Unplugged: Life Lessons from 5 Days Without a Cell Phone

image //  via

image // via

Earlier this month I took a quick to Chicago to help my parents get their home of 30 years ready to sell (it didn't hurt that this happened while I was there:).  

And in the chaos of airport security at 10pm on a Saturday night and my excitement over being midwest bound, I forgot my phone.  

Must have left it right on the conveyor belt where it fell out of my bag and I didn't notice it's absence until I trudged all the way to my gate at the end of the International Terminal.  

The Search.

I'm trying to text my dad that I'm getting ready to board and the flight is on time when I realize it's missing.

Start moving things around my purse.  Check the pocket my phone is normally in.  Pat down my pants and jacket pocket.  Re-check purse, vigorously pushing books and eye masks side-to-side.  Nervously pat down all parts of my clothes that could possibly contain a phone (sweater sleeve, anyone?).  Re-check purse pockets.  Open up books.  

And finally, pull out each item one at a time checking to see if my wallet or Lara Bar mysteriously ate or absorbed my phone.

Real life.  No cell phone.  5 days.  

Now don't get me wrong, I love to leave my phone off on weekends in the country.  I relish campsites with no service.  A week on the beach is best spent without internet.  Unplugging on a vacation is the only type of vacation for me.

But this was different guys.  I had to live my real life -- work, emails, calls that expect return, weekdays, news apps that need to be read -- without my electronic pacifier.  For 5 days.

My gut reaction when I realized I didn't have my phone?  

To sprint back through two terminals, likely missing my flight and the one time I've ever sat first class* in my entire life because I hoped my cell was at security.  

My second reaction?  To text Cam and tell him I lost my cell.  

My third?  This is so boring, I should check Instagram.  

My fourth?  I should respond to those emails before they close the doors.

And so on until at about option 20 when I --gasp-- struck up a conversation with my seatmate.  

He shared a few funny stories about his reunion weekend he'd just been at and showed me photos of his adorable daughter. Then I read briefly, then I fell into blissful sleep (for the 3 remaining hours of the flight).

It was weird to wake up on the other side of my brief redeye flight and not know if my dad was coming to pick me up.  It was a little stressful when the free O'Hare cab phone didn't seem to be in service.  It felt strange to not tell Cam I'd landed safely.  

Slowly, I got used to it.  

I watched the sunrise over the old familiar landscape as the cab floated down the highway home. Cam and I reverted back to the philosophy my parents and I used in my year living in Phnom Penh and my subsequent months of traveling solo: no news is good news.

And then, by day two or three (after the withdrawal symptoms had faded) it was suddenly easy.  

I looked up directions before I left for an errand.  I got used to the boredom and frustration of sitting in standstill traffic and waiting in lines without my phone to distract me.  I set aside time for things I would normally do throughout the day: check email, text, read news.  

Then all of the sudden it was amazing.  Liberating.  Spacious.  Free.  

And that list above?  It's full of my heavy-hitting, most desired feelings.  Which got me thinking that this cell-free thing would be nice to integrate into my regular life.

Now don't get me wrong, my cell phone is my lifeline between me and my family.  Facetime is the only reason I can stand living 3 time zones from my nephews and niece.  Being able to take high quality photographs and respond to emails while on a quick break from working with a client -- they help our business go 'round.

But I use my phone for so much more than that.  To pass the time, distract myself.  To feel very important.  To structure my time (reactively).  In doing so I miss the people and experiences around me.  Boring, amazing, and everything in between.

And let's face it, most of life happens in between.


Could you go cell-free?

Join me in spending just an hour or two tonight with your cell phone on airplane mode.  Or try making your commute to work on Tuesday with your cell phone off.  Or even go to dinner with a loved one and leave your phone at home (!).

Share your cell free experiences in the comments below or on Facebook!

*The top reason for last minute travel?  First class tickets for redeye flights from SFO-ORD (11pm PST - 4:15am CST) are the same number of miles as coach.  #BALLER