Why I remain unplugged on vacation

We live through screens. We’re constantly regurgitating content on our smartphones, laptops, and devices from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep. I’m very guilty of this. I never unplug from my technological devices for fear that I might miss something.

In today’s age, we’re obligated to post to social media about anything spectacular in our lives, especially traveling abroad. That hype is highly emphasized if we lead a digital nomad lifestyle, such as a travel blogger.

Unplugging made me feel guilty

There are moments in my life when I want to step away from the screen and stop documenting my every move. I want to remain offline, disconnected from the outside world, frankly, become anonymous. I sincerely want to live in the moment and not examine it through a lens or another filter. 

Epiphany! I should do precisely that. Now, on every vacation, I unplug, set my phone down and put my DSLR camera away. Whether that’s for a few hours to go swim in the ocean to truly take in the magnitude of exhibits in a museum or immense architecture. On these wonderful adventures, I’ll have nothing more than just my memory.

In the past, this was a normal part of our everyday lives. But with the improvement of technology that can go underwater and is virtually indestructible, we’ve been able to witness everything from watching GoPro be swallowed by lava and live footage of skydiving.

I’ve finally granted myself the liberty to let go and simply enjoy. (Newsflash to all you haters: you don’t get to shame me for that.)

Here are a few experiences that I’ve had in recent years that I’m happy I didn’t capture on camera.


Snorkeling in La Parguera’s coral reef

On an impromptu trip to Puerto Rico, I booked a sunset snorkeling tour. I was a novice at snorkeling but felt that my Puerto Rican road trip wouldn’t be complete with at least one unique, water adventure. So off I jumped into the Caribbean Sea when nothing more than a snorkel and pair of flippers to explore the reef.

On my small tour of 15 snorkelers, I was one of the select few that did not have a GoPro in hand, which was a blessing in disguise.

I quickly became my tour guide’s protege and he showed me the creatures the called the coral reef home. Sea spiders and several species of crustaceans crawled in my hands. The critters squirmed in the water and playfully hiked up and down my arms.

It was unreal to not only see the sea creatures’ habitat but also to see them as natives in it.

Swimming in a bioluminescent bay

After snorkeling at sunset, I bathed in the sun’s last golden rays before embarking on a bioluminescent bay tour with the same tour company. I scarfed down my chicken sandwich as our boat jetted in the opposite direction of the reef and toward the bay.

My teacher gave our group a quick science lesson on the bioluminescent bay and how it was able to glow green in the moonlight. At the end of his short spiel, he looked at us and said, “Jump in.”

Now, I’m not one to jump into a sea that could be teeming with sharks, when it’s pitch black outside, and it is the precise feeding time for these creatures. Yet, I threw caution to the wind and was the first tourists to leap off the edge of the boat into the water.

Expecting the water to be cold, but I was embraced by the warm sea that seemed warmer than the water in my shower. The rest of the tourists oohed and aahed as the water glittered in short green snaps.

There, for at least an hour, I swayed in the sea and danced with the algae. It tangled itself in my hair and I felt I could’ve been a mermaid in a past life.

Yet, there I was again, without a camera in hand. And I definitely didn’t mind.

Swimming between two tectonic plates

Nowhere else in the world can you dive or snorkel between two tectonic plates, and I was “crazy” enough not to document this experience.

The gap between the two tectonic plates is called the Silfra Fissure. The Silfra Fissure has crystal blue water that you can see up to 100 meters in. The water is an average of 3 degrees Celsius year round, so it’s an exceedingly cold dip. On my Iceland road trip in November, I decided to snorkel the fissure and witness and taste some of the coldest, freshest water of my life.

And it didn’t disappoint.

I admired the seemingly psychedelic walls and troll hair that floated around and drank the cold glacier water as I drifted through the fissure. I was frozen due to the cold but also frozen in awe. This was nothing like snorkeling off the coast of a tropical beach. It was something else entirely.

Yet, I was “silly” enough not to document in on camera.

Soaking in Lake Myvtan Nature Baths

Now, I’m not one to boast about being caught in a blizzard. But being caught in a blizzard while soaking in a thermal spring, that’s surreal.

After a long day of driving in Iceland, I decided to splurge and relax for the rest of the evening in the Jardbodin vid Myvatn, which translates to Lake Myvtan Nature Baths.

