As the train crossed the Miño river, I pulled out my smartphone and turned off the data connection. I was entering Portugal, which meant any non-wifi internet browsing done from my phone would be subject to roaming charges. I opened my book and read during the rest of the journey.
Had I taken this trip only a week later, things would have been different. As of today, roaming charges are a thing of the past in the European Union, meaning any mobile user with a SIM card from any member state (and a contract with a mobile carrier — prepaid cards are not included) can move freely across the EU without having to worry about finding a massive phone bill when she gets back home. It also means that the forced digital detox many of us got just from crossing the border will be harder to achieve.
I was in Porto on a solo trip to cover the Primavera Sound music festival for a Galician online publication. The three days I spent there, I followed a similar routine, an underestimated side benefit of traveling to a place you know well. I spent the mornings working from my Airbnb apartment or a nearby café in the Baixa area. I went out for lunch to restaurants I’ve already visited in the past, and then walked around and relaxed before taking the bus to Parque da Cidade, where the festival was taking place.
My forced disconnection was far from complete — I had internet access in my apartment and many of the places I went to offered free Wi-Fi — but there’s still a big difference between being connected from time to time and the 24-hour internet accessibility that’s so normal (and expected) nowadays. I knew there wouldn’t be anything new on my smartphone, so it stayed at the bottom of my bag while I waited for the waitress at Café Vitória to bring my lunch, while I sipped coffee by the upstairs window at Café Moustache , and while the bus moved painfully slow by the river.
At the festival, I sat on the grass, listened to the music and observed the people. I wished I belonged to the group of friends who knew every Mitski song by heart. I judged the long lines of people waiting to get flower crowns (I’m a snob). I felt hopeful for the future of humankind when I saw a group of teens in the front row of the Hamilton Leithauser gig. I imagined I came across Scott Matthew somewhere among the trees and we talked and became friends. From time to time, I headed over to the press area to tweet a picture, as I was supposed to be doing social media live coverage.
On Saturday, the last day of the festival, I went to the apartment before catching the bus to the park. I had a few WhatsApp messages from friends asking whether I was having a good time. I told them I was having such a relaxing day I was actually a bit hesitant about attending the festival. I wanted to go back to Moustache and keep reading; to visit the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal and eat while the free peacocks try to steal my food; to sit somewhere for hours with that strange feeling of complete freedom to do as I please. (I did end up going to the festival and enjoying it a lot, I was just lazy to take the bus).
My train back home left the Campanhã station at 8:15 AM. I thought I would be sleepy (I had slept only 5 hours, I need 8), but I had the urge to keep reading. When I crossed the Miño again and entered Galicia, I checked my phone. I had a few WhatsApp messages from my family. My sister sent pictures of the hiking route she and her boyfriend had taken that weekend. My parents said hello from Ponte da Barca, in the North of Portugal, where they had just spent their first night in their new van. I said that I was on the train, almost home, and put the phone back to the bottom of my bag. I resumed reading, and put Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth above all the phone notifications.
When I got back home, I was sleepy and tired, but my brain felt light and free. I might miss those roaming charges, after all.