How I Learned to Quit My Phone and Love My Vacation

Sunday afternoon I returned from five days at Paradox Lake, a beautiful haven within the 6-million-acre Adirondack State Park in New York. It was time well-spent building camp fires, kayaking, hiking, grilling, fishing and laughing with friends. And thanks to my mobile carrier’s coverage (or lack thereof in almost any area NOT a major metro), my iPhone 6S became little more than a camera.

Sunday afternoon I returned from five days at Paradox Lake, a beautiful haven within the 6-million-acre Adirondack State Park in New York. It was time well-spent building camp fires, kayaking, hiking, grilling, fishing and laughing with friends. And thanks to my mobile carrier’s coverage (or lack thereof in almost any area NOT a major metro), my iPhone 6S became little more than a camera.

I’d like to say I shifted to being truly off the grid effortlessly, using the printed out email directions from the cabin owner to navigate the final 10 miles into the wilderness. Directions like:

“Make a left onto Cabin Road and drive for 2.5 miles, then when you see the sign for ‘Camp Crystal Lake,’ make a sharp right turn up a steep hill, spin out your tires a couple times trying to make it up the hill, pass a raccoon waving stick, then park in front of the cabin, not across from it. Just … trust us.”

Or you know, something like that.

And I was in good shape with just those printed directions. I found the cabin, parked, unloaded, unpacked and had a good first day taking photos as I kayaked the lake and creek, and reading on the back porch in an Adirondack chair.

Then it was Day 2, and I realized I hadn’t written down the address for the brewery I wanted to visit or any notes about potential hikes in the region before driving up from Philadelphia. I was going on foggy memory, recalling that the brewery, while named Paradox Brewery, was actually located closer to Schroon Lake, which was to the south of me, in a different town.

And that, while there was a hike to Gull Pond, there was also a hike to Crane Pond, Otter Pond, Rock Pond and Goose Pond, all within two miles of each other — and I had no idea how to find a single trail head.

This is where I would have pulled out my phone and googled it — let’s be honest, it’s less of a phone and more of a handheld Google Box — but I had no service. I also didn’t know when my friends Rachel and Dave would be arriving on Day 2, because, again, no service.

What did I do? I drove 45 minutes south until I heard my phone start going off with notifications, and then pulled into a scenic “texting” lot. I threw the car into park, snatched the phone up and watched as all those little badge icon numbers grew in leaps and bounds. I sent messages to my friends about the cabin directions and advice to pack warm clothes. Then I looked up driving directions to the brewery, as well as to a general store where I could purchase a trail guide for hiking.

And then … I posted a bunch of photos to Instagram (cross-posting to Facebook), checked all my social networks, skimmed my work email, and realized that I had been sitting in my car in a parking lot staring at my phone for 30 minutes.

I was on vacation. In the Adirondacks, one of the most beautiful state parks in the country, and I was looking at my freaking phone.

What's Wrong With Me? gifI drove back north, bought my trail guide, checked the brewery hours (in person!), then went for a 6.6 mile hike using only my guide book, trail markers, and eyes and feet to manage. I survived.