In an ever-more connected world, where everybody should supposedly be reachable 24/7, phone detox (aka being phoneless) is an absolute disaster. Or is it?
Since I work for a luxury tented camp in the middle of the jungle in Southern Thailand, I know how phone detox (and actually complete digital detox) feels for a day: Terrific!
But for an entire week? Not since we drifted through the Amazon basin on public ferries back in 2012.
How would you cope without your smartphone for an entire week? I went to find out…
Skinny-Dipping In Mallorca
It had been an incredible hot summer’s night out on Mallorca with my good friend Jane. Lots of beers, lots of strange, mostly alcoholic mixes, mostly served in one-liter-jars, male and female strippers, German Schlager music and a lot of hit and miss on mostly hot people.
But the night was over, day was dawning, and the Beerkönig decided to throw us all out.
So off we went to the beach. Met some cool dudes. Decided to go skinny-dipping. And realized too late that you should never go skinny-dipping anywhere in Spain at a half-touristy beach in the early morning hours.
When we returned from the water, our phones were gone. And I was booked on a flight to London later that day, a full week of meetings in an only half-familiar city coming up. What to do?
Pre-Phone Detox Days
Despite having a smartphone, I don’t consider myself a major phone addict. I don’t tweet, I don’t Instagram, I don’t play games and haven’t even installed Facebook on my phone. Phone detox shouldn’t be that hard, right?
Nonetheless, according to RescueTime, I still often spend over 24 hours per week on my phone – which indeed is an entire day. A full seventh of my life!
This time is mostly spent communicating with friends, colleagues and clients via WhatsApp, Line and the call function of my phone (it actually does have one, and I do actually still use it!) as well as scheduling meetings, orientating myself in new cities, taking, sorting and sending pictures and searching for all kinds of information, useful and -less, on the internet.
I take a lot of pictures, and I enjoy sharing them with others, as I firmly believe that joy is the only thing that doubles when you share it.
As probably you know already, I don’t follow the news.
There are times when I try to learn a new language, increase my marketing knowledge or challenge others on geographical quizzes, but the overall number of Apps I have installed is far below par.
Still. 24 hours of phone usage per week. And now that phone was gone. Forced phone detox. Kind of a digital detox light version, since I still had my laptop. Beginner-friendly.
I got excited to see how my week would pan out. And a bit scared.
Note: I rarely make money with my phone. Even reading emails often results in just reading them, then waiting until I can answer on my laptop, since typing on a laptop is a lot faster (Germans and their efficiency). But that usually means before answering I read my emails on the laptop again… (German efficiency is a myth.)
In case you pay your travels by delighting your Instagram followers or professionally seducing horny humans on Tinder, then I fully understand that you might find it difficult living without a phone.
Spoiler Alert: Phone Detox Is AWESOME!
To sum it all up for the impatient amongst you: Phone detox is amazing. Not having a smartphone is an absolute blessing, and I wish I could turn back time 10 years ago when it was perfectly normal (or even considered ‘advanced’) owning a Nokia 3410. But I can’t. No point in trying.
If you won’t read any further, please at least take this advice: Try it. (Not turning back the time. Living without a smartphone for a week.) Then you can decide for yourself whether you enjoyed it or not. And please leave a comment below on your phone detox experiences.
For everyone who’s keen to hear the full story: Read on.
And for everyone with five extra minutes spare: Watch Gary Turk’s powerful video ‘Look Up’. It will make your eyes water… and I bet you’ll agree how right he is…
Phone-free Near France
[Yes, correct, I was headed to London, which technically is in the UK, not in France. That’s why the headline reads ‘near France’, not ‘in France’. ‘Phone-free near France’ sounds cooler than ‘Phone-free in the UK’. Alliterations are awesome.]
So Jane put me on the bus to the airport. I found my flight to London, boarded (no phone needed for that – just a shame they still print your boarding pass), and arrived at London City about 3 hours later. So far, so good. Phone-free life, here I am.
I had never been to London City Airport before, hence was a little clueless on how to get to Russell Square, where my hotel was located. But luckily the London public transport authorities had thought of cases like mine, and created lots of posters and tube maps and even employed helpful staff (like, real people!) to help me out.
