Travel Podcast Ep. #13: How to Take an Unplugged Vacation with Courtney Scott
Between tourists FaceTiming on the streets and Instagram influencers posting perfect travel photos, it seems like we need to document our every move while on vacation. Guest host and filmmaker Courtney Scott interviews Tansy Kaschak, Sustainability Editor for A Hotel Life and Heather Lilleston, founder of Yoga For Bad People, for tips on how to actually disconnect and recharge during your next vacation.
Courtney Scott: Hello and welcome to Out Travel The System. I’m going to ask Brian and Danny, our audio folks to help me with something. Could you please turn the theme music completely off? Thank you. Now could you all just take three deep breaths with me? I wanted to do that so we’re all in the same headspace to explore today’s topic, digital detox. I’m travel filmmaker and TV host, Courtney Scott filling in for Nisreene Atassi. These days a smartphone in a traveler’s hand, selfies amidst astounding natural beauty, and screens to the left, right and center are ubiquitous sites. We want to take a closer look today at the arguments for putting the digital devices down and fully experiencing the world around us. My fellow explorers on this journey are travel journalist, Tansy Kaschak, the Latin American and Sustainability Editor for ahotellife.com, and global citizen, Heather Lilleston, co-founder of Yoga for Bad People.
Tansy, let’s start with you. You are very deliberate about your digital choices when you’re traveling and you suggest people should either download the offline version of the Maps app or put away Maps altogether. Why?
Tansy Kaschak: If your daily life is made of rushed mornings, commuting, getting on the phone to check the weather, and what’s the shortest route to get where you need to go, it’s great because phones help us in so many aspects of our daily logistics. I want to think that changing the scenario in terms of how are you behaving in the interaction with your phone will automatically create space for new things to come, and new things to happen. So especially if you’re traveling somewhere new, what is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t follow the map? You’re going to find yourself wandering through the streets of a place that you were there to discover. So yes, I tested myself and I realize how much more I gained from traveling experiences where I was not so worried about following the rules that I use in my daily life, simply allowing for things to unfold in a more natural way.
Courtney Scott: I mean cell phones are an essential tool to travel. We have our boarding passes, our itineraries, our hotel reservations, chatting with friends about meeting up, maps to find out where we need to go, but I like the way you’re approaching it. There’s a disconnect that you can make with your cell phone while still relying on it. Just to be clear, you’re not saying that people should wander around completely unprepared, that they should still have a sense of safe or unsafe areas to go and make sure they know where certain locations are, right?
Tansy Kaschak: Absolutely. Whether you’ve been reading a travel guide in a print format, or you’ve done your research online, or you’re going to ask your hotel concierge for an indication or asking friends for yes, follow common-sense rules. You don’t want to find yourself in trouble or being in an uncomfortable situation, but there is that fine line to measure things. One trick that I like to use a lot and it also helps into not blowing up your roaming and data on your cell phone bill, is downloading an offline version of maps. So if you go on Google Maps, you can there is a setting on the things you can select, you can use offline map, and you select which is the area you want to download and that means that even if you’re not connected to wifi, or on your data network, you are still going to be able to find places that you pin on the map. You can still see that two blocks away from here, five blocks away from here, there is a place that I have already pinned, let me go check it out. So it’s this fine balance to using technology, but not being completely dependent on it.
Courtney Scott: I also love that you’re a huge fan of asking questions and asking for directions on the street. I mean you speak so many different languages so it’s easy for you, but talk a little bit about why you love that so much.
Tansy Kaschak: Well because for me the best part of traveling is really connecting with the people in that place. Not necessarily locals, it can even be other travelers. 100% of the time that I open myself to asking others, I did end up stretching my experience to places that were very rewarding.
Courtney Scott: I love that. Okay, Heather, before we get into digital detox, we have to know why is it called Yoga for Bad People?
Heather Lilleston: Well, we call it Yoga for Bad People, because yoga is really a practice of getting outside of your comfort zone and having the courage to rebel against your habitual patterns of thinking, moving, and breathing. So really the word “bad” is like a pun on being rebellious. Travel fits right into that, travel is so much about getting out of your comfort zone and trying on a new language, a new rhythm. You go to certain places and you eat dinner at midnight, and you go to certain places and you wake up at five in the morning and that allows you to really get out of the habitual patterns of existing. That’s what the yoga practice is designed for, is to shift our perspective in that way, to give us a new way of looking at things just like travel. So we use the word “bad” to just really invite everybody into the practice that yoga doesn’t have to be some separatist thing that’s only for people who want to get a Ganesha tattoo and change their name into a Sanskrit name, but really yoga is the practice that welcomes all. There’s something for everybody in the practice.
