Switch off data roaming

Posted on November 14th, 2013

I used to jump through all kinds of telecommunications hoops to get internet coverage when I travelled (avoiding the $2398472987 bill from leaving my Australian phone plan connected). Now I give in.

Image via School of Style

Image via School of Style

I turn off data roaming and I simply go without coverage for most of the time, connecting to a hotel lobby or cafe’s wifi a few times a day. I did this during my trip to New York and unraveled in the freedom it afforded me. In queues, I just stood there enjoying the vacant time, instead of Instagram-fiddling. And I did emails in batches, thus reducing the influx of superfluous to-ing and fro-ing that happens when you respond to every request as they come in.

I’ve written about etoxing before, and this “space” it brings to life.

But this is the main observation I took from my roamless-data week: it enforced a certain kind of consideration – from myself and others – that I haven’t witnessed in years.

Being disconnected forced everyone to connect with me more mindfully.

Since everyone knew I didn’t have full coverage, we all made more concrete plans. 2pm at Cafe Blah Blah. Be there or be square. Everyone knew they couldn’t email to say they were running late or couldn’t make it.  Sure, they could text. And on one occasion someone did – to say they had to cancel, 15 minutes before we were due at dinner. But such was the non-communication groove that I was in, I pretended I didn’t see it and – what do you know – my friend pulled out his finger and got there anyway. And on time. He’d assumed I hadn’t seen his message and actually got considerate and committed. We had a great night, too.

Have you seen this video? My friend Kristine sent it to me. It’s pretty bodgy and the grammar is appalling (clearly the kid’s tech hiatus meant he didn’t have access to spell check). But I like how he got his mates into a more organic, committed, considered way of communicating – leaving notes outlaying concrete plans, for instance. This is how it used to be in my day. You made a plan, you stuck to it, if you were late you got really anxious that the other person would leave without you (I think this was a motivating factor…and, imagine! not having Instagram to fiddle with when you find yourself when your mate gives up on you and leaves you stranded at the bus interchange).

Back then, communication was finite. You wrote a note, or a letter, and it ended there. With email and IM and SMS and Skype chat, it remains open-ended, open to being amended, changed aborted.There was a great piece in the New York Times on the weekend by Mason Currey on the Death of Letter Writing. You might enjoy it.

I’ve also written about how we have such rare moments to truly commit.

We need more concrete commitment in our lives. Sturdier anchors. More fixed parameters. I’ve been feeling lately that everything feels way too floaty and flakey and up in the air. Like we’re all bobbing for apples. You too? Here’s an idea: spend a weekend without your phone. Tell friends in advance. Go out on the front foot and make plans for the weekend – real concrete ones, with a time and place determined – on a Tuesday and create a concrete anchor. And see if it makes things feel less floaty and more pleasingly connected.

Will you try it?

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  • Alex

    Very welcome article… I was without my phone for a month (still had email and fb at home) and it was so great. Now that it’s back I am using it all the time again, and I hate that fact! I definitely feel that it is a two-way thing. If people are used to having you on the end of a line all the time, they expect you to reply. If they know you aren’t contactable 24/7, they are more likely to contact you less often but in more meaningful ways. Life goes on without a phone. I felt so much less stressed, and so much more free.


  • Bec

    Sarah this post is so accurate for me right now!
    I’m currently nearing the home-run of a 5 month stint in Europe.
    When I got here, iphone in check, I’d brought with me a “travel SIM card” so that I could connect with family/friends or surf the web if I had to when I didn’t have wifi.
    WRONG. As it happens the universe had other plans, and this travel SIM just didn’t work.
    However, I got by just fine sans Internet. “What if I need to google map something in Rome?!” (You don’t, I found. People are always willing to help you.)
    I didn’t go completely Internet free though, I confess, and got my hit of instagram/Facebook/emailing family whenever we were somewhere with wifi, which was usually a hostel/hotel or similar.
    I found this forced me to be more ‘conscious’. I wasn’t checking my notifications in Prague, or uploading a photo at the beach in Nice. For once I was actually ENJOYING the moment, without the constant pull of multi-tasking.
    This is something I have trouble with in Aus, but now that I’ve seen it can be done I’ll definitely be more mindful when back home.


  • I never get international roaming or a sim card while I am away because I love having that time to be disconnected from the normal world (well at least calls and texts. Social Media is harder when there is wifi in cafes!). Such bliss to know you won’t hear that “toot toot” of an sms or ringtone that is old but you just can’t be bothered getting around to updating!