A Digital Detox in the Peruvian Andes

by Nora on March 31, 2014

I’ve recently returned from what – for me – was a big deal: a five-day trek through the Peruvian Andes. The trek itself wasn’t the corker, as I’ve enjoyed multi-day treks around the world – in Ukraine, Australia, the Rocky Mountains of Canada, and more.

No. The big deal, for me, was that I was without my computer and totally offline for five days.

Five. Whole. Days.


Seriously, Nora?

You might balk at why this was a big deal. I mean, really – five days without the umbilical connection to technology shouldn’t be earth-shattering.

Then again, maybe you’re thinking about the last time you were totally and completely disconnected from all things electronic for five days. Can you even remember when that was?

It’s addictive.

I’ve written on other sites about the chemical addiction to technology that we have, yet been too scared to heed my own advice enough to take a proper digital detox. As much as I poo-poo the digital landslide we’re experiencing as a society (brought to light by my recently being dumped via instant message), I’m as much a victim of technology as anybody else.

Even after my big accident last year, I squinted at my computer screen/smartphone despite my concussions to Skype my family, communicate with and garner support from friends, and try to keep up with the never-ending onslaught of work.


Speaking of work…

I get about 50 emails per day. That meant I knew there would be well over 200 emails awaiting me after my little trek in the Andes. Plus mounting social media activity. And writing assignments. Blogging. Instant messaging. Whatever.

This stressed me out. I also knew that I’d be offline a fair bit in April while participating in various workshops at Paz y Luz where I’m staying, and am ever-budgeting my time to ensure I don’t fall ridiculously behind with work.


Work vs Life

But life isn’t about work.

If I spend all my time behind a computer screen, I’m not traveling and living life on the road, which means the whole point of what I’m doing as The Professional Hobo is moot. Enter from stage left: work-life balance, and how it integrates with full-time travel.


Digital Detox Results

By the time I hit Machu Picchu, I was pretty zen with my lack of technology.

So how did the detox work out, you might wonder?


I relaxed into the process in the first couple of days very nicely, and although I got a little antsy near the end, I maintained the discipline to stay offline despite having WiFi access on the fourth day and a smartphone (which I brought along solely for it’s awesomeness as a camera).

When I returned to my work, I had more perspective, and catching up wasn’t as horrific as I had anticipated it would be. I – like many people – tend to waste a lot of time online when I don’t have to be task-oriented. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have to get down to it. In fact, on my return, the internet was out for (another) whole day, and it was probably one of the most productive days I’ve had in a while.


Would I do a Digital Detox again?

Sure. Would it be any easier? Probably not. But is it a good thing? Definitely.

Stay tuned for some posts (and lots of epic photos) about my trek through the Andes, which ended up in Machu Picchu. I’m currently a little lost for words with regards to the experience…but with a little more time (offline?), I’m sure the words will come.


Recommended Reading

Dear Nora: How do I Manage Finances While Travelling Long-Term?

Managing your finances at home is one thing; but how do you do it from the road if you’re travelling long-term? There’s a lot to oversee, from receiving and paying bills, to getting cash, filing taxes, and more. This month’s reader question is a biggie.


World Travellers: Nora Dunn aka The Professional Hobo

Jonny Blair of Don’t Stop Living interviews me about my best and worst/scariest and funniest travel experiences, random jobs I’ve had, and my best tips for new travellers in my last seven years of living on the road.


{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Emily March 31, 2014 at 5:25 pm

We leave for the Inca Trail in a week and I am looking forward to the digital detox! It has been way too long since being ‘unplugged’…and I think the challenge of making it to Machu Picchu will be the distraction I need to forget about everything!!


2 Nora Dunn April 2, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Hi Emily,
Indeed the challenge – and the beauty and energy – will sufficiently distract you from the computer. Enjoy!


3 Tiffany March 31, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Nora, oh what digital detoxing means today and does for the soul. I totally know what you mean about feeling anxious to be off line for a few days, but how wonderful it is all at the same time. Both the ability and need for wifi becomes so different once it is attached to one’s lively hood. I remember the ‘good ‘ol days’ when emails were to hear about how mom’s tomatoes were doing that year. Just kidding. 🙂 As we just hiked the Inca Trail recently, so glad you got to go as well and can’t wait to see the pics!!!


4 Nora Dunn April 2, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Hi Tiffany,
You pinned it – when it’s your career as well, it’s very tricky to unplug. But I think it’s also all the more reason to. Sometimes I envy people who can leave work at work….instead of carrying it around everywhere in a wee laptop bag like I do! (Then again, the grass is always greener on the other side…) 😉


5 Jonny Blair April 2, 2014 at 9:31 am

Great photos Nora and a cool adventure. I did the Inca Trail at Christmas 2010 and as the mist came up over Machu Picchu it was simply outstanding! Safe onward journeys. Jonny


6 Nora Dunn April 2, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Thanks, Jonny. Indeed, the Inca trail is just amazing….as my upcoming posts will show (I hope)!


7 Lisa - Wee Wanders April 2, 2014 at 10:45 am

A digital detox sounds like an excellent idea! I sometimes get a little overwhelmed with everything digital, particularly social media, as it consumes most of my working life and my “free” time too!


