Forget about high-tech travel, a new trend sees tourists forgo internet access, phones and gadgets. After a weekend spent shunning all-things digital in Somerset, Lottie Gross shares what she learned about life and travel on her first (and hopefully not last) digital detox.
I’m a self-confessed digital-druggie, digitally distracted for 17 hours a day. Every waking moment – because I’m yet to master the somnolent status update – is spent glued to some sort of technology. I have an iPhone, iPad and a Macbook Pro (because one Apple product is never enough) and I carry a spare lithium battery for recharging – God forbid any of them run out of juice.
We live in a world where we’re constantly connected, always online, digging through data and endlessly downloading. We’re bombarded by an unrelenting torrent of information, made available on the internet and at our fingertips on laptops, smartphones and now even TVs.
We’ve become reliant on it: we can’t get around without Citymapper, won’t order cabs without apps like Uber, and if your restaurant doesn’t have more than three stars on our peer-review app, forget it. It sounds so destructive, so noxious. But the truth is, I love it.
But I’m beginning to wonder: rather than being empowered, am I becoming digitally-impaired? What am I missing as I walk that 300 metres from office to Underground, eyes down on my phone? A smile with a stranger? The love of my life? Who knows?
So in a willpower challenge, and kind of social experiment, two friends and I took to the Somerset countryside to have a digital detox. No TV (gasp!), no phone (shock!) and certainly no internet (surely not?!). How would I cope travelling like this for three days?
Lesson 1: travelling without tech isn’t that hard (and is quite fun)
We decided to “go dark” just outside the M25 – just after the satnav got us lost near Heathrow Airport. The universe was already telling us to disconnect from the world and look up.
Three hours later we successfully navigated with our AA road map through the country lanes near Taunton, and just 30 minutes from the motorway we arrived at the Bumblebee Barn in Halse.
The key was in the door, wifi switched off and the hot tub was warming up. Our excitable but lovely landlady, Tammy, even assured us our phones wouldn’t get signal even if we did try to turn them on. This was to be our disconnected home for the next three nights.
Our AA roadmap became a lifeline over the next few days as we took a 25-mile jaunt to the quaint seaside town of Porlock, and we got well acquainted with the local area using an OS map to guide us along little-trodden footpaths. Without GPS to guide us we found an immense sense of satisfaction in reaching our destination – even if the pub in the next village was closed when we finally arrived.
Lesson 2: people are far more interesting in person
After three hours in the car with no radio to entertain, I was worried we'd run out of conversation before we even arrived. As it turns out, my friends are pretty interesting people, and right from the beginning we learned more about each other than we ever would in our Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines.
Instead of staring at a TV or avoiding eye contact through our laptops, we took three-hour breakfasts sipping tea and putting the world to rights. We debated politics, work and love and embraced the few silences that fell in between. Without technology to distract us, we were all fully present in every conversation – a refreshing and empowering feeling.
Lesson 3: connections aren’t only made online
I’ve made new friends through Twitter and kept in touch with old ones on Facebook. But it’s not just through social media and the internet that people are connected.
On a breezy spring afternoon we followed the black lines on our OS map up to the village of Milverton. We saw few other walkers and it felt like we had the green expanse of the Somerset countryside to ourselves – until we met Derrick. A kilometre from the village we took a path along the side of a hill and came across the most perfectly-poised bench for a five-minute mull over the surrounding natural beauty. On the back of this bench, a plaque read:
Who expressed a wish to be remembered in this way
And so we sat in silence, admiring the rolling hills and farm fields, listening to the wind in our ears and remembering Derrick, a man we’d never known.
Lesson 4: without technology there is no boredom
Among the hiking boots and waterproof jackets, I packed a number of board games, three different books and a pack of playing cards. We were bound to get bored and need some form of entertainment.
But not a single one of those board games made it out of the bag, and I only read a couple of chapters of my book. We spent the weekend walking, talking, cooking, eating and, of course, hot-tubbing – there was no time for boredom. We embraced every moment there was, whether it was looking out over the ocean on a sunny afternoon or listening for the sound of owls at dusk on Halse Farm.
After two days of tech-free fun, I realised: I’m only ever bored when I’m scrolling aimlessly, either on my laptop, tablet or phone.
Without tech there would be no time for boredom because we’d be doing other things. Rather than obsessing over the World Wide Web, we’d be looking up and appreciating the real world for what it is, enjoying all it has to offer.
Lottie stayed in the Bumble Bee Barn in Halse village, Somerset. You can book this little retreat through Classic Cottages here.
Top image: © soul_studio/Shutterstock