A journey Unplugged - London to Brussels

In ‘a journey unplugged’ our team embark on a series of adventures, without their phones. 

At SPACE we’ve always been firmly against any kind of digital detox.  Technology is so important to everything we do.  And it enables so many great things like communicating, entertaining, navigating.  We know that healthy relationships with our phones come from being aware of how we use them daily and how we integrate them into our lives. 

But despite our work with SPACE (or maybe because of it - running start-up app after all has a number of it’s own technical challenges), as a team we’ve been glued to our phones.  We decided it would be good to take some time to step away to see if we could find out any more about our relationships with our devices. 

In this first chapter, our co-founder Georgie leaves her phone at home, jumps on a plane to Europe and goes cycling for 7 days, crossing 6 borders and covering 660km.  Her experience was enlightening…

A journey unplugged:  Chapter 1, Part 1:  The trip from London to Brussels.   

This story has to begin at Day 0.  You see, without a phone there was a great deal more organising to be done.  Printing boarding passes, insurance documents and directions to the hostel, enabling an out of office.  The most stressful moment came when, after packing my beloved bike into a tiny little box, I realised I had no way to of documenting how to put it back together again.  I scribbled a few pointers down.  I’d have to work it out.  I also had to pack a few extra things - my digital camera (with the dust scraped off), a torch, a notepad.  That was easy enough.  

We arrived early to the airport.  With my boarding pass on my phone I’ve always cut catching flights as fine as possible, but today, time was a blessing. The airport was heaving and I was grateful for the 2 1/2 hours at Heathrow Terminal 3.  It was then that my social observations could really begin.  

Childless for the first time in 3 years, phone-less and even without a book, I had no choice but to stand in the bag-drop line and people watch.  The conclusion? Boring. Most people were on their phones. Of the 10 behind me and 10 ahead, 14 were on their phones.  I was itchy for mine.  I was missing the babies already.  Like default I wanted to scroll through photos of them, call my hubby to make sure they were safe, whatsapp a few friends to stay in touch.  But I also felt like a 21 year old again, heading out to travel the world.  Maybe that was being kid-free or maybe it was an uncommon sense of the unknown - but I could feel adventure ahead.

At the gate phones were everywhere.  I counted 3 full rows of passengers.  36 of them.  Only 4 people weren’t on their phones.  The most obvious thing to me was people’s posture.  There was not a straight back in the house.  I sat on the floor staring at people.  No one noticed me.  Instead of scrolling through photos I decided to unlock the memory bank of my brain instead.  I concentrated on some of the special moments I’d had with the kids over the past few days.  It was a rare and wonderful treat. 

Arrival in Brussels was less smooth-sailing.  After a hefty delay and a very slow bike-collection process I was running over an hour late getting to my arranged ‘collection point’. But my bike still hadn’t arrived, and I couldn’t let my meeting party know.  I would have certainly messaged them had I had a phone with me.  It would have been useless comms (as I had no idea how long the bag would take), but it would have also been polite, and I felt bad for breaking this social norm.  I knew that me not being on my phone was making life difficult for others.  Like a vegan at a dinner party.  

I arrived at the hostel, built my bike again (with some difficulty, but we got there), then went for a walk around the city.  I felt overwhelmingly lonely and missed the girls so much. I was tired, nervous about the adventure ahead and wanted to speak to my family so very much.  I wanted to let them know that I had arrived safely, that I had thought so many happy thoughts about them on the way.  But I had a deal - one call home a day at 7pm (as if I was using a payphone, I’d use a friend’s phone), and I was going to stick with it.  

So I substituted one habit for another and sat in a park drinking beer and eating cheese.  I had nothing with me.  No book, no phone, no friends.  I accepted that I missed the family and was able to then just focus on being present in the world around me.  It was so very wonderful.  I observed couples, so deep in conversation with each other and so consumed with happiness; families all dancing madly to a busking band, the taste of way too much sausage and cheese; the absence of flies coupled with a perfect breeze.  So many others were doing the same that sunny afternoon in Brussels - living in the moment.  I was reminded of our French adventure earlier in the year, where phones were so absent, and the joys of a simple life - food, conversation, the afternoon sun - resonated so strongly.  I could feel my shoulders dropping.  That latent sense of underlying anxiety ebbing away.  No work, no demands on my time, no to do lists, no interruptions nothing.  Just that moment and a strong Belgian beer.  

But as time went on would this sense of ease continue?  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d travelled without my phone.  It probably was when I was 21…I just didn’t know how the next few days were going to feel.