I went on a week-long trip to the Northeast with a Nokia 105. No internet, no Google Maps, no Instagram, no distractions. It costed me Rs 949 when I purchased it six months ago, and was my only form of communication the week I was in Meghalaya.
Let me give you a little background.
It would be an understatement to say that I am addicted to my smartphone. Right from the moment I wake up to when I finally close my eyes at night, I am constantly using it. I've gotten so efficient that I can probably accomplish every single task my modern lifestyle requires on my smartphone. From responding to emails and filling excel sheets to noting down my meals and measuring my physical activity throughout the day, I can do pretty much everything on this 5-inch device. So, you can imagine how big of an achievement this trip was for me!
There was a time when I was proud of this of being able to pull off every task using my phone. But then the burden started to weigh on me – the anxiety I got if I didn't check my phone for a little over an hour; the constant urge to open a social media app in my free time; looking at others' pictures and lamenting the lack of perfection in my own life; and of course never being off the grid even if I wanted to. I was always connected, always online.
So, basically on a whim, I decided to ditch my smartphone and the internet and go on a week-long vacation to get my bearings right and get the mental break I needed.
I took a little liberty and booked my flight tickets as well as my stay in Shillong online. But that was about it. I didn't research online about the place, nor did I get in touch with tour operators before hand. I wanted this to be a spontaneous experience.
The adventure begins
The adventures (felt like mishaps at the time) started right off the bat. On the day of the trip, I was all prepped with my luggage and essentials. But as I were about to enter the airport, I realised I had forgotten my wallet with my ID proofs at home. Since neither my brother, nor my parents were home, the only option left was to go and get it myself. I made it back to the airport just in time for the last call and that is how our great trip started.
The tech anxiety
I had booked a connecting flight to Shillong, and it was a long one. Seven hours to be precise. Usually, I carry a movie or a show on my phone to binge watch during a long flight, but since that was against the rules of the trip, I spent my time reading. And that too from an actual book – a practice I had given up about a year ago after I had purchased my kindle. Well my eyes were certainly thanking me for all this no-screen time, but there was this constant habit to check my phone (even though there was no signal) after every 30-minutes or so.
After I landed, my hand automatically went into my pocket to retrieve my phone because I wanted to check WhatsApp and Instagram. I realised almost immediately, but this constant feeling of wanting to check my social media stayed for a couple of days. It wasn't the most comfortable thing, but after I became used to the idea, it was actually quite liberating to not be tethered to a device all the time and keep looking for that constant validation from social media. I didn't know what my friends and boyfriend were up to. I had no idea what was happening in the world, and at office. It was a different kind of mental peace, especially since I knew I couldn't put my hand in my pocket and unlock the world at the touch of a finger.
The best photos
While phones have made it easier than ever to click pictures, they come with a baggage. The thought of not having my phone to click pictures freaked me out. How was I supposed to share my travel tales with everyone else, how would I have the memories of this trip, and so on. So, I decided to take out my SLR! Yup, you read that right! If I was going tech-free, I might as well go all in! The 20-year-old camera had been lying in storage, gathering dust. I decided that I would use that to click pictures the traditional way on this trip, where I wouldn't know how they turned out unless I got them developed. The anticipation was mind-blowing and the feeling when I finally got the developed prints was even more exquisite. The most treasured shots are now pinned up on a cork board in my bedroom and every time I look at them I am reminded of my time here. I didn't end up sharing anything from this trip on Instagram or Facebook and now when I tell people about it, there's a sense of wonder and amazement that follows. Can't get that from a double tap, can you?
And do you know what the best part is? The details of the places I visited are etched in my mind like a hyper realistic image. If I close my eyes and think about the place, I can still see the living root bridges, and smell the earth from when it had rained. I can see the blue skies turning into a grey cloudy veil and feel the raindrops on my face. As I was penning this down in my diary, I realised that it was just a result of paying attention, which usually is spent on social media. Once that was taken away, there was so much to witness in the real world, that the mind did not wander to anything that wasn't present in the moment.
Finding the best food
When we're connected all the time, one thing that you lose in life is the spontaneity. Even if we want to eat a simple meal, we first look up reviews on TripAdvisor or Zomato to see which is the best place to do so. As if not having the best bowl of soup in the best restaurant in a city would mean the end of life. But such is the pressure.
Here, I had none of that. I couldn't research online which was the best restaurant to have food or which was the best hotel to stay at. So I did the next best thing, I went for a walk and entered the first eatery that looked really interesting. It was a small cafe, further away from the main market, with not much footfall. But I have never had thukpa that tasted as good as theirs. I ended up striking a conversation with my server and he sort of became my tour guide and helped make an itinerary for the next six days. Double win! Had I been on my phone instead, which is usually the case when we're eating out, I would never have spoken to this guy, got to know about Meghalayan culture and would never have had the help from a local in planning such an awesome itinerary. And without the distractions of clicking pictures of the food or staying updated on the internet, I were completely lost in the flavours.
Learning to eat alone
This was probably my biggest achievement from this trip. Earlier, whenever I went out by myself (which was really rare), I would always be on my phone while I was eating so I didn't have to strike up a conversation or make eye contact with anyone. When you don't have your phone, that's kind of difficult. And I didn't open my books while I was eating on purpose. Most of the days, someone came and struck up a conversation with me all by themselves and the stories I got to know were just amazing. It's astonishing how many people I connected with in such a short span of time.
Waking up without an alarm
I am not a morning person. It usually takes me 10 alarms and several hits of the snooze button to successfully get out of bed and this was a major concern. Now my Nokia 105 did have an alarm, but I wanted to see what would happen if I didn't set it. Surprisingly, when I was there, I usually got to be by around 9, since there was nothing to do, and woke up at the break of dawn, without any external aid. This was quite literally a revelation! I didn't need an alarm the whole time I was there.
On the fourth day of the trip, I was in Mawlynnong and was staying with a family in the village. The weather was really nice, so I decided to take a walk around the village in the afternoon and explore surrounding areas. I didn't have a map (major mistake), so I trusted my sense of direction and set out. By the time I decided to return, the sun was setting and I somehow took the wrong gully and lost my way. The house that I went to ask for help had a huge German Shepherd guarding the door. It wasn't just that I couldn't enter, the dog chased me all the way down the street and up a tree in the dark. Hearing me shout, a few people from nearby houses came out and helped me get down. Once the dog was safely locked in its house, a middle-aged man actually walked me down to the house I was staying at. We ended up chatting with him and my hosts even invited him for dinner. We all had a great laugh over a hot, delicious meal.
The best trip of my life
I don't know if I've ever had a more productive trip in my life. I ended up making some wonderful discovery, met some really great people, discovered new places to eat, learnt to eat alone, finished reading two books in a week, got into the habit of writing again, and definitely didn't feel the urge to have a smart phone stuck to my hip. Most importantly, I discovered what really living feels like. I am not even exaggerating. Being cut off from everything that was stressing me out was the best therapy I could've ever asked for and it helped me get back on track with a new vigour and enthusiasm. Phones schedule and compartmentalise our lives, which rob us of being able to experience novel and exciting things, which in essence is what travel is all about.
Next on my agenda?
I'm so glad that my first tech-free trip was in my home country, and amidst people that somewhat spoke one of the languages I knew. I want to travel next to a land completely unknown, to push my boundaries further, and to get to know my strengths. Every vacation or trip I take from now on will be sans a smartphone and gradually, hopefully, free of any sort of technology!