I detoured a little, but since I was in no major rush, that wasn’t an issue. I had a good book.
At the hotel I found WiFi, which let me connect my laptop to Google Calendar and Google Maps to check for the next day’s meetings and determine the smartest routes to get there. I called reception to place a wakeup call, posted on Facebook that there was no need to try contacting me on my phone and went straight to bed. No good night WhatsApps, no blue light in my face in the dark. Sweet phone detox dreams.
The wakeup call worked, I memorized my three different public transport stops and changes, and off I went. Arrived spot on.
Long Story Short
The phone detox week went by with only one single major glitch, which was a missed wakeup call on my last day of meetings. I overslept by about two hours, called my clients via hotel telephone, and postponed the meeting by two hours. No sweat.
(Well, admittedly, quite a bit of sweat the moment I opened my eyes and stared at the TV’s clock. But that sweat quickly dried up when I learned how easygoing my clients were.)
Apart from that glitch – awesome. Nobody disturbed me when I turned my WiFi off and went into deep-concentration mode (aka took a nap), I never had to worry about who might have asked me what on WhatsApp, and never got tempted to pull my phone out the pocket while waiting for a bus or sitting in the subway.
Instead, I read a lot, I pulled my laptop out more often to work on articles and projects, or I just sat there, enjoying my time, watching others being smart screen slaves. (Told you alliterations are awesome.)
The Pros And Cons Of Phone Detox
There were of course a couple of moments where I missed my phone as well, and there are certain other scenarios that I can picture it being useful. So here’s the list of the pros and cons of being phoneless . If you’d like to add or dispute something, please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
The Main Advantages Of Being Phoneless
As probably you have guessed from my story so far, the advantages of being phoneless clearly outnumber the disadvantages. In the end, the smartphone will die out anyway.
I have tried to sort pro phone detox arguments from most important to least important, even though I understand this is a very subjective order.
As surely you know, time is way more valuable than money. Time is always limited, money is not. So the clearest and most valuable advantage: I saved an entire day’s time per week by getting my phone stolen!
If you could tell me one single other feasible hack that achieves the same (except for not sleeping, maybe) – please do. I’d love to hear it!
Most time was saved by not having to stop and pose for pictures that are then shared with dozens of people who at best are half-interested, not overcommunicating with tons of people via WhatsApp, Line & Tinder at all times, and also simply by not looking at your phone because you have nothing else to do.
On a realistic note, I should add that some of that time went into laptop-time instead, as I still had to plan my itineraries to the meetings or keep in touch with some people on Facebook instead of WhatsApp. But overall, I’d say I easily spent 20 hours less on electronic devices this week, probably more, so I’ll calculate with 24 hours extra time saved going forward.
What To Do With That Time?
Instead of using my phone, I chilled, met friends, wandered around London, looked at trees, listened to birds, sat in cafes and restaurants for way longer than necessary, consciously enjoyed good food and hot chocolates, watched a movie or two, took afternoon naps, read books and thought about the sense of life.
Sometimes, I watched others interacting with their phones. An entertaining pastime while you’re detoxing. If you dare, go ahead and ask somebody what they were doing just now on the phone. (In an unobtrusive matter, please, like ‘Sorry, you look extremely busy, but I was just wondering if you could help me with…’)
I haven’t found anybody yet who’d brush you off with ‘Yes, I am extremely busy, please go away’. Because… they aren’t. They’re just wasting time.
By far the worst are couples or friends sitting at a table and caring about nothing but their phones. Unless you really disrespect the person you are there with, you should never use your phone at meal times.
Don’t be like these people. Use your phone less, and save yourself loads of valuable time. Do something cool with it. Or turn it into money, if you so wish.
If you decided to go for monetary value alone and invested your saved time into your business, and were productive those 24 extra hours per week, go and multiply your hourly rate with 24, and then with 52 – you’ll be amazed how much extra money per year you could make if you dumped your phone!
I currently charge 60 USD per hour for marketing consulting. Times 24 is 1,4400 USD that I could make extra in one single week, times 52 makes it a whopping 74,880 USD for a full year!
