How I Failed at 100 Hours Unplugged

I have a confession to make. I helped create the 100 Hours Unplugged Challenge but even I couldn’t make it happen for four consecutive days. Turns out, unplugging for 100 hours straight isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The first time I attempted the challenge I packed my family up for a 4-day camping trip in Pinnacles National Park. That time I made it approximately 72 hours. The second time on a Lower Klamath River rafting trip, I was able to completely unplug on the river, but as soon as we were back in civilization I logged back in. That time I only made it 60 hours.

How to Have an Unplugged Adventure

Ultimately, I unplugged for far more than 100 hours this summer and was much more conscious about finding time to disconnect with my family. On a personal level though, I feel like I failed.

I had set out to go 100 hours unplugged all at once. I wanted—no needed—the benefits  that come from unplugging for 3 days or more at a time. Researchers who have studied what happens to our brains when we’re out in nature for an extended period have coined it the “three-day effect.” That’s how long it takes for us to relax and feel like we’ve gotten a break from the daily barrage of emails, texts, social media alerts and everything else that overstimulates us these days. It’s also the amount of time it takes for us to enter a more blissful and creative space that’s been called the “flow state.”

I never got into the flow this summer, but I did learn a few lessons along the way. Here are a few tips that will help you go completely unplugged on your next adventure…

How to Have a Successful Unplugged Adventure

How to Have an Unplugged Adventure

1) Print all reservations, directions, and planning documents ahead of time so you don’t have to rely on your phone throughout the trip.

“Do you have the campground information,” my husband asked. “Yeah, on my phone,” I said. “Do you know how to get there,” I asked in return. “Nope,” he said.

We were literally pulling out of the driveway for what was supposed to be a 4-day unplugged adventure in Pinnacles National Park and I already knew we weren’t going to make it 100 hours.

We’re so accustomed to having all the information we need at our fingertips that we almost don’t remember how we did things before we had our devices with us all the time. Need directions? There’s a map for that. Hotel or campground reservation information?  Make a copy before you go. Think about all of the occasions you might typically turn to your phone while you’re traveling and plan ahead for those moments so you don’t have to use it.

How to Have an Unplugged Adventure

2) If you’re traveling to a destination, bring plenty of unplugged activities for everyone.

Driving to Pinnacles meant we had a 5-hour drive ahead of us with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. I knew I’d be content staring out the window or flipping through a magazine, but I completely forgot about the kids. I banked on them watching a movie on the portable DVD player we typically rely on for road trips and was completely unprepared with other distractions.

To avoid screentime while you’re traveling in the car or on a plane, don’t forget a new book or all of those magazines you’ve been meaning to catch up on, as well as plenty of device-free activities for the kids. We like to have an entire bin or bag filled with everything from Legos and coloring books to a few surprises our boys don’t even know about that will help keep them occupied for lengthy trips.

3) Bring a real deal camera.

Most of us have an old DSLR or point-and-shoot camera sitting around the house somewhere collecting dust. So why not give it some love and bring it with you for trip photos?

How to Have an Unplugged Adventure

I left a perfectly good Nikon D5100 sitting on my bookshelf and decided instead to put my phone on airplane mode to capture photos at Pinnacles. Yes, smartphones take great pictures these days, but it’s way too easy to “check in real quick” when you’re grabbing for your phone all day.

Of course, if you feel like taking photos is breaking the “unplugged” rule completely, you can leave your camera at home all together and focus on making memories instead.

4) Pick a destination that’s completely off the grid so you’re not tempted by Wi-Fi.

It’s a lot easier to unplug when you don’t have a choice. So rather than choose a location that will likely have Wi-Fi and try to force yourself not to use it, just go someplace where it’s not even a possibility.

While there was no phone service at Pinnacles, I was surprised to find you could pay for WiFi at the campground store. Later in the summer when we went rafting, however, we were completely off the grid until the last few hours of the trip. To my surprise, a bit before take-out, I spotted a woman checking her phone messages as she was floating down the last few miles of river in an inflatable kayak. The next thing you know, she’s gotten herself stuck on a rock in the middle of the river.

If you’re easily tempted, just leave your phone behind or pack it away completely during your trip.

How to Have an Unplugged Adventure

5) Don’t check your phone or hop online the first moment you get the chance.

When you unplug for several days, you will inevitably feel happier, more relaxed and care-free. This is a good thing, so do yourself a favor and ease back into the daily grind after an unplugged adventure.

At the end of our Klamath River trip, I made the mistake of turning my phone on as soon as we got back to our car.  I was instantly greeted by a text message that stressed me out. The calm I felt from being out in the wilderness for a few days was completely wiped away by one message. Just like that.

Don’t do that to yourself.  Instead, take some time to soak in all the experiences you had and reflect on how you felt being free from your devices for a few days.

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