Is it possible during a few days to cut off from the rest of the world, to be without the internet, phone or pc, enjoying an event organized by people I don’t know in a country I’ve never been to? Can I really do that? Am I sure I want to do this?

This was what I was thinking when I discovered the retreat organized by Offline Portugal. I was so happy because of my first solo trip to Cuba, almost totally without internet, that after only a few hours of reflection when the trip ended, I decided to book the retreat for 5 days and just leave. I said to myself “Let’s do it! I absolutely have to try this experience.”

The place

Aljezur is a small town in the south of Portugal. The region is perfect for a digital detox retreat and it is also a very popular and famous destination for surfers. From Sardinia (Italy) it took 2 flights and 7 hours by bus to get there.

To be surrounded by nature and silence, that is exactly what you can expect of this region. In addition, the retreat took place in a beautiful wooden house in the countryside. Definitely the ideal place for this kind of experience. Also in this moment, I have still vivid memories of the fantastic view in front of the yoga place, it was truly amazing.

ritiro digital detox in portogallo

 

Mobile phone vs. Digital Detox

Obviously as soon as I arrived I put my mobile phone in a drawer with a padlock to which only I had the keys. This is very important, in this retreat you are in no way forced to leave your mobile phone there and not use it during the experience. It is absolutely up to you, it is your free choice. For me it was a challenge, I did not use my phone during all 5 days.

In addition, Barbara, the organiser of the event, had my emergency contact number and my family members had hers. Fortunately, there was no need to use them.

Honestly, when I laid aside my smartphone I was pretty scared. For so many days I could not contact anyone, see what was happening in the world or to my friends. I felt how much the mobile phone is important and present in our daily life, how much we are “dependent” on it.

The importance of the group during the Digital Detox retreat

I have to admit that I was really curious to find out the people interested in this kind of experience. Which countries do they come from? What is their job? How old are they? It was surprising that the group was super heterogeneous.

The countries of provenance were Portugal, England, Israel, Ireland, Uzbekistan and the Netherlands. There were musicians, artists, yoga and meditation teachers, managers and even an eye surgeon. They were between 26 and 48 years old.

I think we can consider this broad range as a confirmation that sometimes everyone needs to be disconnected. No matter the age, nationality or our work, it is never too early or too late. It is a need that unites everyone, especially because we are talking about a global phenomenon that has influenced everyone equally, without distinction.

Being a group made up of such different people was also our strength, it created a very special atmosphere and complicity. It seemed we had known each other for years. Of course, even being without a mobile phone helped us to enjoy the shared moments and conversations to the full.

In addition, my gratitude and recognition goes to Barbara, Joe, Evi, Fin and Celine. They were very friendly and kind, thanks to them the retreat was very interesting and fun.

Oops, I was almost forgetting the fantastic dog that was with us. His name? Obviously Wi-Fi.

Activities during the Digital Detox retreat

What will I do without the internet and my phone? Won’t I be bored to death? How many hours do we spend in front of our smartphone? 2, 4, 5? We have to fill in this time.

In a digital detox retreat you will never get bored because so many activities are organised:

  • Yoga and meditation lessons: Barbara held her lessons every day. For me it was a first time, I had never done it before, and I loved it. Barbara was a fantastic teacher, she immediately made me feel comfortable and helped me a lot. The landscape and the atmosphere were perfect. I think yoga is a perfect way how to relax, reflect and connect with ourselves and nature. It is definitely essential for a digital detox retreat;
  • Surf Lessons: Another “first time” for me. I attended two lessons and I really loved it. Although I only managed to stand on the board twice in 4 hours. The friends of the surf school “Arrifana” were fantastic! Doing a sport you love or trying to do a new one is one of the most important things during a digital detox because there you are able to really enjoy the moment and have fun to the full;
  • Painting and “sustainable art” activities: The manual and creative work is really good idea, full of peace and mental purification. It was definitely the best thing to do. In a super digital and technological world we no longer do anything manual, we even ask Alexa to close the windows of our house! I am convinced that nothing like making something by hand can satisfy you;
  • Jam sessions: After dinner the musicians who were part of the group started playing many instruments and improvising some beautiful music. In this case, I must admit that, taken by the desire to resume the moment, I put several times my hand in my pocket to take the phone that I didn’t have with me. This made me think a lot about how much irrational and automatic gestures we make regarding our phone;
  • Massage and sauna: What else can you do in such a relaxing environment? Obviously wellness activities. I will never forget the massage done under a tree in front of that panorama;
  • Share time with other people: disconnect from mobile phones and connect with people. In the end, this is the ultimate goal of the experience. When was the last time you talked to a friend without being interrupted by a notification or without your friend “phubbing” (snubbing someone you’re talking with in person in favour of your phone)? How much do you hate this? While you talk to him he looks at his phone and also expects you not to bother you. During those days I realised how satisfying and powerful it is to have a conversation where both of you are 100% focused. You don’t feel uninteresting or uncomfortable. The speeches are much deeper and the emotions you feel are totally different. In addition to the conversations we also carried out many activities together, more than those already mentioned. We also cooked, drank, played, helped each other. Honestly, it was the activities that I enjoyed the most. We are “social animals” but with time, unfortunately, we are forgetting it;
  • Share time with yourself: The same thing that happens with other people, also happens with ourselves. We don’t listen to each other. Willingly or not, we don’t face our problems, we don’t find solutions, we feel unhappy but we don’t do anything to change, to get out of our comfort zone. Our smartphone offers us a way out when we are in a bad mood, when we have to resolve a situation. We do not think about it because we find within it a world that accepts us, that entertains us in which we feel safe. It leads us to be extremely passive. During those days, however, I had the opportunity to reflect, relax, read a book, write a diary, make important decisions and much more. In simple terms, I felt better.