Doesn’t that sound tempting enough to give phone detox a try?
Yes, you might not invest all 24 hours every week into your business. But this calculation also doesn’t account for potentially higher hourly rates, accumulating interest nor the possibility of investing that extra money into opportunities that really reap rewards. (It also doesn’t account for tax, but that again depends on where you set up your business. In Estonia you pay 0% tax for revenue reinvested into your business.)
Read: Setting up a business in Estonia in one single day
As to me money is mainly a means to buy food and time, I found it smarter to use the free time as free time right then and there instead of trading it for money to then trade that back for time. There’s always a loss in exchange rates.
Even More Time – Or Money
Despite saving a huge lot of time, which can be turned into a massive pile of revenue, if you don’t have a phone you also don’t have to buy one, and in addition save the running costs of a phone: Buying apps, gadgets, fancy phone covers etc., plus of course the operating costs for calls and data connections.
While working on local SIMs my monthly costs are usually as low as 10-50 USD, but as soon as you start roaming costs increase significantly – my current high was about 700 USD for a single month!
Imagine investing that money into outsourcing tasks at a tenner an hour – it’d save you another 70 hours of your life. That’s three days. Per month. 10% of the year. Brilliant.
Better Focus = Increased Productivity
Without phone to distract you at all times with messages and news and apps and internet connection to ‘just quickly check something’, your brain has a lot less to worry about. And less is better. Almost always.
As we can only hold a certain amount of information in our short-term brains, cluttering this working memory up is obviously not beneficial to focusing and concentrating on the things that really matter. Trust me: Your phone and all that comes with it takes up a lot of your brain’s working memory. (Thinking about who to write to, who to take pictures for, which app to use next… it all adds up.)
Interesting side effect: Whenever I sat in trains, buses, taxis or waited around at stations etc., I never had to ask myself whether I should pull out the smartphone or my book now. In fact, often enough I opted for the laptop and got some work done like drafting articles, which can easily be done offline.
And while I dug into my work and typed away on that next text, I could focus completely on the task at hand – no phone calls to distract me, no second thought wasted as to whether I should tell my friends I’m thinking of them or not. (Sorry, friends. I did think of you. Sometimes.)
This week, I created and uploaded this article, along with finalizing and uploading The Best Web Host For Startups, Nomads And Freelancers as well as The Hybrid Nomad – Life Between On- And Offline Work. (Good read if you want to earn more money or feel lonely as location independent entrepreneur sometimes.) All of that while getting through five full days of meetings.
Usually I’m happy if I upload one article a week, mostly it’s about two per month. Hoorray to being phoneless!
Free Brain Training
Tons of people these days charge you ridiculous amounts of money for brain training.
Phone detox handles that completely free of charge. You need to memorize your route to your meetings, remember flight numbers, departure times or maybe even contact details of new acquaintances. (Unless you have really cool business cards.)
Yes, you could write them all down on a piece of paper as well, if you like. But you can also start trusting your brain again – it’s an extremely powerful machine. (It’s even powerful enough to include a spam filter. All the not so important information is deleted fairly quickly, so if you can’t remember that lady’s phone number, she just wasn’t the one. No sweat. Keep looking.)
You know these moments when you look at your watch, but seconds later don’t know what time it is? I had the same e.g. with directions, submissively following Google Maps without really knowing where I was walking, checking the screen again every other minute – if you had taken my phone from me, I probably would’ve instantly been lost. Without phone I had to know where I was.
And that quickly rubbed off on generally taking in my environment: I did it a lot more consciously, reading the signs, remembering shops and streets and places.
Have you ever realized how lonely phones have made us? People supposedly communicating with other humans, but actually staring at a lifeless piece of plastic / glass / aluminum / whatever? It is a real shame.
Phone detox forces you to reconnect with other humans, ask them for directions, find the best restaurant, and instead of swiping right you need to dare talking to ladies again, if you want to get to know any.
I admit I haven’t found my next bff within this phone-free week, but I got to know dozens of amazingly lovely people. Who knows? One might stay in touch… (Despite a common misconception, this world and the people living on it are not as bad as many make it out to be.)
