I’M ONE OF THOSE people who constantly have to check their smartphone. I need to read the news, listen to music, plan a trip, count my steps. I know I have a problem, but it’s been something I didn’t want to face — until I was forced to. On a recent trip to Scotland, my family and I chose our white-washed cottage in Scotland because we wanted a remote and solitary place to unwind. What we didn’t know is that there was no wi-fi and little reception.
Upon arriving at our cottage way up North on the very edge of the rugged Scottish coast, my phone went from being the world at my fingertips to nothing more than a glorified camera. What is a cairn? I wondered when we drove past the sign. Where do we stop for tea when I can’t check the phone for tips? How about…? I’d reach for the phone and stop midway realizing it’s not working.
Is life and travel even possible without a smartphone? How is this going to work?
But then I woke up the following morning and instead of facing utter dread, I was relieved. Relieved because I was able to do everything else but stare at the phone. I stretched in bed and sank deeper under the covers. I listened to sheep in our front yard interrupting the silence. I slept a little longer.
I was surprised by how little it actually took for me to see the benefits of leaving my phone on the windowsill and forgetting about it. We stepped out of the cottage and went for a walk without any distractions save the sound of my daughters squealing with joy at the sights in front of us. It was soon very liberating being in our own little cocoon on the Scottish coast, oblivious of the world.
Being completely isolated was never our intention. When we travel as a family we want to get the sense of the people that make up a country. With two small kids, we often skip the must-see sights and join the locals in the playgrounds, in the small parks, on the beach. This time around, our only means of getting information when we hopped from one beach to another, roamed yet another solitary soggy moor, or stopped to buy supplies at small villages, were the locals. We were forced to talk, to ask, to listen, to try to understand that deep poetic Scottish accent. Yes, we were still foreigners, but we felt immersed in Scotland.
The kids also had their first visit to the tourist information office since we started traveling. They loved browsing through the countless shelves of leaflets and brochures. We left carrying many with us — more than we needed )) but the kids insisted. Paper is fun, but only until one can’t follow the directions on the map (in other words, me) and can’t properly tell right from left.
Despite the lack of schedule and slow pace, our days in the North were busy and packed with exploring. But since I wasn’t busy with the phone, checking the updates 100 times a day, there was still a lot of left. I spent a lot of time doing nothing but soaking up the scenery. I stared at the incredible sights before me and let them move me. After a long time, I felt inspired. My imagination came bursting back to life. It was incredible. “I still have it”, I thought. It was just dormant. I was too busy reading about other people’s ideas and thought instead of taking care of mine.
When I was younger and traveled the world with my parents, we did it without the help of modern day technology, or thousands of apps. Naturally, we got lost on occasion, and sometimes we didn’t like the food we ordered and we had to talk to locals for tips but it was all part of the adventure. With the rise of smartphones that uncertainty is mostly gone. Yet, as we experienced in Scotland, the convenience comes at a cost.
For the first time in years, we had to take chances, with the food, with the people, roads, with our entire trip. We were right and we were wrong but most of the time it was just fun.
It’s a surprise.
If at first I thought Scotland served me lemons, I later realized it was a blessing in disguise and I wanted to make the most of it. I focused on being there for my family, truly present, enjoying the unbelievably beautiful scenery and getting back to being me. I made the best lemonade out of those lemons. It was surprising to realize it was possible and exactly the type of trip me and my family needed.
We learned the last surprising perk once we got back home. Our family and friends were so curious about the trip. More than other times, because this time around they knew nothing about it. There were no updates or photos during our travels. And it was much better telling them about our adventures in person than getting a hundred likes on social media.