, I felt that I really wanted to go on a travel, without constantly keeping up with my everyday work and life. I wanted to ask and dare myself: Could I truly disconnect?

“No smartphones, no Internet, no Wifi, no blogs, news, TV, WhatsApp, apps and work emails. Simply walking in the nature, escaping and living the experience in the now.”

Going off the grid

In March 2015, the time has come. I handed in my final version of my PhD in the morning at around 11am and in the afternoon I put on my prepared backpack and left for my disconnected journey into the unknown. Not only not knowing what to expect geographically, where and how far the journey would take me, but most importantly, what would I expect physically and mentally. How far would I be able to go? Could I walk several hundreds of kilometres? Could I even organise B&Bs and accommodation without using the Internet and my travel apps? Would I be able to coping with not having a cell-phone reception in remote areas? While being officially on annual leave, would I resist the urge to check my work emails for several weeks in a row? With all these questions in my mind, at end of March 2015, my dear husband and travel companion, Mattia, and I left on our three-week digital-detox hike on the UK’s longest hiking trail, the South West Coast Path.

“Going off the grid. Disconnected from all technology. Back to the roots.”

Lessons learnt

Being disconnected not only allowed me to switch off from work and everyday life, but also gave me the ‘head space’ and time to calm down, stop for a while, think and reflect without the usual, often technology-induced, distractions. It felt completely liberating for a change, not having to ‘keep up with my online-life’. No  obligations of sharing daily updates of my wow-moments and you-need-to-be-here pictures on Facebook, checking the news, and keeping track of all the updates of my friends, posts and tweets online. And not keeping up with any work emails.

This was a completely new and unusual experience for me. Sometimes I felt like I wanted to share some great travel moments with my friends and family at home, moments, landscapes, food, sunrises, animals, happy achievements on my path I really wanted them to see. It took me days to let experiences sink in, and enjoy them simply, without sharing them, or making them ‘feel more real, only if shared’, as many friends of mine practice nowadays.
My ‘digital detox adventure’ was challenging but taught me immensely lot. It allowed me to disconnect for the first time in almost a decade and take the time to stop, think and reflect. It gave me the space and time to think about my technology use, understand to what extent I ‘really’ need it, to what extent I really want to use it when I come back and to what extent it is ‘healthy’ to use it for me personally. It also allowed me to think and re-think my use of technology, not only when travelling, but most importantly in everyday life, from a more distant perspective. These questions and reflections opened a new foundation for my personal use of technology but also my research interests.

Of course, I still like and use technology very much. We are not going back and time and mobile and social devices will continue to be  a key element of our lives. There is no doubt about that. What has changed through this unique experience is that I had a chance to assess my relationship with technology and find more balanced practices of technology use for my everyday, work and travel life. I also believe that we need to better understand our technology use, its implications on our life domains, so that technology remains and even becomes a more valuable tool with the capacity to enhance rather than destroy some of our social and human experiences.

Stay updated, more thoughts, research and events on the #digitaldisconnection #digitaldetox #digitallifebalance will follow soon.

Barbara Neuhofer disconnected on Digital Detox #‎southwestcoastpath‬ ‪#‎digitaldetox‬ ‪#‎wildnature‬ ‪‪#walk #adventure #‎digitalescape‬ ‪#‎disconnect #‎happytimes‬

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