8 Nora Dunn April 2, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Hi Lisa,
Yes, it feels strange that once I’m done “work”, I’ll often remain on the computer to watch a movie, or listen to music, or write emails to friends & family…by the end of the day I have “square eyes” from looking at the square screen for so long!


9 Anna April 2, 2014 at 1:06 pm

This is MADNESS I say 🙂
I am flying – 12 hours – to Miami on Saturday and being off-line even that long is stressing me out. I am technically going on vacation but the first question I asked about my accommodation was WiFi accessibility bc I cannot imagine getting unplugged from work. So, props to you for living through this!


10 Nora Dunn April 2, 2014 at 9:15 pm

Hi Anna,
12 hours? Really?! 😉
I guess in 12 hours offline I am quite happy to tap out some articles and do other work that is just offline. But I’m still on my computer, so I guess I hear you! But even this week; I’m doing a 4-day workshop; I went a full day without touching my computer, as well as all day today – until now (8pm) when I’m simply answering the comments and going to bed. I’ll be lucky to touch my computer more than 1 hour a day until the weekend. And I’m okay with that. 🙂
Admittedly, the first question I ask about accommodation is about WiFi. I’ve also lived in some places where the internet is unreliable or slow (it’s not great here in Peru for that matter), but I’m kind of used to it.


11 Elaine April 3, 2014 at 3:22 am

I need a digital detox too, but I’m afraid that my clients will come with a hair on fire emergency and I won’t be able to respond … probably a sign that I really need it bad…


12 Nora Dunn April 3, 2014 at 9:04 pm

Hi Elaine,
I find the more I worry about “emergencies” online, the harder it is to unplug…but when I eventually do unplug, I realize that things generally work out quite well. I’m kind of unplugging more and more here in Peru.


13 Charlie April 4, 2014 at 5:22 am

Gorgeous photos. I think it’s good for the brain to have a break from laptop screens and electronics.. but it has become very difficult in this day and age not to be stuck to them all the time. Looks like an ideal place to take a digital detox!


14 Nora Dunn April 4, 2014 at 8:22 am

Hi Charlie,
It really has! It’s like electronic devices are the ultimate distraction whenever we’re bored or uncomfortable. I tend to reach for my phone when I have a few minutes and am at a loss for something to do. But (thankfully), I haven’t loaded many apps into my new phone, so there isn’t much to do….I tend to just stare at it then wonder why I’m staring at my phone, then I go outside and sit in the sunshine! Much better. 🙂


15 Stacey April 4, 2014 at 5:29 am

You get fifty work emails a day? Imagine what it’s going to be like in a year from now!

Good on you for surviving the detox. I am only a newsbie blogger and I still get antsy if I can’t get at my blog. Can only imagine how frustrating what it was like for you for the five days.

But you survived! Hazzah!


16 Nora Dunn April 4, 2014 at 8:26 am

Hi Stacey,
With any luck, I’ll only have 25 emails/day in a year’s time! Ha ha!


17 Stacey April 5, 2014 at 4:47 am

Isn’t it a good thing to be getting a fair amount of emails? That means you are catching peoples eye, some of which could be profitable for your nomadic existance?


18 Nora Dunn April 5, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Stacey – You know what? Yes. Absolutely. But for every 1 profitable opportunity I get, I have to answer 100 emails that aren’t (immediately or directly) profitable.
Again, not a problem, because it’s part of the job, and it’s lovely to be called upon as a reputable resource. But it’s also a relentless and never-ending task, which can be difficult if you like a clear in-box and know that taking any time off at all means a commitment of days (sometimes weeks) to catch up.


19 deb April 4, 2014 at 8:51 am

I need a digital detox, but I’m talking about total cut off. Something where I don’t need to come back afterwards to the stress of missing emails, tweets, instagram comments, blog comments… It’s the emails that are a killer. If I take even a few days off, it’s too much stress to catch up on that inbox. I feel that the world is spiralling out of control with it’s need to be online and lack of getting out there.
We try to unplug on all our trips. We most recently did 10 days offline while up on an Arctic Watershed, but then had to spend 3 solid days catching up erasing all the feelings of exhilaration we got from our trek.


20 Nora Dunn April 4, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Deb – I hear ya! An entrepreneurial friend of mine (who was drowning in to-do lists) said to me that when the shoe dropped, he found a coping mechanism: if you carry forward a to-do item for X number of days/weeks, then it just didn’t need to be done that badly, and he would scratch it off the list.
I haven’t quite reached that point where I can confidently scratch items off lists without doing them, but I’m learning to be a little more forgiving of myself. It’s a process…


21 Kyle May 31, 2014 at 10:10 pm

I make the effort to digital detox every few months as well. After a few days without Facebook or surfing the Internet I find I have more clarity and peace of mind so I can return to my work with more energy and focus.


22 Nora Dunn June 1, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Hi Kyle,
Indeed, it’s brilliant – especially the ability to focus. And yet – it can be so difficult to stay away from the computer (says Nora, on a Sunday afternoon, on her computer)… 😉


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