I just returned from a week vacation skiing at Whistler and Blackcomb in British Columbia, about 2 hours from Vancouver, Canada. Even though it’s our neighboring country, and really not that different in look and feel than the US, Canada always makes me feel as though I’m far away in a country across the ocean. I can’t use my cell phone because I don’t have an international plan which also includes, as I learned, my data plan. Travel between the US and Canada used to be so casual (except when returning to the US); now, it requires passports and stricter checks through customs. It may have always been this way when traveling by plane–this was my first time entering Canada by plane–but it’s also been several years since I’ve driven to Toronto so I don’t know. The last time I went to Toronto, I only needed to show my driver’s license.
Anyway, trapped in the little resort town of Whistler, I was without both phone and constant internet access since not only could I not use my data plan, but my hotel did not offer free WiFi. My friend and travel companion, Janet, and I refused to pay for internet so we had to search the town for businesses who offered free WiFi to customers. We discovered that a small cafe called Gone Fishing Bakery & Soup Co and the Whistler Brewhouse both had free WiFi. (We heard that both Starbucks had it but we avoided chain coffee houses like the plague.) So I guess you could say I was forced to drink more coffee and beer in order to check my email, Facebook, and the @U2 forum while I was gone. A small price to pay for internet, no? I guess ultimately I was paying for internet… but it was like getting two services (beer or coffee and the internet) for the price of one. I like a good bargain.
I thought I would go crazy without the constant access to the world I’m used to. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone somewhere where I couldn’t readily access the internet–2007, to be exact, when I was “off the grid” in Italy. And that was before I had a Blackberry which has even increased the amount of time I spend checking Facebook, email, and, yes, the @U2 forum. I’m spoiled by my overuse. (My poor Facebook friends, on the other hand, are over-inundated with my status updates from every place I go and everything I do.) For the first time on vacation ever, I’d even brought my netbook hoping to do some blog writing in the evening.
Amazingly enough, I did not go crazy. It was so easy to let go of all that internet access–much easier than I thought. I found that my focus came back to the here and now. While I was skiing, all of my attention was focused on my skiing and admiring the scenery as I did so. Most of the days, I didn’t even bring my useless phone with me because there was no WiFi on the mountain anywhere, not even in the lodges. I had an actual camera for taking pictures. I was truly away from everything.
Along with my attachment to knowing everything about everyone all of the time, I lost all secondary thoughts about everything else going on in my life. I stopped thinking about my rock star story (which is always on the back of my mind), the too-soon excitement over my upcoming U2 concerts, stresses about trying to get a memoir piece published, work, my friends back home–everything was all gone. I even stopped worrying about my weight and money. It was so utterly relaxing. I haven’t had a vacation where I’ve let go this much in a long, long time.
Of course, I did check the internet almost every evening. But only for an hour or two. Which is equitable exchange when you consider I didn’t even touch the TV except when looking for the weather or a mountain snow report. (We did catch the last fifteen minutes of Jon Stewart one night.) Most of the time when I did access the internet, it was to answer some important personal email or communicate with my friend Kat who was watching my cat Nicki. Okay, and, I admit that on Friday night I did follow a thread on @U2 while watching Twitter updates to catch what was going on in the last quarter of the U2 concert in Chile…. I didn’t say I completely lost all my vices… (If I were home, I’d have sat followed the entire concert virtually. So I didn’t even interrupt my vacation to follow the show.)
The point is, my life didn’t–for once–completely revolve around the internet or my computer. I guess because it slowly took over my life in the last couple of years, I hadn’t realized just how much stress using it added to my life. When I’m constantly checking for status updates on Facebook or reading email, I’m not able to focus on getting anything done. What I view as a quick interruptions actually adds up to several hours of usage. Distraction. I was starting to think that I had severe A.D.D.; turns out, I’m probably just generally bored at home. When I have sufficient interesting activities, I can go without the internet.
Perhaps I should practice going off the grid more often. Instead of cycling with my cell phone in my jersey pocket, maybe I should just shut it off and put it in my saddle bag. Does everyone really need to know what mile I’m on when I’m on a century ride? It was just so refreshing to be completely away from everyone and everything. Just what I needed. I need to get away like this more often, if only on a short weekend trip. And when I’m writing, I should turn off all other distractions. I have to admit, since returning, I’m a little less interested in the internet than I was before I left. I suspect this will change in time as I become bored with everything again. But it was nice to get away from my life and distraction for a little while. I hope this break re-inspires my writing too.