I hope some of the readers appreciated the Sex Pistols reference in the blog title. If you didn’t get it, that’s cool. It just means that you’re lucky enough to be under 40.
Anyway, let’s dive right into storytime. I’ve been dedicating some of the posts in the No Phone Challenge Blog series to relaying some of the “No Phone” experiences I’ve had from my travels that served to inspire the challenge. One of my big inspirations for tackling phone overuse with a “No Phone Challenge” came to me during a vacation to Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
My girlfriend at the time and I planned to rent a car in Dublin to drive through Ireland and up to Northern Ireland. After touring around Northern Ireland, we intended to take our rented Mini-Cooper to Scotland via a car ferry over the Irish Sea. Once there, we would continue touring around, mostly to Scotch Distilleries, with a couple of William “Braveheart” Wallace historical sites mixed in. Once finished in Scotland we would catch the car ferry back to Ireland and end our trip on the 4th of July in a proper Dublin pub; a perfect place to end a great tour!
I had set up an international plan on my phone before leaving the US so I would have connectivity to be able to use GPS, book tours, call and text hotels to confirm reservations, etc.
When our plane touched down in Ireland I immediately switched airplane mode off on my phone. I was relieved to see that everything was working perfectly. I was connected. The alerts from all the messages I had received when I was crossing the Atlantic started buzzing my phone. Confident that my international plan was working properly we headed to the rental car counter to pick up our car. I declined the option (and extra cost) for a GPS in the vehicle. Who needs to pay for GPS when I must have had at least three different map apps on my phone!
All was good for the first couple hours. Then, all of a sudden, my phone GPS quit. I pulled over to try and see what was going on, thinking that perhaps we were just going through a bad cell reception area or that something similar had occured. But that wasn’t it. I realized I had lost connectivity entirely and couldn’t reconnect. I tried rebooting and all the normal troubleshooting tricks. Nothing worked.
I later learned that the issue was caused by an automated security alert that had triggered my carrier to mistakenly turn off my international service. I also learned that there was no way to fix it until I got back to the US (and wouldn’t need it anymore). Because of security precautions, the only way to clear the issue was to call the carrier from my cell, however, I obviously couldn’t do such a thing (at least until I got back to the U.S.) because my international service had been shut off. Argh!
More frustrating still, at least at the time, was that we had already driven away from the airport and turning back to the rental car place to request a GPS was no longer a realistic option.
Furthermore, my companion hadn’t signed up for international service. This was several years ago on the cusp of when international service could still be considered a luxury and was a bit pricer than it is now. So we figured having one phone with international data on the trip was enough.
All of a sudden, it began to sink. We were about to embark on a logistically complex trip, travelling across three countries, on the “wrong” side of the road nonetheless, in a manual shift car that didn’t have GPS. The trip also involved catching planes, ferries, trains, etc. without cell service and with extremely limited access to wi-fi. There were hotels to confirm, dinner and tour reservations to book. It was a lot.
At this juncture, please allow me to communicate just a bit of self-awareness. I completely understand that absolutely everything I’m about to describe is 100% a “First World Problem”. If I seem to be pumping up the drama unnecessarily it’s just for entertainment value. There’s no intent here to portray this as any sort of real problem or crisis in the big scope of real problems and crises in the world. It doesn’t even register as a big personal crisis. Believe me, I am very grateful for the fact that I am privileged enough to fly around the world getting myself into these ridiculous predicaments.
Having said that, my first reaction to the situation, in the moment, was definitely not to keep things in perspective, nor to be all zen and “grateful for the opportunity to have the sort of experience that I was now embarking on”. Not for one second did I think, “Wow, this is going to be fun. Maybe it will inspire me to create a cool challenge that will help people address their phone overreliance.”
I was livid. I had made the mistake of setting certain expectations for the way the trip was going to play out for us and now, those expectations were being flushed down the drain like a pint of stale Guinness.
