cell phones

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

The $21/Month Cell Phone Plan (It's Real, I Promise)

A few questions for you:

  • Does paying 3-figures for monthly cell phone service piss you off?
  • Do you have something better to do with $75 dollars a month than pay for the advertising budget of a company that doesn’t care about you?
  • Are you interested in speaking with the people around you instead of staring at a tiny glowing screen all day?
  • Do you usually use your phone’s wireless capabilities when tethered to your at home or work wireless?
  • Do you use your computer for most of your downloading/uploading/video watching?

If you answered “Yes” to 2 or more of the above questions, keep reading below 'cause I've got something amazing for you!

Bigger isn't better. 

While Verizon might have a million different stores in which to provide you with mediocre service and passive-aggressive ad campaigns aimed to take down AT+T like a junior high frenemy, they no longer have my business.

Call me crazy, but paying over $100/month in cell phone bills plus $250 every second year for my "free upgrade" isn't my idea of a good time.  And ever since Cam and I got rid of cable in February, I've been on the lookout for more ways to save money and sanity within our "base expenses."

Bye bye Comcast, smell ya later Verizon.

It’s no secret that I hate Comcast.  I hate them for their miserable customer service almost as much as I despise their over-priced cable and internet.  When Cam and I dropped cable in February, we instantly began saving $120 a month and hours of our lives.

I was beginning to feel the same with Verizon.  Though they have mediocre customer service it’s incomparably better than Comcast.  I hated how expensive my bills were.  I hated how I hate to wait 2 years to get a free upgrade that actually cost $200 plus random fees like restocking and moron tax.  

But again, like with my internet, I thought I didn’t have much choice.  AT&T was just as expensive with shittier service.  T-Mobile still required that you buy a phone at full price.  What's a minimalist to do?

"Ting - mobile that makes sense."

Then I found Ting (via my mentor Mr. Money Moustache).  Ting runs off of Sprint’s towers/network but costs about an eighth of a Sprint bill.  Amazing, right?

Oh, and did I mention that you can bring your own phone to it?  Oh, and there is no long term contract — just month to month?  Oh, and you can change your plan mid-month if you’re using more or less data? 

So it’s pretty much perfect.  How the hell do they do it?  

Instead of spending all millions of dollars filming “Can you hear me now?” or “What does this map look like?” commercials, they run by referrals and free press.  They don’t have brick and mortar stores (even less overhead) because they are not trying to sell you a bunch of bullshit accessories or even fancier phone. 

Just good cell service, amazing costs, fabulous customer service.  The only trick is you have to know about them in order to use it.  Check out Ting here.


  • When I’m out and about in SF I have full 5 bars of 3G service everywhere.  
  • I can easily connect to my home internet for full (and free) internet usage.  
  • My monthly bill is $83 cheaper (see graph above with my $21 total).  
  • You can cancel anytime you want.  
  • You can buy a new phone at anytime you want.
  • You can add another line for $6 a month.  Seriously.  For the cost of one venti soy mocha Cam and I can be on our own “family plan.”
  • Now that I no longer have an "unlimited" contract, I'm much more aware of my cell phone and data usage.


  • Slightly worse service than Verizon (can’t get service in my apartment’s stairwell or in my bathroom for example — don’t ask why I know that second part).  
  • Sprint’s map doesn’t have as much national converage as Verizon.  I should be set in the places that really matter (Bay Area and back in Chicago).  And maybe service will be fine in wine country.  Or maybe when I’m in wine country I can focus on drinking wine and being with friends and savoring the rows of vines… You know, maybe.
  • Now that I no longer have an "unlimited" contract, I'm much more aware of my cell phone and data usage.

For those hungry for more info on the process:

In order to switch to Ting you need a Sprint network phone.  I was unaware that each network had their own version of iPhone, for example.  So I purchased a refurbished iPhone 4s from Amazon for just over $200.  I backed up my phone on my iCloud account and then turned on and created the setting for my new phone — so I could see all my apps and mail live on both phones even though I didn’t have cell service yet.  I sold my astonishingly shattered Verizon iPhone 4s to a local electronics store for $60 after wiping it clean and making sure all my info had ported over to my new number.  

I was able to do everything online and be activated on my new Ting plan in a few hours.  Since then it looks like I will use only the “Small” plan for texts and data, but the "Medium" for minutes (between our amazing new clients and my sisters, this was to be expected:)  

Also, since I’m moving from the unlimited plan I’ve had my entire cell-phone life, it’s making me much more conscious of my usage.  At first it was just to save money but as with any behavior, once you are aware and notice it, you can decide how it affects your life and change it.  I’ve realized that I am super guilty of just zoning out in line or on transportation, reading some news app or scrolling through Instagram.  Now I save all of that for specific times of day at home, when I'm focused on the articles or photos and not out enjoying the real world.

How about you?  Would you switch networks?  What are your concerns?