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The Lost Art of Stepping Away

July 21, 2014 | Nepal | 28 Comments
Prayer flags, Kathmandu

I went to Nepal last month.

With Lauren recovering from mono and the rainy season already starting, trekking was off the cards. No Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Circuit for me, at least not this year.

Nepal is plagued by chronic electricity shortages – scheduled power cuts happen every day for several hours, not to mention the unscheduled ones. Unless you’re using cellular data, internet speeds are glacially slow as well. It’s a terrible place to try to get any work done online.

For three weeks, then, I couldn’t do what most visitors do in Nepal (trek), and I couldn’t do what I usually do anywhere else in the world (work). What on earth did I actually do, then?

I stepped away.

For the first week, I didn’t even turn on my laptop. In fact, the only reason I even powered it up then was to back up my photos.

I didn’t reply to emails, tweets or any of the other ways that people try to get my attention online.

The travel and technology articles that queue up to be read every day got cleared without a second glance, the ongoing hustle for new business got set aside, the notifications got turned off on my phone.

I didn’t do any writing, or reply to blog comments. My minimal level of interest in Facebook fell to nothing. I didn’t check likes, shares, retweets, visitor numbers or any of the other things that supposedly tell you how successful you are online.

I was more isolated from the rest of the world than I’d been in a long time… and I was ecstatic about it.

Damside-Park-Pokhara.jpg

I was no longer a travel blogger, or a tech blogger, or a freelance writer, or a social media addict. The only screen I stared at for hours a day was that of my Kindle, lying in a hammock outside my guesthouse and lazily swinging in the breeze.

I read more books in those 21 days than the 21 months that preceded them. I talked to more random travellers than I had in forever, too – the young British couple that were the furthest from home they’d ever been, the pair of medical students on a placement at the local hospital en-route to India, the American guy that I shared beers with on a roof terrace and swapped stories of our escape from the cubicle.

There was no talk of press trips, or Instagram followers, or blog posts. No incoherent invitations for a “collaboration” with some third-rate insurance company, or circular arguments between travel bloggers explaining how their particular approach to selling out is better than everyone else’s.

God it was refreshing.

It made me remember that the reason I left corporate life behind for good nearly three years ago, and why I’ve travelled for so long, has nothing to do with the online world. It’s for the random conversations about unknown destinations, the shared bonding over bumpy bus rides and bad plumbing, the living in the moment that requires disconnection to achieve.

Chasing pigeons, Durbar Square

Lauren and I did more sight-seeing in two days in Kathmandu than we’d ever done before in such a short time.We took photos of pigeons in Durbar Square and sipped warm Coke at a restaurant perched high above it. A small child wanted his photo taken in Bhaktapur, and the smile on his face when I showed it to him could have lit up a room.

We climbed hundreds of steps past hungry monkeys to visit a huge stupa, watched bodies being cremated beside a holy river and picked our way past cows and down hidden alleyways to get delightfully lost in a new city.

It’s amazing what turning off your laptop can do.

The magic of Nepal – and a willingness to give myself the time and mental space to appreciate it – reinvigorated me when I needed it most. I’d thought I was tired of travel, sick of being on the road. As it turned out, that’s still the thing that excites me more than anything else.

I just needed to step away from all the crap that had been obscuring the view, and throw myself wholeheartedly back into the fray. I’ll be doing the same again soon in Sri Lanka, and many more times in the coming months.

I’m not interested in #hashtags or engagement, brand ambassadorships or day rates, or any of the other noise that dominates my Twitter feed. I just care about independent travel, and the people that do it.

Nepal reminded me why I’m one of them.

 

  • In Kathmandu we stayed in a deluxe double room at Avalon House, first for three nights when we arrived and then for four nights before we flew out. The rooms weren’t fancy, but they’re clean, cool and good value. Try to get the one on the top floor — you’ll have the terrace to yourself most of the day, with a great view out over the city. It’s in an ideal location just past the top end of Thamel — you can walk to anywhere, but avoid most of the noise and touts. The included breakfast was tasty, and it’s totally worth arranging the $5 airport pickup and drop-off by emailing the owner after you book. Wi-fi was as slow as anywhere else in Nepal — pick up a local SIM card if you want usable Internet.

