Last year, CSE contributing Editor, Hala Bissada and her boyfriend Kevin bought a 10-day cruise to the Arctic in a live auction at an event Hala was producing. This past summer, they embarked on their epic journey and extended the holiday by adding a few days in London, Pa, is and Oslo, for a total of 21 days. This is Hala’s story of what it took to get a busy, A type, 24/7 event planner to unplug and enjoy the trip of a lifetime.
You think I would be ecstatic; instead, my first thought was how can I be away from the office for that long? I have a business to run. But I took some time to reflect and realized that was ridiculous, everyone needs to unplug and recharge and I deserve it just as much as anyone else. So I decided I was going to use this vacation as an opportunity to attempt to “go off the grid,” for the full three weeks and share my experience with CSE readers, which in my heart I knew was going to be easier said than done.
Unfortunately the days I spent in London and Paris were, as Kevin called them, “epic fails” at disconnecting. Unbeknownst to me, he captured some of those moments. Having access to the internet, and making no concerted effort to unplug, made me completely accessible. On a day to day basis, I was still in touch—conversing with clients and answering emails.
For me, my obsession is email—always wanting to be on top of work and making myself accessible to my clients. I have never, despite the type of work I’m in, engaged much in social media. I’m not sure why, but it doesn’t really interest me, although I do see its merits as a communications tool. However, what I see more are the devastating and toxic effects it has—especially on the younger generation, and I don’t like what I see.
The never-ending stream of content, or as I call it the “bottomless bowls,” which like a drug creates an addiction (take a moment to watch people on the TTC, or in restaurants, or lining up for groceries, they are all staring down at their phones), the social pressure and constant competition of having to show that your life is more exciting than your friend’s life (proven to create unhealthy feelings of jealousy, envy and loneliness causing depression), anxiety, sleep deprivation, FOMO and so much more. More importantly, the inability for young people to build truly meaningful connections by actually talking to each other— eye to eye, face to face (i.e., real social interaction); or their inability to be alone and find true meaning in solitude.
It saddens me greatly. Fortunately, on the 10-day arctic cruise, I had no choice but to go off the grid. I had absolutely no access to wifi or cell service and no TV. In hindsight, it was a blessing and I want to share with you what I discovered or rather rediscovered. I thought it was going to be harder than it was. The reality was that I had advised all my clients that I was not going to be accessible, and I had no choice. It was liberating. As I sent my last email to my assistant letting her know that we were disembarking and that I would reconnect with her when I was back in Longyearbyen, I truly left my work behind without remorse.
It turned out to be a trip of a lifetime. I met extraordinary people who I truly got to know (I will now always have a place to stay in various parts of Australia). We learned all kinds of things about each other, and we laughed a lot. I read two books. We kayaked almost every day. We saw some of the most breathtaking wildlife— polar bear, blue whale, walruses, arctic foxes, reindeer, the cutest bird called kittiwakes and so much more. The landscape was spectacular—the blue icebergs were majestic, the glaciers stunning. I’ve shared with you, some of the most incredible photos taken by Kevin.
I’m so glad I got to experience it. As our expedition leader said, “I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but this may not be here in 20 years.” The Arctic is one of the world’s few remaining areas of pristine beauty and the one most threatened by global warming and oil exploration. I would encourage you to experience it if you haven’t already.
I grabbed hold of the opportunity to “be present.” To really enjoy and relish the “moment” is to be totally free. Now that I’m home, there are little things I do for myself to help me be present. I don’t look at my phone for the first hour of waking up. I do not take my phone into the gym. Every day after work, I ride to Cherry Beach with my dog Sushi and take her to the leash free park for a walk (1 hour round trip with no phone). I’ve rediscovered kayaking and taken it up as a hobby (I only use my phone to take pics). I don’t look at my phone during meals, and I don’t look at my phone during family get-togethers or outings with my friends. My advice to anyone is finding those personal ways that can help you to unplug, if just for a short time.
On my next vacation, I’m going to commit to deliberately disengaging. I realize how important it is to live in the moment. It helps you to mentally re-energize, makes space for highly important creative thinking and provides you with the capacity to empathize and connect with others.