I lived in a minivan without a phone and internet for 30 days

I lived in a minivan without a phone and internet for 30 days

The writer and his cat Willow.
Richard East

  • I spent 30 days off the grid in the backcountry in my campervan to cure my smartphone addiction.
  • I was hoping that this experience would change my relationship with technology.
  • Instead, I realized that what I missed most was human connection, and it changed the way I travel.

Since 2015, I’ve spent most of my time traveling around Australia with my cat in a camper van. In fact, without these trips, I would never have met my wife, Steph. While I had the freedom to do and see what I wanted during this time, I became increasingly dependent on my smartphone and internet access.

During the day, every notification would catch my attention, and at night, my eyes would hurt from endless scrolling. What was once my lifeline to the outside world is now a shackle that deprives me of the travel experience.

I had one question: Who am I without my smartphone? So I decided to break free digitally and spend a month alone in the Australian outback with no access to the internet. What I discovered during this trip surprised me.

After 1,500 miles on the road, I came to a lake and the reception bars on my phone disappeared

I was in remote Queensland, more than 500 miles from the coast, and arrived to find the lake dry. Fortunately, there was a small stream nearby that had some water.

With the nearest store over 100 miles away, I packed the truck with all the supplies needed for a month: fruits and vegetables, canned food, and a big bag of cat food.

Willow, my trusted travel companion, reminded me that I wasn’t completely alone during this experience, but as I took in the raw beauty of the landscape, I wondered what I was doing there.

I set up camp by the lake, and as the dingoes howled, I felt a sense of isolation creeping in. The lack of internet access was palpable, and I was confronting my thoughts and feelings. It was a stark reminder of how much I depend on the digital world for distraction and entertainment.

As the weeks passed, I felt a deep sense of peace, but an emptiness resided within me

I became attuned to the rhythms of nature: the changing light, the grazing livestock, the smell of iron blood in the outback. I learned to get by with less, rationed water and food, and found joy in cooking meals.

Away from the noise of modern life, I found stillness, but I would find myself unconsciously reaching for my phone. Without any awareness, I would find the phone in my hand and my thumb ready to swipe. The reaction was to reach the comfort of mindless browsing, but it made me question what I was really getting into.

The outback is never devoid of people, and when a postman walking 300 miles away spotted my camp, he came over to say hello. Suddenly, I had a connection to the outside world, and I began to think about what I had really left behind.

I wrote a letter to my best friend telling him that I was alive and well and that I wanted him to let Steve know that I missed her. When the postman returned two weeks later, I handed him the letter as he told me about the world beyond the gum tree-lined creek at my camp.

As far as self-experiments go, this one was pretty ridiculous

As my month in the backcountry came to a close, I realized that I had triumphed in my exercise in solitude. But the accomplishment of spending 30 days off the grid on my own meant nothing when I had no one to share the experience with.

As I was driving back toward civilization, phone reception came back and I called Steph, who was outside, to tell her I loved her. It took me a while to process my time, and I would like to say it cured my smartphone addiction, but it didn’t. Instead, I began to realize that when I reach for my phone, what I crave is human connection — not technology.

Nowadays, I find myself making more of an effort to be part of the communities we travel through and staying in better touch with my friends. It’s important to have time to disconnect from the world, but as I’ve discovered, the value of technology lies in its ability to bring us all together.

Richard East and his wife Steph still travel around Australia with their cat. East shares his travel stories with Willow on his website www.vancatmeow.com.

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