I must also say the night club visits were a huge lot more fun with everybody dancing and talking instead of posing for selfies. Having fun beats pretending to have fun by far.
Calm Down And Analogue On
Not having a phone instantly calms you down. Phones stress you out, since we always have to quickly check that, text them or research this. Being phoneless takes this stress out of your life.
You will also very quickly realize that emails are never urgent. If emails were urgent, they were phone calls. Nobody ever emails the police, ambulance or the fire fighters in case of an emergency. Since they are emails, they can wait. Think about it.
Surprisingly, that same truth applies to messenger services and social networks.
And, to a certain extent, to the vast majority of phone calls as well. I couldn’t receive any phone calls this week, and yet the world still turns, if I’m not mistaken.
So calm down. Leave your phone at home. If just for a day.
Improve Your Planning Skills
The moment you drop your phone, you have to become more organized. You need to confirm your meetings and plan your routes before you leave your room.
I found this helpful to generally become a little more organized. Usually the evening before I checked through my meetings for the upcoming day, planned my itinerary and schedule, and hence also had a great overview over my downtime, which allowed me to plan works on the website and on further articles.
Increase Your Confidence
I know this sounds a little strange, but being phoneless further boosted my confidence. (As if that was possible, some might say… haha.)
I knew I was reliant on myself now, not on some electronic device in my pocket, and when sitting in a train looking at all these people staring at their screens as if they were hypnotized, it does give you a feeling of superiority somehow, having broken out of this phone-slavery.
Correct, I am by no means superior to anyone using a phone (neither to those not using a phone), but for some reason it felt that way. Try it out – and let me know in the comments if you feel the same or not. Or am I the only weirdo out there?
Minor Advantages Of Phone Detoxing
There are a couple of minor advantages to phone detoxing, which include:
- Less weight, and two less items to carry around (phone + charger)
- No phone = no battery = no charging = better for the environment
- No need to worry about the whereabouts of your phone (big winner e.g. in places with high density of pickpockets)
I can also imagine that there are several long-term benefits, maybe like creating deeper connections with people or starting to see the bigger picture of life again, but I fear my one week was a little too short to state that for sure.
The Disadvantages Of Being Phoneless
There are of course a couple of disadvantages to being phoneless , and, as with all things, you should consider both good and bad before making a decision that suits your own personal situation.
No Phone, No Calls
Obviously, it is quite difficult to call people without a phone. Yes, there are pay phones and hotel phones and phones from other people you may borrow for a bit, but overall having an own phone is quite convenient. Calling also by far beats emailing, both in terms of efficiency and personality.
So yes, I do think a phone is fabulous, but probably a standard ‘call and text’ not-smart-phone suffices.
No Camera, No Photos
Not having a camera while seeing and experiencing a lot of cool things was a bit of a bummer, since I love taking pictures and sharing them with friends.
However, I do think I could easily get over this by carrying a standard digital camera with me, upload the images of the day to Google Photos every evening and sharing them then and there.
As you can imagine, being phoneless limits you in your spontaneity a little. Meetings need to be confirmed beforehand, and once you left your hotel there is no means of changing it. In case something would come up for you or the other party, it’d be more difficult to communicate.
For changes on your side you could consider using a pay phone or asking a stranger to use his cell for a minute. The other way around changes are impossible. Which is fantastic – because the game is played by your rules.
Generally I wouldn’t believe this to be a major issue. During this week I only had to reschedule one meeting spontaneously, which worked out perfectly well with the hotel phone, and also thinking back to the past there weren’t many occasions where last minute changes were made to location or time of a meeting.
Finding Your Way Around
Some might argue that phones are incredibly valuable resources to get directions for the new city you just landed in, the most romantic restaurant for your upcoming date or simply the best attractions in town.
However, it is safe to say that all these things can be done from a laptop as well, or by simply talking to locals.
I spent my phone detox week in London. Despite having been to London before a couple of times, I certainly am no Londoner. I also had a few meetings to attend in locations I had never been to before.
Nevertheless, getting around never proved to be a problem: Things are still signposted, and you do find lots of people who are very happy to help, if approached politely. (Yes, sometimes you get odd looks when asking for directions these days, but after a while that helps to further boost your confidence.)