    Our stay in Pokhara was at Hotel The Cherry Garden, and we were very impressed. It was super-clean and comfortable, in a chilled-out spot a few minutes from the lake, run by a lovely family. The power in Pokhara was very unreliable, so there were some hot and sweaty nights, but that’ll be the case anywhere else in town that doesn’t have a generator. There were a few hammocks that were ideal for lazing around in the afternoon , and I’d highly recommend drinking as much of the masala tea on offer as possible — it was the best I had in Nepal.



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28 Comments

  1. Reply

    Kim

    July 22, 2014

    I love this. The same thing happened for me in Nepal (trekking) and I've never felt so free. I have an overwhelming desire to unplug at the moment so thanks for reminding me how wonderful it feels. Hard to believe we used to live our entire lives this way, huh?

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 22, 2014

      I'll admit that even though I couldn't travel indefinitely without being online (work = money = travel), I really do miss that simpler time when my travel electronics consisted of a film camera and a Walkman.

  2. Reply

    Andrea Anastasiou

    July 22, 2014

    What a refreshing read, Dave! As someone who's unfortunately hooked on social media and always at my laptop for work, I find it almost impossible to be away from an Internet connection. Your post made me realise that's nonsense. I think a trip to Nepal may be on the cards!

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 22, 2014

      I find internet access is one of the those things where if I know it's available, I'll pine for it. If I know it's not, I stop caring almost immediately. Getting off the grid is something I'll be doing a lot more of!

  3. Reply

    Christine

    July 22, 2014

    Have been getting this in small doses lately. Last weekend, I went upstate with my boyfriend's family--and whenever I'm traveling with them, I don't bring my laptop since I don't really want to be the girlfriend who's always isolated with her face in a screen. The lake house where we stayed had no wifi or phone service and it was SO REFRESHING. We talked, read, played games, canoed around the lake: it was so much more relaxing since I wasn't worried about Instagramming every single moment (although I did snap photos to Instagram later!). Glad you had such a wonderful time!

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 22, 2014

      I think even small doses helps a lot -- a day, or even an afternoon, without screens is so beneficial. There's no shortage of other things to do, and many of them involve actually spending quality time with people rather than just swapping FB messages with them. Infinitely more rewarding!

  4. Reply

    Chris

    July 22, 2014

    Amen Dave! Always good to appreciate what you have with a life on the road. For me surfing always comes first -technology, blogs and business always get put on the back burner when I'm in a surf spot and sitting out in the waves is my version of your pigeons in the park. You awaken to whats around you, soak it up and remember why you started it all in the first place!

    I look forward to not hearing from you ;)

  5. Reply

    This is beautifully written and reminds us all to get the technology out of our faces and to enjoy each and every moment of life.

  6. Reply

    Andy

    July 22, 2014

    Two words Dave: Fuck. Yes.
    oh, and one exclamation point.
    !

  7. Reply

    Marcia Clarke

    July 22, 2014

    Well said Dave! We all need to step back sometimes; life events will otherwise consume us!

  8. Reply

    I truly believe things happen for a reason. You got a break from your work routine and took advantage of it. We all need that from time to time. There's always something to do especially if you can open up all your senses. Great article Dave!

  9. Reply

    Diana Edelman

    July 22, 2014

    Oh my god. What on earth does that feel like?!? I kid. I actually got to do the same thing in Vernazza, Italy. At first, I had the shakes because I didn't have internet in the apartment my mom and I were staying at, or even really in the town. But then, I let it go and it was really nice to just be in the moment, to not be worrying about Instagram, numbers, blah blah blah. Nepal sounds like an absolutely amazing place to disconnect.

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 22, 2014

      And that's the thing -- you need to put yourself in a position where disconnecting is easy (or the only option), otherwise the temptation to 'just check [whatever]' will take over at some point. Being in the moment is impossible with a screen in your face or endless beeps from your pocket.

  10. Reply

    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    July 22, 2014

    Nepal is an excellent place to unplug and (ironically) recharge—we did it explicitly when we spent 3 weeks on the Annapurna Circuit, but we inadvertently did it several more times during our 3 months in the country because of power outages. I know a lot of people grouse about the dodgy electricity and slow-as-molasses internet in Nepal, but I didn't mind it much at all; like you it just allowed me to refocus my attentions elsewhere.

