The only contact we’d have with the folks back home was a postcard here and there, and sometimes maybe one long distance phone call just to let everyone know we’d arrived safely or something. There were no Facebook updates, Instagram photos or Twitter hashtags - people back home simply had to wait for the in-person update when we got back home at the end of the trip.
The payoff for this was that while traveling, we were fully immersed in the moment, conscious of the experiences we were having and the people we were having them with.
And that’s just what we did, my boys and I.
Alex and Simon and I left our devices at home when we headed out the door to the airport at 3:30 a.m. last Friday morning, and I’m grateful that we did so.
I should preface my praises for disconnecting with an admission that I had some pretty significant anxiety the first 48 hours without my smartphone.
For starters, feeling for that little key to the world in my pocket at all times has become almost a subconscious habit. I literally would reach for my iPhone multiple times a day: While standing in line at the airport, while waiting for the hotel shuttle bus to arrive at the airport, and at many other times once at the resort, just to check email, texts or update my Instagram feed. It was a surprise to me every time at first that the phone wasn't there!
Another thing I missed was the ability to look things up in a flash:
- Does the Delfinaro in Varadero violate animal rights? (maybe)
- When was the “Special Period”? (1990-2005-ish)
- How far is it from our Casa Particular to the Malecon (about a block, as it turned out!)
With the exception of the latter fact, which we were able to find out fairly quickly by looking at one of the maps in our Lonely Planet Cuba Guide and by simply walking around after checking in with our Casa owner, all my “need to know” questions had to wait until I could find someone to engage with who spoke enough English and knew more about Cuba than where the nearest bar was at the all-inclusive resort. Or wait until our return to Canada and the relatively fast, free wifi we enjoy here.
Being without my phone also meant having relatively little idea of what time it was, most of the time. Our resort lobby had a clock, as did the living room in the Havana Casa Particular where we spent a night, but other than that, we basically had to gauge what time it was by estimating the passage of time since our last confirmation, or checking -- in the morning and early evening -- by how bright it was outside.
That was a bit of a strange feeling at first, since I am so used to living by the clock (10-o-clock meeting, 2 p.m. deadline, 6 p.m. dinner, “family time” 7:30 - 8:15, kids’ tuck-in at 9, and so on).
But it didn’t take long to let go of the stringent schedule, and just respond to our mental and physical sense of what we “should” be doing at different points throughout the day.
Being free from daily reminders of all the lunacy going on in the world due to limited access to news of the latest racism, homophobia and misogyny in governments nearby was a welcome break.
After the initial awkwardness of feeling like we had to constantly know what time it was and whether anyone had texted us or updated their Youtube or Instagram feeds in the past three minutes, things started to get a whole lot better.
Cards were big, too: On the bus to Havana, in the brief moments we spent in our hotel room during transitions, and under the shade of our beach umbrella, the boys played everything from 21 to Crazy 8s to President, and I was obliged to join them.
We played more cards this week than in the past 12 months!
Nopes, not having the temptation of my digital device at my fingertips for a week meant I had the freedom to just stare out at the ocean and enjoy the view for a full ten minutes, or an hour, or all day, as I basically did at least once during our time in Varadero. It also meant that I would often glance up from my book, rather than being sucked in by the endless labyrinth that a screen and internet access provides, and enjoy magical moments that my 12-year-old twins were sharing with one another in the ocean, on the beach, doing card tricks, or engrossed in a good book together.
One facet of leaving my phone at home that had made me particularly nervous was the absence of a camera. But once on vacation, the boys and I quickly adopted the habit of capturing moments in our memories by pausing and holding our hands up to our face and making a “click” sound whenever something especially wondrous caught our eye.
We also spent some time each day completing the travel journals I had prepared for them ahead of time, though truth be told, Alex and I were considerably more enthusiastic about and committed to this little project than Simon was.
I am hoping to blog my own travel journal notes when I have some time over the coming week, so that the wonderful memories don’t fade too far into the mental abyss -- while more comprehensive than photos, memories do tend to have a far shorter lifespan than digital images!
All in all, I am in favour of such regular unpluggings, and am thinking of practical ways to make purposeful internet and social media breaks a part of our family’s regular routine.