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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.
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.