    For the last 5 weeks of our Big Trip before heading home, Tony & I made a decision to put the blog and web design and freelance writing and all that stuff on hold. We took an actual vacation, from RSS feeds and Twitter and all the stuff that trying to be a successful blogger entails and it was awesome. I need to remember that even travel bloggers need vacations, not just from traveling but from the internet in general!

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 25, 2014

      For me at least, the secret was setting my expectations. I knew that power and internet would be unreliable, so planned around it (eg. took my first real 'vacation' from the online world for 3+ years). If I'd expected to work and then couldn't, I'd have ended up frustrated ... as it was, as long as I had enough power to charge my Kindle once a week, I was happy. I couldn't believe how relaxed I felt by the end of my time in Nepal -- nothing was ever a problem. That feeling is something I need a lot more of in my life -- so that's what's going to happen.

  11. Reply

    Kendra Granniss

    July 25, 2014

    This is amazing. So many people are constantly "available" online or via phone. I've been trying to disconnect more while I'm in New York (a city that is always connected). I've stopped allowing myself to use my phone or my Ipod on the train. Instead I read a book or people watch. It is the most refreshing half hour of my day!

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 25, 2014

      I know exactly what you mean -- I'm back in Thailand for a month, and at the cafe I often go to for breakfast, I've started picking up a newspaper rather than relentlessly checking notifications and scrolling through timelines. So much more enjoyable.

  12. Reply

    ted

    July 31, 2014

    hey dave, enjoyed reading your story, I just got back from Thailand myself. loved it especially koh phangan, trying too find my home away from home spot. loved Thailand and will be back but wished I could of held conversation with locals . im going too phillipines and costa rica next and would love your opinion on the phillipines as the vast amount of islands and beaches look amazing ,English spoken and the people seem really cool. whats your take ? thanks ted

    • Reply

      Dave

      August 1, 2014

      I've only spent a week or so in the Philippines (Palawan), but I absolutely loved my time there. Was planning to go back later this year, actually, but that may get put off til next year. Will have to see how it goes.

  13. Reply

    Jason

    July 31, 2014

    Dave, I absolutely loved this post and feel you 110%. It's a catch 22...as screen time gives you the freedom to roam but also puts you in front of the screen more and more. I'm sure it was nice to get away from it all and back to your roots! I don't miss the walkman that much though...the ipod is pretty freaking awesome:)

    • Reply

      Dave

      August 1, 2014

      Yeah, I'll take the iPod over the walkman as well... but I'd definitely be happy to leave the rest of the tech behind and just travel like a 'normal' person most of the time.

  14. Reply

    James

    August 31, 2014

    I badly need a digital break soon ... thanks for the reminder that the world won't end if I try to do it!

    • Reply

      Dave

      September 1, 2014

      As I've been finding, the world really doesn't end... in fact, nobody really notices (except me - I'm much happier!).

  15. Reply

    DeSallis

    October 2, 2014

    For me going Nomad is reducing the digital component of my life by 70% No more working for a telco, no more sitting in front of a computer for 10 hours a day only to go and do the same thing at home to unwind. I am a tech geek, I always will be but I noticed it was eating away at me more and more. Still I can't give up on my iPhone, if only for the GPS.
    When it went flat in Venice (before I learned the secret of having a Vaporetto pass I thought I was going to lose my sh!t) I never felt as vulnerable, even with a tourist map, orienteering skills and a sarcastic Siberian traveling companion.
    Not quite Bear Grylls level survival but I managed to get us back to the Jewish Ghetto without resorting to asking for directions or being slapped by the Siberian. Result.

  16. Reply

    Dave

    October 2, 2014

    In my book, any day that doesn't result in getting slapped by a Siberian is a success. ;-)

  17. Reply

    Cindy Tan

    December 15, 2014

    Hi Dave! I'm planning to visit Nepal next year. And I'm also warned about the problem in their electricity, they have a rotational brown out. In this case, I'm planning to bring a power bank (Hope this help) or I should prepare myself for social media diet then :)

    • Reply

      Alina Jack

      September 7, 2016

      I also heard that there is a problem of Electricity in Nepal. If you are planning for Nepal, so you should be prepare for an wonderful journey. Without electricity and gadgets you can enjoy your journey and the full focus on your exploring the view and nature. Enjoy! :P


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