Courtney Scott: I have personally been to two Yoga for Bad People retreats now and you’re right, there are so many walks of life of people who come and it’s not that extreme. I mean, don’t get me wrong, your classes are physically very challenging, but there’s a really fun spirit to what you bring. Are people allowed to use cell phones on the retreats as we bring in the digital detox theme, I’m curious about that?
Heather Lilleston: We are pretty open-ended on that. It’s come as you are, travel as you’d like, show up in class that’s all we ask. We have done a number of what we call deep retreat, and that is where you turn off your phone and there are silent lunches and a lot of study time. Those have been some of the most profound retreats that we’ve done. When we first started going to Cuba, there was 100% no cell phone service there and it was really an incredible experience for all of us. I mean, I went completely off the internet, my phone, for an entire week. Not everybody did that. There were a few wifi hotspots, but they were so unpredictable and undependable. You think when you go off the internet and you get off your phone and you don’t really have that kind of communication that you’re used to, that you’re going to miss out on something. At the end of the week, I remember being so nervous to turn my phone back on when we landed in Miami and it was like nothing had happened. It was almost disappointing.
Courtney Scott: It’s amazing, right? It’s super powerful. Tansy, I want to make it clear that you’re not anti-technology or digital devices, but you have thought a lot about being more intentional about your usage. So how do you maintain that balance?
Tansy Kaschak: I truly appreciate the genius of humankind for having created such devices, but it’s always a fine line on how to bring a balance into the use. So my personal tricks, I love airplane mode and I use it as often as I can if I’m writing, researching, or reading. I try to think back in the old days when all we would have was a landline and if you were not home, your family, your neighbor, or your friend, would call and not find you somehow they would find you at another time and life will go on just the same. I just feel that releasing myself from getting constant notifications creates a great deal of mental space so I try to do that on a daily basis.
Courtney Scott: I agree completely and I think that’s another great tip that you mention, which is going into your notification settings and you probably don’t even realize how many notifications you have on. I try to turn them all off. I think airplane mode, and switching off notifications is really important if you want to strike that balance. There’s a challenge with the expectation of us all being accessible, especially if it’s your boss looking for you 24 hours a day, or friends or family when they ping you and then it takes hours for you to respond, and they wonder where you are. How do you think we can cope with the professional challenges that people face when they are expected to be available and online all the time? Heather, you can also jump in on that as well.
Tansy Kaschak: Well to start I think it is not okay for anyone to expect, especially your boss, that you are available 24 hours a day because we as individuals should have the total power to turn off. Yes, you have your dedicated hours that you have agreed upon to work. Unless you are a doctor saving lives, which even there we should find some balance, I can’t justify it. I think it’s very unhealthy, and we have many studies now already showing how never disconnecting is bringing very damaging results to mental and physical health. So I think it’s all about reclaiming our land, reclaiming our space. Even if it’s little by little, and creating perhaps that hour in the morning that you wake up and before you turn your phone back on, you take half an hour or one hour for yourself. Start with one thing and see how that feels. Another quick tip I wanted to give is that a few years ago I started wearing a watch again and the reason why is because I realized that every time I wanted to see what time it was I reached for my phone, I would most likely not just look at the time but do something else.
Heather Lilleston: I love the idea of wearing a watch. I really feel like it is so easy to, whatever mood you’re in, or whatever space you’re in to respond to emails really quickly, or respond to a text really quickly, or get super frustrated when the service isn’t good and the page is loading and loading and loading. All of these things can be avoided if you just carve out a very specific amount of time where you’re going to sit down, you’re in a good zone, it’s quiet, you’re in the mood to look at your emails, you want to get some work done and then you’re so much more productive.
Courtney Scott: Heather, how are you altering your social media patterns based on this consciousness and sort of shift towards becoming more digitally detoxed? I know social media is such a big part of your business.
Heather Lilleston: Social media for me has always been really fun. It was really fun to capture images, to write stories that are connected to it, to have a little snippet to express myself and get feedback from that, from people around the world — that was always fun for me. So I’ve really maintained to make the effort to really only do it when it feels fun and that’s part of the Yoga for Bad People method as well. It’s like no matter what it is, or what you’re doing, you’ve got to find the humor in it, you’ve got to find the play in it. You lose your luggage, well, you’ve got to find the humor in it. Your plane is delayed, you’ve got to find the magic in that, the humor in that.
There’s humor and playfulness always available so if social media starts coming down like a bag of bricks like some kind of responsibility, then I put it aside. We go to these special locations for our retreats, and I’ve started to not geotag them because I don’t want to ruin the petite, gentle fragileness of these places. That’s part of the reason why we’re able to have profound experiences there is because they’re not covered with tourism or too many people, they’re still maintaining some sense of secrecy. I still like spinning a globe and letting my finger land.
Courtney Scott: I love that and I think you’re right. When it stops being fun on social media is when you should really take a step back. I think with Instagram soon eliminating likes, that will hopefully shift the way in which people engage. I think it’ll bring people back to a place where they can just use it as a diary and a place to share beautiful experiences that they’re having without the pressure of whether it’s going to rank high with likes.
