The Gift of Airplane Mode

I’ve got a wonderful gift idea for the holiday season.  Better yet, it’s a gift you can give yourself!  You can’t buy it online, and you can’t even wrap it.

Give yourself “airplane mode”!

I am not talking about your in-flight cell phone setting. I mean putting the phone away, your computer too.  Taking some much needed time for yourself, being present in the moment, spending uninterrupted time with your friends and family. 

Just a few days of airplane mode did wonders for me.  Let me explain...

Last year our daughter decided that she would spend a semester of her junior year studying in New Zealand.  We thought it would be wonderful to visit her, and shockingly she agreed!  As we would have to travel halfway around the world, we were told to book at least three weeks for the trip.  I was excited, but soon became a bit nervous.  Three weeks away… yikes, that’s a long time.

I have been working full-time since college and have never been away for that long.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of vacations, but most have been a week or so.  And trust me, maternity leaves don’t count.

Our lives are busy.  Family and work commitments, charities, keeping up with friends.  Could you put everything on hold for three weeks?

I was going to give it a shot and started planning.

I would tie up all the loose ends at work and my non-profit boards before I left.  I had full support from my colleagues and clients (thanks again to all of you).  New Zealand is 19 hours ahead of Chicago.  Kind of crazy - at 10 am back home it would be 4 am “the next day”.  I could check in early in the morning if needed.  I liked the thought of being a day ahead!  Sounded very productive.  With internet access at our hotels, and our international calling plan, I was set.  Until…

My husband Stephen suggested we undertake a three day wilderness hike.  He showed me three options, all about thirty miles, and told me to choose (guess which one I picked):

Hike 1:  Carry your own tent, clothes and food

Hike 2:  Carry clothes and the company carries tents and food

Hike 3:  Carry clothes, and sleep in lodges with prepared food, running water and electricity (Bingo)

Great news though, I would still have access to my beloved phone and internet. 

But then I read the fine print: “Feel free to use your phone for pictures and you can charge the phones at the lodge:  Please note that the areas we will be hiking will not have internet or cell access and neither will the lodge.  We will have radios for emergencies and you can provide your loved ones with the emergency number.”

After the initial shock, I decided I could go off the grid.  Hey, I survived middle school, what was three days?

We were given a list of essentials:  Rain gear, hiking poles, sunscreen and insect repellent.  We trained for the hike carrying our backpacks around town.  We were ready to go. 

The Hike Begins

So let’s fast forward.  It was now time for our adventure.  The phone went into airplane mode and so did I. We hiked, we laughed, we ate, we played games, my husband and daughter had my undivided attention (when I could catch up to them).  I felt so relaxed.  Stephen mentioned that it was the first time in years he did not hear me say…“Hang on, just one more email.” 

What a truly memorable experience. Sixteen hikers and we were the only Americans.  We all bonded as a group.  Such interesting people, real characters.  Deep, uninterrupted conversations.  Nothing to distract us from the beauty of our surroundings. 

As we boarded the bus back to Queenstown, I savored the last few hours on airplane mode.  And then the announcement came.  “You can now have phone access.”  One of the boys immediately looked up his college grades.  Another man dove into his emails.  I could see both of their expressions change immediately.  We are all so tied to our phones...

It was 2 am in the morning in Chicago, so no point in checking right away.  I decided to wait.  We reached the hotel, I took a long shower and relaxed a bit.  Ok, it was time. My heart started to beat a bit faster.  I turned off airplane mode and ...over 400 emails!

I scanned them one at a time, and came to the following conclusions: 

●     Few of them were urgent in nature. 

●     Those that were urgent had already been resolved by my colleagues. 

●     It was a great feeling to be disconnected.

●     There were a ton of great Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals!

The trip was wonderful in so many ways.  We climbed the Sydney Bridge, snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, hiked in the Blue Mountains, biked through Sydney, and rafted in Queenstown.  Most importantly, we had quality time with our daughter.  And her friends.  And our new hiking friends.  It was the trip of a lifetime, but the true gift I received was the wisdom that it’s OK to go into airplane mode every now and then.

This time of year is filled with joy, but it can also be stressful.  I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday season and that each of you will take some time to go into airplane mode yourself.  For an hour, or even a day.  Maybe even three days!  Spend some quality time with your families and friends.  The emails and calls can wait. 

All the best for a happy and healthy New Year.