I’ll need to write a few hours each day in Mexico but I’m only going on the grid to post my daily Instagram. We were off the grid a bit when we went to Cambodia, like for an afternoon during our long long bus ride but our trip to the Andaman Islands (they belong to India but they are closer to Thailand) was my very first experience being completely unwired after being plugged in for over a decade. This article appeared in January 2013 and you can find this and other pieces about India at edgyjunetravels.com
The hushed voices in the airplane’s cabin were suddenly overwhelmed by electronic tweets, bells, whistles, and snatches of pop tunes as we pulled into the gate at the Bhubaneshwar airport. It was over. After ten days of an almost complete unawareness of news bounced from keyboards and pads into space, we were back on the grid. My iPhone was no longer a large repository of old messages, lists, and music with the words “no service” across the top but a living breathing extension of my brain and my consciousness once again. I was overcome with a huge and completely unexpected sense of loss.
Ten days before this, I was a little panicked about going off the grid. I had a teenager at home and a young adult freshly on his own. What if they needed me? What if their father was “too busy” to deal with whatever it was one of the sons needed? At least we didn’t need to worry about unanswered calls telling us our dog had escaped from the neighbor’s yard. What if I missed something happening in the world? What I missed the biggest meme of the century? What if didn’t know who won the election until days after the fact?” But most important, what if all my dependence on technology had muted and stunted my imagination to the point of boredom because I could no longer entertain myself without the magic notebook or magic box?
Fortunately I had six months to mentally prepare myself for being disconnected from the ‘net and without mobile phone service. The Girl teased me about it, mocking my need to read the news and stay connected to the outside world via the web. But she was right, I love being wired and connected. The last time I wasn’t wired was 1998. Like many people, one of our top lodging requirements is free Wi-Fi. But Wi-Fi isn’t possible at Barefoot Havelock. It was one thing to be without Wi-Fi but it was completely another to be without a mobile phone. Cellular signals don’t exist either. I couldn’t even text message or call either son to check up on them, ask after the election, or latest meme. Television? No television at Barefoot, either. After so many years of having the far reaches of the world at my fingertips I was going to drop off the side of the Earth and be unreachable unless you phoned an office in Chennai and they sent a message to our resort. By the time I boarded the Delhi bound airplane last October the idea of being off the grid for a week or so felt novel and a little daring. Places without at least cellular service are rare and quickly disappearing. At least they are for the nonadventurous traveler like me, who withers at the idea of backcountry camping in the middle of Kenya or ice kayaking off the coast of Antarctica.
I remember looking down at my phone when we were crossing continents and our first stop was in Germany and I saw those menacing words for the first time: “no service”. “What the He–” was my first thought. Silly cellular company doesn’t have service in Central Europe? How can my sim card be compatible in the third world but not a different place in the first? It made me a little twitchy so I was a little worried going off the grid would be a completely unforgettable experience because I was miserable and bored.
I first noticed the dearth of cell phones planted in almost every human’s ear when we were lolling around waiting to board the ferry in Port Blair. And the only time I saw phones out after this was for picturing taking opportunities as the Indian men tried to shoot seriptious pictures of the Western women and the Western women snapped the shore line moving slowly past the smiling heads of their companions.
After the saga of a predawn cab ride through foggy Delhi to the airport; a small odoriferous regional jet; a ferry with two options, standing topside or sitting on narrow hard seats below; and a bouncy van ride through the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen; I was a little sad I couldn’t call, text, or email someone and say: “We made it! And the only thing missing was a chicken bus and a tuk-tuk!” I had to be content with nodding sagely at The Girl and asking: “Can you believe it? We’re here!”
The only time I was a little unnerved about being off the grid was the morning I awakened after a terrible dream featuring Beav as a small child, sick and alone. Once I shook off the dream, I realized I had forgotten to email our itinerary to him and he hadn’t a clue where we were. I had a terrible image of him explaining to the authorities–for any number of reasons ranging from a house fire to his father’s death–that he knew his mother was in India but unsure where and she wasn’t reachable by phone. I felt like the impossible love child of Auntie Mame and Andrea Yates. How could I have been so irresponsible? I had to find a phone and call him. Fortunately there was a phone a short tuk-tuk ride away; a landline phone with an instrument a half-generation removed from a rotary dial model. But it worked, and I could clearly hear his voice telling me everything was fine and he did know we were off the grid in The Andamans, but thanks for calling because: “I really miss you guys this trip.” A mother’s worries for naught. Lesson learned? Leave your itinerary with the family before you leave home. (A no-brainer for most of you I’m sure)
We leave for Mexico in a little over two weeks. We go where our smart phones are smart and the wi-fi is relatively fast and easy to access. I’m a little sad about this because the level of relaxation and mental freedom I achieved was the sort I’ve never felt before. I’m considering challenging myself and going off the grid when there is a grid available to me. Can I do it? Perhaps it will be made easier by remembering how jarring and sad it was to hear all the devices alerting us to the world that afternoon on a tarmac in India.