Off-the-Grid: 6 Months Without a Phone

Off-the-Grid: 6 Months Without a Phone

Lessons learned from a hitchhiking trip as a phone-less millennial

Half a year ago I was hit by a transport truck. It flipped my whole world upside down — literally. In nothing short of a miracle, I walked away from the accident in one piece but was later diagnosed with post-concussive syndrome. This set-back wasn’t exactly what I had planned for my last few weeks of undergrad, but hey — that’s life for you.

I was a 22 year old male, told by my team of doctors to limit all exercise, screen-time, and alcohol consumption. In other words, “stop being 22.”

Not long after, I called up my carrier and suspended my phone plan. Surviving a high-speed crash has a way of putting life into perspective. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my youth with eyes glazed over a screen, or maybe that was my impulsive, post-concussive brain talking. Regardless, if I wanted to truly limit my screen time for the sake of my own recovery, I needed to do something radical.

There was only one problem with the R&R recovery plan; I don’t know how to sit around and just do nothing. So I hitchhiked across the country instead.

 

The mile zero sign at the eastern terminus of the trans Canada trail in St.John’s, Newfoundland

What would you do if you were 22, and just saw your life flash before your eyes? No work, exercise, screen-time, or alcohol consumption. Unfortunately, that means I wouldn’t be biking across Canada again this time around, but hitchhiking — that was fair game.

What’s better for the soul (& the brain) than a good ole fashioned road trip anyways?

Reesor’s s(c)h(ool) bus named Daisy. We met via a mutual friend 3 days earlier then drove to Nova Scotia together before parting ways. Along the way, we stopped in to visit some east coast friends, like Keegan in PEI.

Here are a few lessons that I learned on the road:

Justine is a medical journalist I met in NF. She was my ride through Gross Morne. Also, boil saltwater straight from the ocean for the best tasting lobster.

It’s good practice having faith in kindness.

Take the story of these lobsters for example. After picking up two lobsters at the wharf, we asked a neighbour if we could borrow their pot to boil water for our meal. They happily lent it to us and we brought it down to the beach for our fire. Moral of the story: don’t be afraid to ask for help — people are kind (especially in Newfoundland).

Perfect strangers want to help you more than they want to hurt you.

There are still good people in this world. You need to believe that other people believe you are one too. While skepticism will do you well in life, don’t be too quick to assume the intentions of others. Just because someone asks for a ride or offers to give you one, doesn’t mean they are going to kill or kidnap you. Choose to believe in the goodness of people instead.

 

Hypothetical situation: Let’s say that I had a phone on me.

I probably would have:

  • Ordered an uber or taxi instead of uncomfortably standing on the side of the road with my thumb out.
  • Searched on google maps for a store that sold kettle pots instead of approaching a stranger with a request to use theirs.

In both instances, I would have retreated to my comfort zone and relied on my device to solve my problems. I doing so, I would have wasted more time in the long run, spent more money, and would have never shared an experience or interacted with the two individuals mentioned above — how lonely & boring.

Now I know what you are probably thinking. There are times when having a phone could have been quite useful, like getting directions, or making an emergency call. Although my time ‘off-the-grid,’ is no doubt an extreme example, I also had the rare privilege of experiencing some of the most raw and authentic human interactions. When someone offers you a drive, you have an obligation as a hitchhiker to entertain them. They want to hear your stories or share their own stories with someone who will listen — not someone staring at a screen. How does anyone benefit from that?

Am I saying that phones are evil and need to be abandoned?

 

Not at all. Fast forward 6-months and last week I finally decided to re-activate my own plan — but with some new ground rules in place. The key takeaway that I gained from this experience is that we need to make technology use a positive addition, rather than a harmful distraction, in our lives.

Here are some tips to make your device work for you:

  • Take the earbuds out — music is great, but don’t be that guy on the bus. Instead, try saying hello to someone new and starting up a conversation.
  • Turn off your notifications — or at least the ones that don’t matter.
  • Schedule in-person meetings — use your device to coordinate a time and place instead of acting as an alternative to meeting in-person.
  • Make things a little less convenient — if you have trouble with aimless scrolling, or constantly updating your feed, keep your phone out of reach.
  • Explore the apps Screen Time & Digital Wellbeing — if you have no idea what I’m talking about, search for them on your device right now!

And if you think you are up for the challenge, consider going phone-less for a few days, or — dare I say — a few weeks. You might just develop a new found appreciation for the little things that make us human.

Go for a hike (or even a hitchhike).

 

Originally posted on Medium

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