In any case, all I could do was press on and put a new plan in place. Luckily, I’m Gen X and I started driving before GPS was a thing. I’m also a private pilot with an instrument rating. I know how to read an old school map, I can generally figure out north, south, east, and west and I have an OK sense of direction when I’m forced to rely on it.
So I knew that the first order of business was definitely to procure some maps. We found some old fashioned paper maps at what looked like a very old fashioned petrol station in the Irish countryside.
I soon learned that my confidence in my old school navigational abilities was overblown. I was definitely a bit rusty. Maybe I’m being a bit hard on myself. I did fine on the highways but found it challenging when we entered any villages or towns. And the cities were a real challenge! One of the hardest things was that I couldn’t look at the maps while I was driving. I would have to remember or write down a few turns at a time and then stop and pull over and figure out where we were and plot out the next few turns, etc.
My girlfriend couldn’t help me much either. She gave it her best try. However, she had never used a physical map in her life. Despite giving it her best effort she wasn’t going to become an old school navigator overnight. We briefly discussed her driving to allow me to focus on navigating, however, she had never driven a manual shift car in her life either. Nor had she ever driven on the left side of the road before. So the idea of her driving was quickly and wisely dismissed.
The old school maps worked well in getting us to the general vicinity of where we were trying to go, however, once in a village, town, or dreaded city, we would be forced to stop multiple times to check the map. And, sometimes, the addresses we were looking for weren’t even listed on the map because of the larger scale maps we were dealing with. So, in those cases we would have to stop and find a human being to talk to.
Ultimately, the lack of connectivity, and especially the lack of GPS, on a multi-day road trip, served to enhance the experience of the trip in many ways.
We were forced to stop at various shops, inns, pubs, historical landmarks, and rest areas that we would have otherwise missed. This allowed us to meet some amazing locals and fellow travelers.
My travel companion and I were fans of good Irish Whiskey, as well as Scotch Whisky. So we had planned on touring some of the great distilleries that were on our travel route.
On the first day of the trip we had planned on driving up to Northern Ireland and touring the Bushmills Distillery. Bushmills is supposedly the longest continually operating distillery in the world.
However, due to the delay involved in procuring maps, frequent stops for directions, etc. we ended up arriving at Bushmills 15 minutes after the final tour had departed. So, instead of the Bushmills Distillery tour we were forced to settle for driving into the nearby village of Bushmills instead.
This ended up being a great detour. The village was too small to be anything other than a “dot” on our map, and we couldn’t Google it. So we just followed the signs to the village and trusted the leprechauns to bring us luck (note: I’m not sure if there are leprechauns in Northern Ireland or if they are stopped at the border when leaving the Republic of Ireland). In any case, we were lucky that day. When we arrived in town we saw that Bushmills Village had a map sign located adjacent to the village green (pictured below). That was the map we were forced to use to navigate around the village that day.
We had an amazing stroll around the village and checked out the various important sites.
So, instead of a corporatized distillery tour, we ended up having several authentic, local experiences and connections. Ultimately, this “no phone induced”, unscheduled detour led us to some great conversations and connections with new friends in one of the village’s pubs (pictured below).
This was much better than another distillery tour (they are all pretty much the same anyway. LOL).
Scotland (and Lake Como):
On another day, our lack of GPS led us to pop our heads into another pub in a small town in Scotland. We had just driven our rental Mini off the car ferry in Troon, Scotland and I pulled over to the first pub I saw to get my bearings and ask for directions. The paper maps that we had purchased in Ireland only covered Ireland and I hadn’t located any Scottish maps yet.
The pub manager at the little oceanfront village in Scotland that we stopped at was glad to help point us in the right direction. I drove off thinking that I’d never see that pub again. However, that wouldn’t end up being true.
A couple years after the events of this trip, in a crazy case of “it’s really a very small world”, I was sitting at an outdoor cafe in Bellagio, Italy, on the shore of Lake Como. I was traveling solo and enjoying an Aperol Spritz watching the sunset over the lake.