When I parked my car and walked inside to buy my ticket, there was already half an inch of snow accumulated on the ground. Unsure of whether it was going to stop, I took the chance that the milky, turquoise waters would keep me warm enough.

I am guilty of taking one quick snapshot before escaping into the water’s warm embrace, but otherwise, I left my phone locked away as I soaked in the geothermal spring.

I first enjoyed my doppelbock beer as I soaked in the wading pool. It was like watching the Kentucky Derby horses whiz by in a race above me. All the snow looked like racing streaks against the darkening sky. Within a few minutes, the sun had sunk below the horizon and darkness set in. Even then I could see the white streaks whip across the indigo night sky.

Yet, surrounding me was such a brilliant hue of turquoise that I didn’t feel like I was in a snowstorm. I was constantly reminded that I was only by the cold snowflakes that melted on my scalp and cheeks.

Two inches of snow later, I left refreshed and completely relieved of my stresses for the day.

Gazing at the Northern Lights

Now it would seem that all these experiences, have a theme — they’re all water activities. So I’d like to include a memory that isn’t specifically water themed.

On my 10-day road trip in Iceland, I saw the Northern Lights nearly every night! I can recall seeing on a rare occasion the green lights glimmering in the distance a child where I grew up in Minnesota.

The nights I saw in Iceland looked as those they were dancing across the sky. They weren’t just a green hue either, there were streaks of magenta and even a yellowish tint to this magnificent auroras.

At first, I attempted to photograph this phenomenon. The auroras were too faint at first because of cloud coverage and the incoming snowstorms, but they were still brilliant to view. They had a milky layer to them, but I could still see the rich auroras prance across the skies.

As the days drew on, I was less inclined to grab my camera. Even if the Northern Lights danced tauntingly overhead. I preferred to relax, gaze at the constellations and simply admire.

Being unplugged I was able to live in the moment. I didn’t have to dash from the hot tub in hopes I clicked an envy-inducing photo. Instead, I have a multisensory-induced memory that will live on. 

Somber museum experiences

On a less cheerful note, there are experiences that you unplug for out of respect. One of the most sobering museums I’ve visited is Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute. As a white, millennial who grew up in the northern United States, learning about the Civil Rights movement was a passe task for me. It was a single unit that we spent time on in high school and nearly really addressed simply because most of the Civil Rights Movement “didn’t affect us.”

To me, there were only a few faces and names that I could easily associate with the movement. Thankfully, now that’s different. The Civil Rights Institute honored and respect to all individuals who played a part. The interactive museum definitely taxed on your emotions. I spent most of my time meandering those the museum’s timeline exhibits experiencing shock, grief and immense respect for each story it detailed and remembered. 

Outside of the institute, there is a park that honors more of these heroes with statues and plaques of their hardships. The juxtaposition between the lush, natural beauty the park offers and the sadness that surrounds these memorials is solemn, yet dignified.

On the corner of the park, there is a statue of four small girls playing together. This is position directly across from the 16th Street Baptist Church. The church was bombed in 1963 by members of the Ku Klux Klan and killed four young girls and injured 22 others. This is yet another poignant reminder of the dark history the United States once had. It’s also a testament to why change is monumental. 

Was it worth it?

All these experiences are so much more describable since I was unplugged and had no distractions. 

I’m content to just sit and not document every moment, though the journalist in me tells me that is so terribly wrong. Sometimes through simply observing you get more out of a moment. You remember the smells in the air, the texture of the mud under your feet — more details permeate those memories. That could be because we strip away all the chaos associated with getting the perfect Insta shot or Facebook profile photo.

All of these experiences could have been remembered again and again with a visual reminder, but I’m satisfied with my own recollection of the event. My memory can talk for hours about the marvels I saw, yet, as they say, sometimes a picture is only worth 1,000 words.

About the Author

Quirky Globetrotter

Hi! I'm Martha! The mastermind behind Quirky Globetrotter a feminist travel blog. Quirky Globetrotter is devoted to telling narratives devoted to female solo travel and hidden gems worldwide with an emphasis on intersectional feminism and how that impacts travel on a global and local level.

