Can I get your number?
I don’t have a phone.
He looks at me like I’m crazy and says, Look, if you don’t want to give me your number, you could just say that.
Of course I could just say that, I reply. I honestly don’t have a phone.
And that part, the part where I repeat that I actually don’t have a phone, the part where people realize that I’m actually serious, that freaks people out more than if I were to have just said no.
No is relatable. People know no. No happens. No is normal.
Life without a phone. That’s not.
Blank stares, awkward silences, an occasional “Wow!” or “OMG I could never do that!” That’s what I get in response.
Today I celebrate 1 year without a phone. Today I celebrate 1 year of traveling.
8 months abroad, 9 different countries, 22 major cities, 4 months at home with family and a few days of falling in love in New York City. All without a phone.
I left my phone behind the day I set out to travel.
I want to be fully present with the people and places I would visit.
That’s the short version.
Before I set out to travel, I questioned whether or not I wanted to take a phone with me. I attempted to weigh the pros and cons, but found those categories unhelpful. The pros and cons blurred. Each benefit had drawbacks and each drawback had benefits. I was asking the wrong question.
It wasn’t about bringing a phone or not bringing one. It was about asking myself, How alive am I willing to be? How could I, how would I connect with the world?
If I was a tourist, or perhaps just a normal person, I’d have taken a phone. But there’s nothing normal about me and this wasn’t a trip.
I wanted it to be travel, pilgrimage. I needed it to be the kind of setting out that scares people, the kind of searching that our ancestors knew before we became accustomed to staying found.
I needed it to be adventurous and unknown. Columbus sets sail into uncertainty kind of travel. Moses hikes Mt. Sinai kind of travel. Jesus loses his mind, freezes his ass off and fears for his life in the wilderness kind of travel. Buddha sits under a tree on the night of the full moon, stares at a single rose petal and is enlightened kind of travel. The initial Mecca, let’s do this as a way of life, not just once in a lifetime, get lost to get found, disorientation is actually divine and time exists to transform you kind of travel.
And I knew that if I took my cell phone that Siri would make it far too easy to stay found. So I left it at home.
Safety seemed to be the number 1 concern of my family. They wished me security.
Everything social seemed to be the concern of my friends. They wanted to see me.
But having a cell phone, I realized, would make things far too simple and I didn’t want simple, I wanted struggle. I didn’t want easy, I wanted experience.
I didn’t want to have Google Maps at my disposal, pull up answers in the palm of my hand, or browse through the Top 10 Places to See on a screen. I wanted to touch the shoulder of a stranger and ask for help, get local advice, hear stories firsthand. I didn’t want a search bar telling me where to eat.
The best restaurants will never show up on Yelp; they’ll come to you by word of mouth after you’ve shared your second beer with a local in a back alley bar.
Security will come to you after you’ve thumbed your way into a beat up car and trusted a stranger to carry you for 35 minutes on 3k of winding roads to a small village, completely inaccessible by bus, with 22 residents.
An offer to go out on a small handmade fishing boat to catch some “lunch” will come to you after you’ve taken the time to sit down and listen to the strangely alluring tune of a Spanish guitarist playing on a large rock by the beach. When you ask who the artist is, he’ll introduce himself, smile, and tell you the story behind the song. You’ll realize you’re witnessing a miracle. You’ll realize you’re living one.
Stepping out of the sun and into a shaded doorway to grab something cold and asking the woman behind the counter for her opinion will lead you to try a new piece of fruit, a type of red cactus, that is native to this island and this island only. Your enthusiasm about this delicious and exotic juice will lead her to share with you another one of her favorite drinks on the island, a cup of coffee, but not just any cup of coffee, she says, coffee made from the only coffee beans grown in Europe. And did you know, she’ll continue to tell you, that you’re standing right here in the village where we make it? She’ll reach her arm out an open window and point across the street to the valley where it’s grown. Care to try it?
Travelling without a cell phone hasn’t always been easy or convenient, not in the traditional sense of those words, at least, but it has been adventurous, memorable, meaningful.
365 have passed.
I feel connected and alive. It’s amazing how the absence of a single object can make space for so much awareness. My chin is up, my eyes open, my hands empty, ready to receive, hold, touch. I no longer suffer from phantom phone vibrations.