The woman at the table next to me and I recognized each other from a ferry trip we had both taken earlier that day to one of the other villages. We started chatting. I asked where she was from. She told me it was a small town in Scotland. She assured me that I had certainly never heard of it. We were both shocked when we figured out that not only had I visited her hometown before, the pub I had stopped into for directions had been her “local” growing up.
She and I became friends and I ended up visiting her in Scotland a few years later on another stopover to the UK. Where, as you may be able to predict, we ended up going to that same pub. Small world indeed.
Back to Ireland:
After Scotland we returned back to Ireland to finish our vacation. We had another great experience there courtesy of my international phone plan being disconnected. It was towards the end of the trip when we were on the way back to Dublin to prepare for our return flight to the US. After a long day of driving we were both tired and cranky. It was raining. It was late and we couldn’t find our hotel. We couldn’t find a gas station or anywhere similar to pull over to ask for directions. So, in frustration I rolled down the window at a red light and got the attention of the driver of the car next to us. He wouldn’t give me directions. He said it was too complicated to explain at a traffic light. So instead he told me to follow him. He then actually drove 20 minutes in the opposite direction that he had been originally heading to personally lead us to our hotel. He also gave us recommendations for a great pub to try once we got settled in.
That kind of connection with a stranger rarely happens when you have a constellation of satellites at your fingertips.
No Phone in Tokyo:
I had a similar experience in Japan on another trip due to the shortcomings of my GPS. I was in Tokyo. My date and I were rushing to make a dinner reservation at a little local neighborhood spot that we had been turned on to. This particular neighborhood was older and had a lot of narrow alleys. If you’ve ever tried to find an address in a big city in a neighborhood with a lot of tight streets and alleys you will probably have experienced the fact that your map apps aren’t always super-accurate under those circumstances.
Playing the part of a stereotypical man, I was dead set at the time against asking for directions. I was confident that if I just took one more minute that I would resolve the situation using my phone. Besides, most people didn’t speak English and I didn’t want to “bother” anyone that was just trying to get home from a long day at work.
My girlfriend promptly ignored me and approached the first person she saw to try and procure directions. She stopped a businessman who spoke absolutely zero english. We pointed to the name of the restaurant on our phones and tried to use our translator app to ask for directions.
The directions were tricky and the translator app wasn’t really cutting it. So this gentleman ended up insisting on walking us personally all the way through the confusing, winding streets and alleyways of the Roppongi district of Tokyo right to the restaurant itself.
When we arrived at the restaurant he even walked in with us to speak Japanese to the restaurant hostess and make sure we were checked into our reservation before he went on his way.
These kinds of amazing connections rarely happen when you have your face in your map app.
Lastly, I’ll briefly relay another “GPS Fail” that led to an even better, analog adventure. My Legendary Life co-founder, Lee, and I, met up in Amsterdam for a business conference. One night after the conference sessions, Lee, and another conference attendee, and I, went out to dinner. We were looking for a little vegan Indian restaurant that Lee had heard of and wanted us all to try.
The neighborhood in Amsterdam was made up of narrow alleys and canals, rendering our GPS unusable. It was also adjacent to the famed red light district and this meant walking past all those traditional shops and cafes that Amsterdam is best known for.
Then it started raining, causing the GPS to become flakier still. It quickly became somewhat farsical, but between the three of us, we eventually found the place. Sure, we were a little late but our slightly-longer-than-expected quest culminated with a great meal. In that shared experience we each gained something. It ended up being the most memorable part of that conference and trip: The three of us walking in circles around the red light district in the pouring rain through clouds of second hand marijuana smoke trying to find vegan Indian food.
So, I hope these were some fun stories. Maybe they will inspire you to give the Legednary Life No Phone Challenge a try. Or, if you aren’t ready to lean into the entire challenge yet, maybe just try and play a game where you don’t use your GPS on your next vacation or road trip and see what type of adventures you can get up to.
#LLNoPhoneChallenge #NoPhoneChallenge #LegendaryLife #LiveYourLegend