57 thoughts on “Why I remain unplugged on vacation

  1. I can relate so well to this post. So many of us love time away among the beauty of mother nature which can be quite an awesome experience. It is only natural that you always want to preserve some memory of it that you can share even though a photo or description can never take the place of actually being there. Nevertheless there is so much to be said for unplugging completely to really absorb and appreciate the majesty, beauty and serenity that only nature can provide.

    1. Yes, Mother Nature is one of my favorite destinations! I think it’s perfectly justifiable to want pictures of nature and things you’ve seen, but if that inhibits you from enjoying the moment, that’s when it’s gone too far.

  2. Wow! It’s impressive that you unpluged yourself from technology devices. I agree that when we stay away from technology and remember about places just by our memories, it’s way more enjoyable. I can imagine that it’s pretty hard as a travel blogger since you need to write and document those experiences again with pictures/ videos. I’m trying to unplug myself while traveling as well, so I don’t use phone much while traveling, but I still love to take pictures and send it to my love ones.

    1. I know it’s completely unrealistic to think that you can completely break free of technological devices, especially as travel bloggers. That’s why I try to do at least one experience that’s device free. Happy travels!

  3. I try to do the same too, except for taking photos. It’s important to enjoy the moment as it is and the experience. With social media and the digital world, we can get too consumed with trying to capture the experience on a digital form instead of living through it, which I think is far more long lasting!

    1. Even so, I still think there are moments that don’t need to be photographed. Like my Northern Lights example. Sometime I’ll photograph the Northern Lights, but for now, I’m perfectly content with my memories of the Aurora Borealis.

  4. I think that you are doing what we should all be doing. I took a break in October and didn’t regret a thing. I had the time of my life enjoying learning how to ride a motorbike in Italy and trying out my cooking skills in the kitchen every night. And all this without sharing anything on social media. Yes, I did drag my DSLR with me in Italy but do you know how many photos I actually took with it? About 5, of a sunset, one evening. Breaks keep us healthy!

  5. I love having time out and I usually do this camping in the mountains with my husband, they only thing that I use my phone for is taking pictures and I don’t really look at these until I come home and I am back on online. The best thing is that our phones do not work there so we have to put the away. 🙂 Our memories are such an amazing and intriguing thing. I know this may sound small but I always make sure we don’t have our phones out dinner which gives us a little break too. Good post

    1. This is definitely a great opportunity to do so! I love that cell phone reception is limited, but as you said, taking some photos is necessary when you’re in a pristine environment like the mountains.

  6. I’m somebody who’s more often without access to internet data than I like to. We are travel bloggers too, but often prefer to take back roads. Mobile reception in many countries can be more than patchy… But I understand, as I’m someone who often almost ‘forgets’ to take photos of social meetings – or decides consciously against it. I feel the camera acts as kind of barrier between people, particularly when you are really immersed in an interesting conversation.

    1. Yes! Having limited cellphone reception is sometimes a blessing in disguise. And I’m glad you understand the barrier of the camera lens that I was trying to describe. Thanks for reading and happy travels!

  7. I think this is a great post, such a good reminder that we all need to disconnect from time to time, even when we travel. These all sound like amazing experiences, but swimming in a bioluminescent bay would be pretty amazing. I know I’ve seen the northern lights back home in Alberta (just the green hued ones) and trying to take a picture never really works. Sometimes it’s just best to sit back and enjoy the show.

  8. Wow this looks like such a cool vacation. I love to disconnect from time to time, especially from social media. And just focus on the things that matter: nature, friends etc. I would love to see the northern lights someday…

  9. Wow this looks like such a cool vacation. I love to disconnect from time to time, especially from social media. And just focus on the things that matter: nature, friends etc. I would love to see the northern lights someday…

  10. I agree. Sometimes I too do it. Esp., when I’m at certain exotic location, I just want to snuggle up in my guy’s arms and enjoy the setting rather than we both doing our own separate stuff on our phones! Just doesn’t make sense, does it!

  11. The very reason why I started a blog was to document my travels. But now as you rightly said it has got a bit too high documenting every move. The charm of experiencing a moment reduces drastically. And what a coincidence I didn’t record my first snorkeling moment. But I enjoyed those moments thoroughly. 🙂

  12. I can totally see why you unplugged yourself for these experiences. They all sound incredible, especially swimming between the tectonic plates! I’m also putting the phone down when travelling and experiencing the moment as it happens.

