Van Life: How to Unplug and Make the Most of Your Adventure

Technology. If you’re like us, you have a love – hate relationship with it. My inner geek absolutely LOVES pressing buttons and making things on the computer but I’m also acutely aware of the negatives that come with living such a “plugged-in” life. For one, we are endlessly on the hunt for good wifi. Meaning, wifi that’s moderately fast, stays connected without uninterrupted and is free. And that’s just the computer. Cell phones make it even more difficult to unplug. And that’s not even taking into account tablets, GPS running watches, iPods, GoPro’s, etc.

Van Life: How to Unplug
To shoot or not to shoot – that is the question.

Technology boundaries

One of the things we realized rather quickly into our van life adventures was that we needed some boundaries with technology. Our discovery of the need for some separation was actually completely accidental. We were driving through some gorgeous wooded road at dusk somewhere between Oregon and California when we spotted an animal that I thought was maybe a cougar or a lynx. I instantly wanted to look it up but we didn’t have any cell service. Literally for the next thirty minutes I checked my phone relentlessly almost to the point where I was begging it to get service. I actually briefly got a connection and started reading an article on the BOBCAT only to lose the signal again.

And you know what? Instead of being totally in the moment and enjoying the visit of a spirit animal I was frustrated with my phone. Pathetic. I put the phone down and started taking a hard look at my own behavior.

Since then, we’ve made some adjustments to our relationship with technology.

Our top tips for unplugging and making the most of your adventure.

Give the VIPs in your life a heads up.

Whenever I know we’re going to be in an area when we aren’t going to get good cell service I feel an immediate sense of relief because the choice to unplug has been taken away from me. Somehow it’s relieved me of the responsibility to be so “on call” all of the time. I’ve found that for the most part this forced unavailability isn’t a problem if I give the important people in my life a heads up. The list always includes my parents but sometimes it extends to friends who are going through something hard and clients at work.

But let’s say you’re not actually going into a dead zone and you just want to create a little space between you and your devices. Just give everyone a heads up, tell them it’s a new thing you’re trying for your own personal health and see if they don’t give you the support you’re looking for. We can get better at setting boundaries, even if they’re ones we create ourselves.

Plan your plug – ins.

At the start of most days Caroline and I check in about what we need to do work-wise. More often than not the conversation comes down to how many hours do we need to be connected to wifi. Most of the time the answer is a couple hours. Thanks to my phone’s hotspot I can work a lot of the time that she drives and things like photo editing don’t require the internet. But the point is that having a plan of when we’re going to get those internet needs met means that we can let go and allow ourselves to really just enjoy ourselves once it’s over.

Van Life: How to Unplug
The things we do for wi-fi. Here we are in a Taco Bell parking lot.

Tune in.

What would happen if you tracked your own behavior with your cell phone. I recently read that “…the average adult checks their phone 50 – 300 times a day”. Press here for the full article. What?! I’m pretty sure I easily (I’m embarrassed to admit this) check my phone at least 50 times a day. But 300? God, I hope not. I did a little mini-experiment on myself and found out that I didn’t reach 300 but it was waaaaay more than I hoped for.

Turn off.

If your first response is “but what if I miss a call or a text!!!!” then I’m proud of you for getting this far in the story. I mean it. You’re taking a hard look at your behavior and that ain’t easy. But your phone does accept voicemails, right? Chances are pretty good that if you do turn your phone off you might miss a call or a message but it’ll be there when you return to it. Right after you’re finished living your life. Wouldn’t it feel good to actually experience that really meaningful face to face conversation you were just having with your best friend?

technology 1
Are you present in the moment or more interested in what’s happening on the internet?

Hide the damn thing!

For me, out of sight can also mean out of mind. And when it comes to having healthy boundaries with technology that’s a good thing. Why? Because I don’t quite have the restraint to not open the phone when I see a new message pop up on my screen. Apparently this means I have a lot in common with Pavlov’s dogs but it also means that when I hide it, I can be more present in my life.

Turn the ringer off.

I’ve had my phone on silence for the last several years. The main reason is because when I lived by myself I would get so lost inside my own head that the sound of my phone would often send me two or three feet in the air in surprise. I realized how ridiculous it was that my phone had the ability to jolt me so hard and decided dang I don’t need that stress! It’s been on silence ever since.

Make it a team effort.

Caroline and I are on the same page with how to best unplug so it’s been pretty easy for us to experiment with our relationship to technology. But let’s say you’re dating someone who is constantly buried in their phone. Or perhaps its you that can hardly manage to wrest their eyes away from your screen. Might we suggest a little teamwork? What would happen if you and your mate agreed on some ways that you could unplug together? Maybe it means you leave your phones at home and go out on a date without them. Or it means laptops don’t enter the bedroom. Or that you keep your phones on silence together. We’re willing to bet that if those around you are having better boundaries with technology it’s likely to benefit everyone.

Van Life: How to Unplug
Experiment until you find the right balance for you.

Van Life: How to Unplug and Make the Most of Your Adventure Recap

Thankfully it’s not just me that recognizes the need and want for balance in their lives. Lots of people are realizing that their love for technology has gone a little too far and are looking to reclaim some of their lives by putting their phones and computers away. If only for a little bit. Though it’s likely that we may never go back to the days when no one had a cell phone, perhaps it’s possible to bring back some of what’s been missing in our lives since technology entered the picture: eye contact, feelings instead of emojis and real connection.

What strategies do you have for having healthy boundaries with technology? We’d love to hear them. Please leave your comments below!

Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

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