Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My disconnected vacation

Although the destination we’d chosen for our late-August vacation is renowned for its water park, indoor-outdoor aquarium, tropical beaches, and world-class restaurants, my attitude heading into it was that for me, vacation would be a success if I had plenty of time to read and go for walks.

I definitely got my wish – and then some. With the kids happy to avail themselves of all the sun-and-sea recreation free of parental oversight, I had all the time I wanted to sit poolside and read. And I had time for walking, too. Along with a 4-mile run early every morning, while the rest of my family slept, I fit in a late-afternoon walk on the beach every day, sometimes on dry sand, sometimes in the shallowest waves, with the warm water bathing my feet as I made my way first up the island’s extensive shoreline and then back down.

Untethering from email and Facebook was a big deal; not having Internet for filing any articles or doing any work at all while away was an even bigger deal; but I was resigned to both before we left. Internet fees and roaming charges at our destination were just too expensive for us to consider getting on line at all, and I was both apprehensive and curious as to what a fully disconnected vacation would feel like.

But it turned out I was even more disconnected than I anticipated. Upon boarding our flight to the Bahamas, Rick and I both set our phones to airplane mode, but I still planned to keep my phone close at hand so that I could listen to podcasts I’d downloaded before we left, take pictures with my phone’s camera, and time my runs and walks. So I was unprepared for my phone to stop working altogether on the third day of the trip. No more podcasts or photos or stopwatch or alarm clock or any other phone functions I’d come to depend on.

And then the following day, mysteriously enough, my Fitbit stopped working. No more timing my workouts with that, or logging my steps or miles. Suddenly I was far more disconnected than I’d imagined being.

Which meant I had to get by without my usual electronic dependencies. Without my phone’s clock function or the stopwatch on my Fitbit, I had to time runs and walks with my watch, like I used to do back in the 90’s. I had to trust myself that 45 minutes or whatever time I’d set as my goal was a decent workout, even without being able to see just how many steps or miles that entailed. Without access to the podcasts stored in my phone, I turned instead to my 12-year-old for help with audio entertainment to keep me engaged during my run; she lent me her iPod, on which she’d stored the audiobook version of a middle grade novel by a favorite author of hers, and while I ran, I listened not to my favorite NPR podcasts but to the story of a sweet but frustrated 12-year-old trying to get along with her disorganized family.

Though it was disappointing to return home with what felt like a fistful of broken appliances, and losing all the photos that I’d taken early in the trip with my phone was certainly unfortunate, it was good for me to be forced to be so disconnected. It turns out exercise feels good even when you don’t have an official readout of your step count at the end. It turns out middle grade fiction is pretty well-crafted these days. It turns out I can wake up at a decent time merely by relying on my natural biorhythms and not the chirp of my iPhone at a pre-set time.

Most importantly, I did lots of reading and took lots of walks. That, after all, is what I had hoped to do. And all four of us had a great time together. The day after we got home, I was able to get my phone repaired and replace the Fitbit. Being disconnected is a good experience, at least for the course of a weeklong vacation. In a way, I’m glad it happened. It was a great vacation, glitches not withstanding. In fact, maybe the glitches made it an even better vacation.

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