Unplugged: How to Justify a Totally Offline Vacation

Wendy Worrall Redal by Wendy Worrall Redal | August 3rd, 2011 | 7 Comments
topic: Eco Travel, Green Living


I knew I had a problem with my Facebook addiction when I kept thinking of last weekend’s camping trip as a series of status reports:

Wendy Worrall Redal

… swore she would not camp in a tent in the rain again, and here she is.

… can’t believe she spent the last two hours trying to get flames out of a smoking fire made with wet wood.

… thinks the finest aroma in the world is the scent of alpine firs.

… is amazed at the lush profusion of wildflowers in the meadow next to Long Lake.

Actually, by the time I went hiking to Long Lake, I had been away from digital technology altogether for 24 hours, and I wasn’t thinking in terms of my Facebook status by that point. But all those moments offered a telling realization: My daily life — my very psyche — is tethered to mobile digital technology.

Give new meaning to feeling “refreshed”

Truth be told, it was largely the fact that there was no wireless coverage and no cell phone reception at our forest service campground at 10,300 feet that kept me from the chronic pull to be online. And, as ever in such ever-rarer situations, it was refreshing.

I choose that word deliberately: I felt “re-freshed” — my senses were made fresh again — when I engaged the natural world unmediated. The extent to which we limit our opportunities to do that is, I believe, a danger to the fate of wild places on our planet. The more wired — or wireless — we become, the more removed we are from the actualities of nature, more numb to its beauty and gifts and the imperative to protect it.

It’s a cliché that kids need to get away from TV and video games to spend more time outdoors. But how many of us tech-dependent grown-ups are willing to discipline ourselves when it comes to the lure of our gadgets?

Truly encounter nature

The problem with having a cell phone in our pocket vibrating with a new text message every few minutes, or an iPod providing a constant stream of private music, or a laptop open for the latest news alert or weather report or e-mail, or in my case, updates from my 357 Facebook friends, is that we are never fully in touch with the immediate world at hand. Our attention is fragmented, our focus is interrupted, and our immersion in our surroundings is inevitably superficial.

To truly encounter nature — let alone discern the power and peace of wilderness — we must eliminate all those secondary layers of communication. We can’t hear the wind in the pines if we’re listening for ring tones. We can’t see the subtle shifts of light and cloud and shadow if we’re glancing at the glow of a screen. And we can’t begin to still our consciousness toward the contemplative state that nature induces if we are unable to slow and simplify the activity of our minds.

I went offline in the Amazon — and survived!

When our family spent two weeks in Ecuador last winter, we were without computer or phone in the Galapagos and Amazon rainforest (despite the fact that the jungle eco-lodge where we stayed had a computer with satellite Internet access, which guests could use for a fee — we didn’t). My husband and I allowed our kids to listen to their iPods on the plane, but that was it.

And guess what: None of us remotely missed our electronic leashes to the outside world. On the contrary, we felt a liberation we didn’t realize we needed. We were snorkeling with sea lions and listening to howler monkeys in the canopy. Our e-mail inboxes could wait. No one needed a constant stream of status updates from us. Our families knew how to reach us in an emergency — that was enough.

Choose to unplug

WildflowersI suppose the day is coming when even forest service campgrounds will have a wi-fi blanket covering the alpine firs. Heck, climbers on Everest make sat-phone calls from the summit. That’s why we must choose to unplug. As a generation comes of age never knowing any reality other than being always connected and distracted, we must re-teach ourselves the value of a direct, analog experience of nature: its sharp chill and stifling humidity, damp dew and desert drought; its rainbow of wildflowers and rough bark of hemlock; its breeze and gale and stars and sky and river gurgle and lake ripple; its duck squawk and owl hoot and cricket call; its lack of sound, its boldness and its blankness; its brash beauty…

So the next time you leave town, leave your technology behind and meet the unadulterated world. Your Facebook friends won’t mind waiting for you.


  1. Although I feel lost without my digital camera within easy reach, there are times whan I want to capture the setting solely with my senses. Later I can recall the experience with my minds eye and tell the story of how I felt at that moment.

    Rennie | August 25th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. Wendy, I enjoyed your post — and I was laughing at myself as I was reading it, since it was I who was uploading photos to Facebook whilst in crisis-oh-#@!%*-we-have-no-brakes mode on top of Imogene pass a couple weeks ago. :)

    Mary Jo Cameron | August 25th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  3. I can totally relate to this post, Wendy. I really need to remind myself to detach sometimes. It also made me think of one of my all-time favorite books: The Age of Missing Information, by Bill McKibben.

    ginny figlar | August 26th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  4. Ginny,
    That is one of my favorite books as well. In fact, it’s the first thing I ever read by Bill McKibben. Even though it now seems so dated in some respects (the “novelty” of 100 channels of cable television!), the key themes and arguments are still so salient. By the way, have you read “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder”? It is one that I recommend to all parents. Maybe I ought to do a post on it at some point, in fact!


    Wendy Redal | August 27th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  5. [...] to call me. Don’t even phone me on a landline. I can’t be reached. When I travel, I purposely sever all lines of communication with my everyday life. I think you should, too. Because when you don’t, I get [...]

  6. LIKE x 1,000,000!

    Gina Fajardo | August 4th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  7. Choosing to unplug allows to to be unentangled. It becomes easier to be in the moment. All power, all peace, all wisdom, inner sight comes from being in this moment, not one waiting for the next email or the worrisome phone call that might come from the boss.

    Your post reminds me of the great power grid blackout that occurred in the midwest and east about 8 or 9 years ago. Everything slowed down and with that came a calmness and stillness that was otherwise unnoticed.

    Thanks for the reminder to unplug. I enjoyed it and will unplug more often.

    Dave Krajovic | August 4th, 2011 | Comment Permalink

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