By Adam Drake
I hear the hum, that beautiful sound of turbines spinning somewhere off in the distance, jets of gas hurtling me toward my destination; the earth below nothing but a patchwork of greens. Save for the three year-old kicking the back of my seat, and the guy next to me who clearly doesn’t understand the use of armrests as they relate to personal space, I’m alone. The next few hours leave me with nothing to do but sleep, read, listen to music, or watch a movie. Flying is the perfect escape. Editors can’t email me with approaching deadlines, friends can’t text to ask what I’m up to on Friday, and my wife can’t call to ask why I erased Girls from our DVR. At 30,000 feet, I’m literally and figuratively above all of that.
It’s then that I realize I haven’t temporarily upgraded the data plan on my phone to work internationally. I flip out. I’ve been cut off. Sure, this brief respite on the plane is manageable, but three whole days without internet? I hold my dear sweet iPhone in my hand, gripping it tightly as if to convey how much I love it. How much I’ll miss it these next few days. Its sleek glass shimmers in the afternoon sunlight; it has never looked more beautiful.
I arrive in Montenegro, a small country on the Adriatic known more for its stunning coastline than its internet cafes, and realize my hotel does not have free WiFi. Suddenly, I’m Sandra Bullock in Gravity, untethered from the world. The crushing abyss of space surrounds and I’m helpless. I pass a few locals talking on their phones and a string of Pavlovian drool collects in my mouth.
And so began my unwanted personal experiment. I would have to survive the next few days with nothing more than the comfort of a sublime hotel, surrounded by incredible foods and gracious people, in one of the planet’s most beautiful countries. I wasn’t sure I’d make it.
I wake up, grab my iPhone, and as is customary, get ready to surf the news. Nothing connects. In my haze, I forget about the hell I’ve descended into. I find a local coffee shop; locate nothing resembling an English language newspaper, and end up staring into space. I notice a tiny kitten perched on stonewall viewing my pastry like Gollum eyeing the One Ring. Ushering him over, I hand him a few crumbs and he’s instantly the greatest friend I’ve ever had. I name him Martin Van Buren after my third favorite US President and promise to return tomorrow.
With zero bars on my phone and no access to internet travel guides, I’m forced to talk to locals. Engaging in the first eye contact I’ve given anyone in six years, I ask a shopkeeper what he’d recommend doing for the day. He suggests I hike to the summit of one of the mountains that plunge into the sea. He points. I crane my neck. And I can just make out a small stone building at the crest of the hill.
Three hours of walking later, I’m surrounded by a sapphire panorama. Grabbing my phone, I instinctively take a photo, frown at not being able to instantly upload it to my Facebook account, and put it away. With nothing else to do, I fall backwards into the grass and stare up at the clouds.
I stop at a local market, buy a small container of milk and a bowl, and head back to the coffee shop. My feline friend, Martin Van Buren, is slumbering underneath a canopy of leaves when with one eye open he sees me approach. At first, I’m saddened by his laissez faire approach to my presence, but once the milk is poured into the bowl, he remembers why he and I are best friends.
A German couple sitting next to me chuckle at my interaction with Martin Van Buren, and we strike up a conversation. They say they’re headed to a hidden beach down the coast and ask if I’d like to join. This, fellow readers, is how horror movies start. A strange couple in an even stranger country asks a solo traveler without cell service or internet access to journey with them to a magical and as yet unseen area, and then do all manner of unholy things to his lifeless body. But facing that end or another day praying to various gods that the local phone company will grant me internet access for free, I chose almost certain death.
Rolf and Lene did not chop my body into various parts and use it to chum for sharks. Instead, I spent the day reading a book by the ocean, laughing with my new friends, and sampling local beers. My phone was used for photos and music, and never vibrated once indicating an email.
I don’t bother looking at my phone. I don’t care. Instead, I leave it in my bag and head out to my breakfast with Martin Van Buren. After breakfast, I decide to explore more of the area. My neck muscles, sore from looking down at my phone as I walk, have found new life as I stare straight ahead.
The island of Sveti Stefan is attached to the mainland by a short causeway. Once a small fishing village, the entire island has been transformed into an ultra-luxury hotel. After some pleading at the front gate, I’m led onto the property by a staff member who gives me an absolutely amazing tour of the island. I’m shown an old church, cliffs, restaurants, and a perfect view all the way to Budva in the north.
Stopping for lunch at a small restaurant in what can best be described as a small town square on the island, I notice the restaurant and the entire island is equipped with free WiFi. I can feel my iPhone in my bag pulsing. It wants to live again. It’s calling to me.
For a moment, I think about taking it out and connecting back to the world. It’s then that a flock of sparrows dance through the air above the square and head out toward the sea. A smile slides across my face as I realize that I’d finally been connecting to the world all along. While my iPhone had let me connect to the world at large, it helped me miss the world right in front of my face.
This experiment is quite the nice reminder to step away from our constant stream of technology, to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. But how does this apply in the real world, where we are held constantly accountable to our jobs through email and phone?
It’s all about setting boundaries. My job requires little back and forth via email, but when my wife is away from her office, she’s on her phone constantly making sure everything is running smoothly. It became too much, and she realized she needed to make some changes in order to not have 100 percent of her time taken up with sending emails. Now, she doesn’t look at her phone until she’s left the house in the morning. Despite managing office across the world, she’s learned that things can wait until she’s in her office for a response. When she gets home at night, she’ll set an hour timer for herself and won’t touch her laptop once it goes off.
Sure, there’s the feeling of the world falling off its axis (or, in my wife’s case, her company), but there is really nothing that can’t wait half a day. She assigned the CEO and her assistant as “VIPs” in her phone, so if something is pressing, they can email her and a notification will pop up on her home screen.
Forcing yourself to adhere to these limits will not only give you more leisure time, but it’ll allow you to concentrate on the work without as much exhaustion when you get to it. And if none of this works, you need another job. Remember, we work to live, not live to work! Now, step away from the phone and enjoy the sunshine.
Adam Drake is Creative Director for the Sweat Life, a former four-year varsity rower for the University of Miami, and currently rows for the Maritime Rowing Club. He is the co-founder of Kayak for a Cause, a charity event based in Connecticut. As a writer, Adam has developed television shows for Comedy Central, Bad Boy Worldwide, and Sky, written ad campaigns for clients such as Bacardi, Starbucks, Dove Men+Care, and HBO, and was a contributor to the pop culture site YesButNoButYes. In his spare time, he enjoys skiing, boating, and working on his tremendous collection of unfinished novels.