 

Reactions and feedback

Since I was given my first smartphone, I had never spent five days without using it. The first 2 days were very strange. I sometimes felt the need to take it and see what happened in the world and to my friends. To open Instagram or Facebook and get lost in there.

Many times I made the gesture of taking the phone out of my pocket to show, record, capture a moment or search for something on Google. But this is more than normal, especially because it is an automatic behaviour of our mind, it is more than a habit. So since I didn’t have my phone with me I had to find other ways to do these things:

  • When you want to show something, you can simply describe it;
  • When you want to cook, you can experiment without the help of the recipe on the internet. Nobody will die, perhaps ..;
  • When you want to ask for something that you cannot describe in another language, try to make it understood with gestures and other words, without the translator. Ok, in fact we Italians are already masters in this;
  • When you get lost in the car, ask the locals and not google maps;
  • When you want to capture something, you can simply live it;
  • When you have to remember something you can write it down on a piece of paper.

 

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The benefits

The benefits of the digital detox retreat are incredible! I didn’t think it could have such an impact on me. I wanted to divide them into immediate and long-term benefits:

Immediate benefits:

  • Total relaxation
  • I didn’t waste time
  • I slept better: I fell asleep immediately and woke up very active
  • Very focused on conversations with other people
  • More productive and creative
  • My attention span was higher
  • I lived every single moment to the full

Long-term benefits:

From the moment in which the digital detox serves to have a better relationship with the mobile phone, especially after the experience. Here’s how I feel now:

I have more time: I understand how much we use it unnecessarily. I only use it for things that are really useful and that I care about. And I’m using the time I used to waste to be with my loved ones and for my passions;

I live the moment more: I understand that there is no need to capture anything and share it. I just live and appreciate the moment;

I am healthier: I continue to sleep better at night, I am less stressed and I use the time I used to waste on sports;

I am more productive: I am more focused and organised. I don’t check my phone all the time, if I have to do something I put it in airplane mode (I set the ability to receive calls from a few selected numbers), I deactivated all notifications from the various social networks and check my emails only at pre-set times. I no longer do multitasking (doing multiple things at once).

Back to “online life”

I am very good in adapting myself to different situations very quickly. Sometimes it is a virtue and other times a defect. The fact is that after a few days I was already used to living without a mobile phone and internet.

After 120 hours without using it, I take it from my drawer, recover all my things, greet everyone and head towards the “real world”. And now? Strange but true I did not want to turn it on, partly out of fear, partly because I liked being without it so much. Although the bus trip was very long, for the first three hours I didn’t turn it on.

When I decided to turn it on I left the internet disabled and called my parents and brother. After another two hours the fateful moment had arrived, I connected to the internet. The impact was really strong, a flood of vibrations and notifications attacked me in a few seconds.

The thing that surprised me most were the notifications from What’s App. How many messages do you think I received? Try to guess but don’t fool yourself, it will certainly be a much lower number.

2,015 notifications from 27 different chats!

2,015 notifications from 27 different chats!

2,015 notifications from 27 different chats!

Seriously? It’s a joke? Do I really get 400 different messages every day that disturb me every minute of the day? And not to mention emails, Facebook, Instagram and all the other apps.

whatsapp digital detox ritiro

What I have learned

At that moment I realised how much we are really being bombed every day. We get notifications every minute. What’s more, we check our mobile even when we don’t receive notifications, we open social networks and we waste a lot of time. How can our mind process this myriad of information? How can this not disturb us, affect our mood, our health and concentration?

It certainly does!

This is why it is essential to learn how to use it responsibly and moderately. To select the type of information we need, to use it only when it is useful to us and not to allow it to destroy our social relationships, our work and our self-esteem.

Now I definitely have a better “relationship” with my smartphone, because I realised how much time we waste unnecessarily and how much we are losing in our everyday life.

I have established some rules: I don’t touch my phone when I’m eating, talking to someone else or when I have to focus on something. I don’t use it when I wake up or when I go to sleep. At night I put it on charge in another room and to wake me up I use a normal alarm clock. I feel much better, the benefits are obvious. I am more focused, active, relaxed and enjoy the good times in life more.

Among other things, I have also learned to listen more to myself, to devote time to myself, to pay maximum attention to the people I meet and to isolate myself when I have to make important decisions. And most importantly, to give more importance to the really important things in life.

I continue to read books and videos on digital education and I often read the “diary” I wrote during this experience. Honestly, it helps me a lot to continue on the “right path”. Another tool I use a lot are the Digital Detox Apps that can be downloaded for free from the App Stores. They are key to being more productive and relaxed.

I’m not sure I have best described what I felt in those days. 5 long days without a phone. Disconnected from the mobile and reconnected with nature and other people. Many firsts for me: I’ve been surfing, yoga, meditation.

It is incredible to experience how much we abuse the mobile phone and how fantastic are the moments we live without the need to capture a moment or control the lives of others just because we are bored.

I had time to reflect, to fully enjoy the moments shared (in the real world) with other people from all over the world. I will always keep it in my heart and will definitely be back.

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