Before I hopped on the plane for Havana, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone more than one day without my phone, let alone ten. Unlike a normal trip to Europe, or even Mexico, Cuba doesn’t have open access to Internet– or cell phone reception. I was going beyond anywhere even the best international roaming plan could reach.
It was exciting, but also surprisingly terrifying. For selfish reasons I couldn’t wait to have an excuse to ignore work emails, texts and social notifications. On the flip side, what if something happened? After 15 years of being spoonfed information, was I equipped to handle an emergency without Googling what to do? How would I contact anyone? The only phone numbers I have committed to memory are my parent’s house phone and my best friend from middle school– neither of which would be of much use in an emergency in rural Cuba. But what else could I do other than embrace the adventure and trust in the hours of useless information gained from watching Bear Grylls.
The first day felt great. It was like I’d never had a phone in the first place. I was free as a bird with no notion of time. I couldn’t tell you how much we spent, where we went that day, or even what landmarks my photos were of, but what did I care? It was the rush of carefree exhilaration a wise man once called, “vacation.”
However, the second day wasn’t as easy. I felt like Kevin McCallister’s mom in Home Alone sitting on an airplane suddenly realizing she’d left her child a thousand miles away. Except it was just me, and I didn’t actually forget anything. As strange as that sounds, I couldn’t help feeling mysteriously anxious for no reason. Throughout the day, I found myself asking, Did I shut the garage door? What if we left the stove on? Did I send that presentation to my boss? It was an overwhelming influx of things completely beyond my control. But then the incredible thing happened… I realized there was nothing I could do. And let go.
The realization was freeing! The acceptance of vulnerability allowed me to subject myself to the powers that be. If my house was going to burn down because I left the stove on, then that was just going to happen, and I’d just have to be thankful I wasn’t home. I had no choice, and that was the most liberating part of it all. I could only be a part of what was in front of me.
We spend so much of our lives feeling obligated to respond to everyone at the drop of a dime simply because we can. My phone makes me accessable at all times, but it’s when the clatter of obligation subsides that you can actually hear the most important voice of all: yourself. Without having half of my brain in different parts of the world communicating with different people, I was fully present in the world before me.
Of course, it’s always easier to unplug while you’re traveling. You’re not making plans with anyone, you don’t have to respond to emails and you have no obligations. However, we can learn a thing or two from those moments of stillness and can try to bring some of that serenity back to our lives at home.
We all know there are benefits of restricting cell phone usage before bedtime, but I’d even suggest turning it on airplane mode during dates and dinners. Just by looking around at the locals in Cuba I noticed their posture was better, they were more alert and more resourceful. I realized that by leaving my phone at home, or in my bag, for just an hour a day I’d be forced to navigate based on what I have in front of me– no maps, no obligatory check-ins. The benefit of having your whole mind in one place is extraordinary. You’d be surprised how powerful it can feel to be momentarily powerless.