  13. To be honest, at first reading your post I was thinking yes yes yes but then NO NO NO!😂 I agree that we should turn off the phone and lay down our camera and enjoy the moment…but I could never not taking pictures while snorkeling! Thats my biggest passion of all time, under water photography. And seeing the northern light is one of my biggest dream so I just cant imagine not taking a few shots if I ever get the chance. But dont get me wrong, I do think that we overdo with our screen time and the perfect instashot. I just belive that we could do both…in a good balance.

    1. Exactly! And for me, those were the moments I decided to unplug for. Unlike you, I’ve seen the Northern Lights multiple times ever since I was a kid, so maybe it’s a little less glamorous for me. Similarly, I adore underwater photography as well! I’m just not a great snorkeler yet. Maybe when I’m more of a snorkeling pro I’ll dive into underwater photography, ha! Like you said, it’s all about balance. You can pick whatever moments to unplug. For you that might be the view in a meadow or top of a mountain. The moments do not have to be the same for either of else, that’s what makes our travel experiences so great and unique!

  14. This is SUCH an important post. I loved hearing about your undocumented experiences and I completely agree that we absorb so much more about our surroundings when we don’t have a camera attached to our faces. From the northern lights to that evening in the blizzard, I’m sure you’ll remember those moments vividly because you were 100% present in them. I think it’s something we can all do more of in our everyday lives too, as well as in the special moments. Thank you for writing this wonderful post 🙂

  15. You’ve definitely had some amazing unplugged experiences–being caught in a blizzard in a thermal bath! Omg, that sounds intense and wonderful. All the same… the thought of being without my camera makes me itch!! No wifi, no social media… I could live without that, but my camera would be MUCH harder to give up!

    1. Yes, I struggle without my camera as well. Sometimes it’s easier to unplug if I know the conditions might not be conducive to photograph — yet it’s still hard! I love the challenge and joy I get from photography so it is still hard to put it down and truly enjoy the moment.

  16. Thank you for reminding me to step away from the screen, both on vacation and in my everyday life. I think I’ve become so used to spending my days staring at my phone/computer that I’ve forgotten how much it truly affects me. Can’t wait to see how much more focused, joyful and present I feel when I just let myself take in an experience.

    1. Yes, my post focused specifically on travel, but stepping away on a daily basis is also important! Even if it’s just during dinner time, that’s a good step! Glad that you understand the power of unplugging, too!

  17. Oh, this is just what I wanted to read. I do that all the time too. In fact, every vacation, I keep a day aside for living the place through my own eyes. It serves as a detox and I leave my phone and camera behind. 🙂 Cheers!!

  18. Unplugging is one of the most amazing and freeing moments. I actually feel like those moments in time are truly mine and I don’t have to share them with anyone else. Now as a travel blogger, I do have those moments when I’m like everyone would have loved to see this. And as a photographer, there’s moments I know could be that award winning shot and I don’t have a camera with me. BUT some of my favorite memories of our travels are when I sat down the camera and just enjoyed the moment in time for myself. 🙂

    1. I completely agree! I’m a former photojournalist, so I constantly have that “award-winning shot” mentality. But sometimes, that completely takes away from the moment. If I’m able to slow travel, be at a destination for a long time, I’m not too worried about spending a lot of time getting the perfect shot. Other times, when I’m only in the country for a week or two, I know that my time is precious. Since documenting our entire travels is exhausting, I crave these moments where I can unplug. In Belize, I unplugged while I was in the jungle and it was so worth it! Thanks for reading!

  19. Some of my most remarkable travel memories are moments where I was by myself, no camera or phone, just watching and feeling the world around me. With the kind of hyper-connected lives we lead, unplugging every now and then is so very important. Now I love taking pictures, but even so I try to take out time during trips to go free of devices and just enjoy the moment.

    1. Hi Neha! That was so poetic when you said, “watching and feeling the world around me.” I think that’s the most important of traveling is “feeling” the world around you. Sometimes you can still feel the world when you have a lens up to your eye, but I think it’s also important to soak in that emotion for a short time. Even if it’s only a few minutes. That’s a memory that will last your entire lifetime. Thanks for reading; happy travels!

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