Taking a technology-free vacation changed my world.
The last two weeks were spent wandering old seaside villages in the south of Italy, hurtling down cobblestoned streets, past historic monuments on the back of a Vespa through Rome and climbing cliffs cradling the glittering turquoise of the Mediterranean.
That’s right, I took a technology-free vacation, and I kept my phone in a side drawer at my home in France. For most people, this may seem completely normal! But for the majority of millennials and generation z, it may appear impossible, brazen and – dare I say it – badass.
But, in fact, it was actually quite easy and natural! I never even thought about the online world and staying connected socially while traveling…
Instead of following Google Maps to get me where I need to be, I clutched a paper map, handwritten directions on scraps of notebook paper and frequently asked Italians for directions.
This was my second time traveling without a phone, the first time being in Iceland, and it left me with deep feelings of peace, presence, and discovery that I thought I’d share how the experience impacted me.
We zoomed down the hills of leafy Trastevere in Rome, halted in Vespa traffic, smiling at our fellow drivers next to us. “Colliseo?,” we pointed. Wild gestures and wide smiles always greeted gratefully back at us. We’d stop on the sides of roads, take Polaroid photographs, watching the soft outlines and fuzzy shapes slowly appear on the film, gaze up and marvel at the rocky facade of the Colleseum, it’s chunks of white stone missing and its structure worn away from centuries past.
I wasn’t distracted by my scrolling down Instagram or taken out of the moment by capturing videos for Instagram Stories. None of these thoughts penetrated my mind. “Is this edited well enough?” “Is this good enough to post” “Will this video bring others joy and wonder as it does me?” It never occurred to me as it often does at home. And it felt deeply refreshing.
My map billowed behind me like a streaming cape, as we zoomed past tiny alleyways in Rome when Alex got lost. We chatted with the Romans and I humorously followed the names of streets while semi-blocking Alex’s view as he drove. We laughed and cheered and half of the time spent on that old-fashioned Vespa was getting completely and hopelessly lost in the maze of crowded neighborhoods. We wouldn’t have gotten lost with Google Maps leading the way, no doubt about it! But the phoneless ride brought so much rich spontaneity.
What I was most amazed at by taking a technology-free vacation during my travels through Iceland and Italy was how much clarity I received on these trips. Without distractions, without keeping updated with teachers and photographers that inspire and motivate me, I was able to listen to my own inner thoughts and desires more. I was listening to and paying attention to my own journey, my own path. I received more inner guidance, my wants and desires becoming crystal clear with the lack of marketing and ideas being thrown at me unknowingly on Instagram and in my inbox day in and day out.
No marketing emails or messages being said via Instagram captions. I thought more about what I wanted, what I was drawn to in this present chapter, what currently makes me feel happiest.
Because as much as it is embarrassing to admit, I do get swayed and influencers on Instagram. I see beautiful pictures of photographers on exotic holidays and I think “I want to go there!!”
But do I really?
No, I really, really don’t.
In fact, I only have 7 places I want to visit in this world. No more, no less. 7.
(In case you are wondering: England, Tibet, Tasmania, Oregon, Prince Edward Island, the Amazon Rainforest, and South Africa.)
While I don’t really suffer from FOMO or often compare my life to others on social media as I used to in my early twenties, I do get distracted. I do question myself, my decisions and my career path.
Should I start podcasting like everyone else?
Should I create an online course or host a photography retreat like every other photographer is doing right now?
No! No, no no.
I hate teaching. I severely dislike speaking, and I would rather blog and share my discoveries through the written word. And I don’t want to serve artists in that way.
I want to create as an artist, and maybe my words and visual creations will uplift and inspire others! But for a millisecond I start second-guessing my path. I start to not trust in myself. I start to doubt.
For two weeks I forgot to compare and I forgot to doubt myself.
It goes without saying that I was fully present on my trip without internet.
I couldn’t Google anything or listen to a podcast on train rides. Instead, I wrote endlessly in my diary. I observed the Italian countryside, and I people-watched, scribbling about it and how it impacted me in my journal.
I wasn’t reading something on Facebook while tasting delicious food at cafes and restaurants. Instead, I sat back, enjoyed a flavorful bite, and gazed at the ocean view, the sailboats floating by, the Italian families playing cards in the corner. I tasted every juicy tomato, every milky slice of white mozzarella, every sweet sip of Moscato.
Instead of sending a quick last-minute text to a friend before our plane took off, I watched the multitude of other flight passengers urgently check their glowing screen before switching them off to airplane mode. I smiled, realizing how often I am one of them, but after two technology-free weeks, how truly little I cared.
When I’m traveling alone as I did recently in Bali and Portugal, I enjoyed spending an hour or two editing and sharing images from my travels at the end of my day. When I’m solo, I intentionally choose not to take my vacation technology-free. But when I’m not lonely – because it’s inevitable not to feel lonely at some point on a solo trip – I want to be all there with whomever I’m with. I want to share my thoughts and observations with my travel partner next to me – which to my husband’s dismay is constant – and I want to ask my comrade questions instead of silently consulting Google.
I felt entirely free of technology.
The memories we created and experienced wouldn’t have occurred with a small computer in the palm of my hand. This blog entry isn’t to say that having your phone with you is a bad thing. In actuality, having easy access to the internet is a healthy thing.
Knowing opening and closing times of restaurants and attractions, location sharing, easy directions and a way to call your loved ones is much appreciated.
As a female solo traveler, I would never think to not bring my phone. But if I’m traveling with someone I trust and feel safe with, not bringing my phone is my new go-t0 way to travel. And I plan to continually leave my phone at home in my futures adventures around the world.
That feeling of discovery is too good to pass up.
With travel blogs and travel influencers, we forget what it means to discover. To experience a place for the first time. To not already have an idea, mental visual or opinion of a new country before stepping into it.
We are blessed and cursed, drowning in a pool of other people’s thoughts and opinions. It is this idea that has peacefully led me to live an intentional life, to embracing simplicity and seeking joy – not from our outer world – but from within.
Experiencing Iceland and Italy without my phone has greatly inspired me to take notice of how easily influenced and distracted I am by the social media world. It has inspired me to write more in my journal and less on Instagram captions.
It has inspired me to hop on a train to a new destination without searching for tips and travel recommendations on Pinterest.
To discover it for myself and myself alone.
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May 23, 2019
2016 - 2019 Helena Woods | Helena Woods Portraiture is located outside New York City in Fairfield County Connecticut and travels worldwide for her clients. Helena Woods is New England and Connecticut’s premier family, children, baby and newborn photographer specializing in modern classic custom family photography with a timeless look that's always in style. As a professional photographer, Helena captures maternity, newborn, baby and family portraits in NYC, Westchester, Trumbull, Easton, Weston, and Westport, Greenwich, Darien, Westport, Norfolk and all Fairfield County surrounding areas.