True, this becomes more complicated once you explore places you can neither speak nor read the language of. However, while living in Thailand, I always found those situations to turn into some of the most memorable moments. It might take a little longer, but if you want the shortest journey, stay at home.
The journey is the reward.
Notes And Reminders
I fully agree that the world of Google with its notes, maps, calendars and other tools is worth gold. But, again, most of it can be used on a laptop, so just plan ahead.
Also, I tend to always travel with a pen and a piece of paper. Usually my thoughts flow quicker when writing on paper instead of a screen, so I always have some paper ready when the next great idea strikes.
As for reminders, I am happy to admit that my schedule isn’t packed enough to forget anything. A birthday or two, three or four meetings, possibly a lunch or dinner appointment and maybe remembering to buy milk aren’t quite enough to overload my brain. Yours can handle it, too.
The Alarm Clock
Not having an alarm clock totally sucks. I love going to bed knowing that I’ll wake up on time. And I do enjoy regular naps in trains and buses, as long as I know I won’t miss my stop.
I know, buying an alarm clocks costs less than five bucks. But since for now I only lived a single week without phone I didn’t buy one (you’re welcome, environment).
Hence my phone got replaced by wake-up calls from the hotel reception and by my watch. Out of 5 placed wake-up calls, one failed, which is 20% and way too much. Whenever I remembered to set my watch’s alarm clock, things worked fine. I’m just not really used to wearing a watch in my free time, it usually is part of my work uniform only.
But yes, I could get into wearing a watch. And, if I decided to live without phone for longer, I’d surely find a 2nd hand alarm clock somewhere.
Interesting side kick: Your inner clock exists, and it somewhat works! Even though I tend to not use it very often, during the past week I ‘set’ it twice, telling myself before taking a nap that I’ll plan to wake up again in about 20 minutes. It worked better than expected: One nap was 10, one was 18 minutes long.
In case you could afford to oversleep, test your inner clock for yourself. It’s fun!
Never Try, Never Know
Despite knowing that you and I are completely individual characters, one advice I find close to universal: Try phone detox for a week. Because if you don’t try, you won’t know. It might be for you, it might not be for you. But how will you ever be sure if you don’t give it a shot?
Remember Kaiser’s credo:
In 10 years’ time we only regret the things we have not done.
Getting your phone stolen might not quite be on the very top of your bucket list. Yet attempting a temporary phone detox should certainly enter the to do list for this year.
Fun fact: Everybody you tell you live without phone now will envy you for daring. But very, very few will dare themselves. Even though people would love to, they just can’t break out of their routine.
Remember this is their problem. Not yours. Trying to evangelize people is pointless.
Noble Note: Once you do decide to try phone detox, think about dropping your most important peeps a quick line beforehand. It stops them wondering why you’re not replying, and keeps them from worrying that you’re all safe.
In spite of having enjoyed my phone detox week to the fullest, I fear I’ll have to buy a new one. As long as my remote work bosses request me to have one, and are happy to pay for it, I’ll get one. However, I sincerely hope I will use it more consciously, meaning I will use my phone less. Let’s see how that goes.
In case I decided to leave my part-time employment, I can well imagine downgrading to an old school phone, mainly to call people and quickly save contact details of new acquaintances. It’d be wonderful if that phone could somehow sync with Google Contacts, to always have all data in one place. But I’ll worry about that when the day comes. (If you know anything, drop me a comment, please!)
I believe going completely offline would be extremely difficult for me. After all, I still earn most of my income with an internet connection. But I wouldn’t mind trying. Maybe also for a week, maybe an entire month, in the best case while traveling Central America with a good friend or two. Who needs internet if you have your good friends right by your side?
[Haha. Isn’t it funny to end a phone detox article with ‘your call’? Think about it for a second…
Still not? Okay. Well… maybe I’m too German. We find weird things funny.]
Anyway, the real question is: Will you dare a phone detox day? Or a week? Maybe even a month? Or have you done it before?
Let me know in the comments, please, or join the Facebook conversation – it’ll be interesting to hear your phone detox plans / stories!