Heather Lilleston: Sometimes it’s so healing to express yourself even if only one or two people like it, it doesn’t have to be 100 million comments. I love seeing one comment that says, “thank you so much for sharing, I needed to hear that today.”
Courtney Scott: So I know that for some people it’s an unimaginable concept to put down your phone for an hour, for a day, or even longer than that. Tansy, what do you we can gain when we put down the phone?
Tansy Kaschak: There’s so much noise and interference, all this is stimuli that are brought in via communication devices that giving ourselves the opportunity to disconnect is giving yourself this gift of clearing that away and going back to basics. I think there’s a lot to gain and for each person, it’s going to be different. I participate in a few meditation groups and what I hear is even though each person has a different experience of how that moment of stillness and silence manifests. Everybody has this common thread of finding your inner self, or finding your inner voice, of creating really this sacred moment and space where all that really matters is yourself and then you choose how you will give it away. Then you choose who you are going to welcome into it. The fact that because of technology we are automatically connected and always getting notifications makes it more difficult to do.
Courtney Scott: I think when I see people, particularly on vacation with their phones and I’ve seen families of five all sitting there at a dinner table with their phones, or laying on the beach chairs with their phones, and completely not engaging — it’s tragic to me. It hurts me to see this. I think it’s unfortunately just far too common and I think it’s nice to see some hotels sort of encouraging people to put down their phones at dinners and creating more of a hotel culture that limits the use of cell phones, but I think we have a long way to go.
Heather Lilleston: I just wanted to add one of the first things you do to deal with anxiety, which so many people suffer from, is find your feet on the ground, set your eyes on something in front of you. If we’re always looking at our phones, we are always taken out of the present moment. So if this is the advice over and over again to feel your feet in your shoes, feel the couch you’re sitting on, smell what’s in the air, these are some of the very immediate and basic tools that people use to settle anxiety. Staring at your phone in your hand and pulling you out of the present moment is the opposite of that.
Courtney Scott: That’s really interesting. I’ve also felt the power of making eye contact with people. If I’m riding the subway in New York, I tend to always look up and make eye contact, which is not comfortable for many people, but I feel that there’s such a power in that and if you’ve ever done eye gazing, you understand what that emotional upheaval can be sometimes. Just another reason why it’s so beautiful to look up.
Just one last thing. Let’s go around the table and name our top pick for a digital detox destination that we’re really excited about. I’ll go first, I visited the Galapagos Islands in 2016 and it was one of the only places at that time in the world where there was really, truly no service. It was during the election and we didn’t have any information about who won the presidential election until 24 hours later. There are very few places in the world where this actually exists. Getting on a boat, getting out into nature, really connecting with the beautiful, pristine landscape of the Galapagos Islands and really not having the opportunity to connect to the internet. I think it’s a top pick for me. Heather, where do you want to go next?
Heather Lilleston: I’m dying to go to Antarctica. I have no idea what the service is like there, but that’s my dream destination.
Courtney Scott: Tansy, I know that Heather mentioned Antarctica, I mentioned the Galapagos Islands, but there was something about Umbria that I’d love for you to discuss, and a silent dinner, which is fascinating to me.
Tansy Kaschak: I love going to places where I can be car-free. I do that sometimes even if I’m in a place where cars are available, but I will choose to spend 24-48 hours not driving or needing to engage with my phone to call an Uber. In terms of destinations, I love islands, especially the small ones where there are no cars like Panarea in Sicily, or Hydra in Greece, or even here in Columbia where there’s a place called Isla Fuerte in the middle of the ocean and there are no cars and there’s automatically a different vibe to the destination. This place in Umbria called Eremito is a hotel that is made for you to embark on a self retreat journey. People do organize retreats, but even if you don’t, just book a stay a couple of nights and there’s a sense of a retreat because it’s immersed in a forest. The rooms are in a really old building made of stones and the rooms are all individual, and activities include everything from meditation in the morning to hikes in the afternoon or silent dinners. Heather mentioned doing silent lunches at deep retreats and I find it so interesting how being in a communal activity like sharing a meal, is one of the most beautiful things to share with people. It’s great to chat, that’s mostly what we do, but shifting it to a silent experience can be very powerful. You can’t really describe it until you do it, so I highly recommend trying it. If you could organize one at home or visit a place like Eremito in Umbria, where they host silent dinners daily, it can be really special.
Courtney Scott: Really fascinating stuff. I could talk for hours about this, but unfortunately, we are out of time. Thank you both so much for joining us today. I’m Courtney Scott, guest-hosting for Nisreene Atassi. I’ll be back for two other episodes looking at festival travel and solo travel. So please come back for those on Out Travel The System brought to you by Expedia. You can also follow Expedia on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Happy travels.
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