Silence on the Southern Ocean

March 16, 2017   8 Comments »

The first thing I do every morning is wake up, turn to the side of the bed, and pick up my phone to check email and social media ‘likes’. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t even look at the news; I look at social media likes and comments first. But I have a feeling I’m not alone in my social “please like me” addiction. It’s as if I’m back in high school trying to make sure that everyone signed my yearbook. But in the digital age it’s making sure people liked your Instagram photo. It’s all a bit disturbing.

That’s why the idea of taking a digital detox vacation to Antarctica for a month was appealing – yet terrifying at the same time. That ‘exciting and scary’ feeling is my perfect sweet spot when it comes to travel and venturing out of my comfort zone to do new things.

I love challenges and adventures; the need to push myself into new experiences is sewn deep into my DNA. The adventure addiction can take many forms, from adrenaline pumping abseiling to the more subtle challenge of going on a solo road trip in a foreign country. There are companies, like World Expeditions that specialize in taking you out of your comfort zone and venturing out all over the world if you need a bit more of a push and want someone to organize it all for you!

I was about to get on the Spirit of Enderby, a small research tourist ship, to sail to Antarctica and leave the digital world behind. This adventure was going to be a mental challenge. Could I go off the grid for 28 days while in a small ship sailing around the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea?


Digital Detox Antarctica

Spirit of Enderby, my disconnected home for a month

This might not seem like a big deal to people, but my online presence is more than simply social pass-the-time stuff. It’s my livelihood, my work, and it’s how I run my company. I use the word ‘company’ lightly – as it’s basically just me; which makes it even harder to be offline.

“The silence roars in one’s ears.”
– Carsten Borchgrevink – scientist Antarctica Expedition 1893

I decided to go cold turkey; no internet, no satellite phone, no ship email, and not even a movie or video on my laptop to watch. I wanted to see if I could leave it all behind for a month. I’m not exactly sure why I decided to torture myself, but I looked at it as an experiment to see how I would handle it. Would I love it, or would I hate it? Would it give me clarity, or give me hives?

Digital Detox

I kept a log of my detox thoughts and experiences on the ship. I’ve decided to simply share ‘as is’ and let you experience my digital detox vacation as I did.

Day 1: I had my last communication with the digital world as we left port tonight. I’m feeling excited, nervous, and like I have to vomit.

Day 3: I had the shakes, a few hot flashes, and generally could only find comfort in lying down on my bed. It was hard to tell if this was the effect of the digital detox or the seasickness and the 15 to 20 foot swells we encountered as we left Port Bluff and encountered the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean.

Day 5: Luckily it appears the illness is associated with sea sickness, so maybe my addiction to digital isn’t as bad as I thought…phew. However on the negative side I have many, many more days at sea and seasickness is not fun. What was I thinking going on a 28 day boat trip when I know I get seasick!

Day 6: I leave my phone in a drawer and simply have gone back to using a watch to determine what time it is in the morning – it feels a bit weird. On the plus side, battery life on my phone is actually quite impressive when I have it in airplane mode the whole time and only use it for pictures and note taking.

Day 9: I’m doing ok with the lack of connectivity so far, but we are only 9 days in at this point. However I wonder if I’m subconsciously missing it. Last night the news and connectivity showed up in my dreams. I dreamt that a passenger was reading a newspaper on the boat. I was anxious and stressed in my dream trying to decide whether I want to ask the passenger if I could read it or not when he’s done. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to know the news or not! Dreaming of connectivity is disturbing; the digital detox has side effects I hadn’t thought of.

Day 11: At sea all day and simply working on writing. I really miss having a way to ‘unwind’ after a day of work. After a writing day I like to unwind with some TV or something meaningless – but I have none! Reading a book takes more concentration than I want to give, but it will have to do instead. I’m reading The Lost Men about Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party – a fascinating and little known story. It’s getting me excited for our arrival to Antarctica!

Day 12: My mind is delving deep into the archives. I realized today that this is the first time in 10 years that I’ve slept in the same bed for 30 days. It feels pretty strange.

Day 14: I can’t believe how much and how well I’m sleeping on this voyage. Normally I’d stay up late writing or working with social media, but since that’s not available I simply go to bed and get a solid 8 hours of sleep! I think that’s what social media has stolen from me; sleep and sanity.

Day 15: I fell off the wagon. I couldn’t take it anymore; I really wanted to watch a TV show as opposed to read. My cabin neighbor, Ellen, just gave me the first season of Sex in the City on a jump drive to watch on my computer. It’s weird to be catapulted back to the bustling NYC while bobbing in the Southern Ocean. But it’s also a nice diversion. I had to do it. I needed a little video distraction. Just once…I can stop again I’m sure.

Day 17: I’m starting to go deep into my library of iPod music, stuff I normally don’t bother with as I usually listen to NPR, news, or podcasts while I work online. But seriously – Jim Croce is awesome, why don’t I listen to him more often?

Day 19: I was depressed today after our lecture on the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, mainly because it made me consider the political world again. Getting countries to agree on anything is so hard. I don’t think I realized how nice it was to not think about politics for nearly 3 weeks, until it was in front of me again today.

Day 20:  I miss Google. You realize just how dependent on it you are when it’s taken away. I had to spend time with my nose in actual books to reference things I was writing about! I felt like I was back in grade school again. Or we’d get into a riveting conversation over dinner and someone would ask a question none of us could answer. We all stared at each other and said, “if we only had Google right now…”! I don’t think we realize how much we take getting answers ASAP for granted. Go on a digital detox and soon you will. I started a list of things I needed to Google when I got back to civilization.

Day 21: My cabin mate told me today how impressed she was at my ability to focus and get work done. These days where we are at sea I buckle down, make a work list and start to produce. I’m normally a pretty hard worker, however I hate to admit it, but I’ve noticed I’m a more focused without the internet. Days at sea I’m getting writing done and videos produced, but if I had internet I’d be totally distracted throughout the day checking Facebook and Instagram, getting into chats with friends, and preoccupying myself with the news. With all of that gone now, I just work and get stuff done. I still have distractions, but running outside to look at penguins on icebergs by the ship is probably better distraction than looking at Facebook!

Day 22: I rediscovered encyclopedias today. They are fascinating things…actual books with information in them that I can use for my writing! Who needs Google when you have the Encyclopedia of Antarctica!

Digital Detox Encyclopedia

Working and doing research with an actual book!

Day 25: I’m a little scared I’m getting use to this lack of digital in my life. It feels good, really good. Sure, I miss communicating with my friends, but I love the focus it has given me, I’m writing and researching things, and I’m sleeping 8+ hours a night. My phone is simply a camera and note taker. And I no longer get little windows popping up in the middle of my writing about someone liking something on Facebook, or messaging me. And most of all, I don’t feel that constant pressure to stay in touch that plagues us. People know they won’t hear from me, I feel like I have a ‘get out of jail free’ card in some ways.

Day 28: Back to the real world. We are anchored at Stewart Island and when the wind blows just right you can get a cell phone signal. People (including myself sadly) are up on deck calling loved ones and checking messages. I can’t really say that I’m happy about being back online. But I know I can’t live in the dark either. I have really mixed emotions about the detox. And I’m still going to wait a number of days before I actually hop back on social media, and slowly get myself used to the noise again.

What Can Being Digitally Silent Teach You?

This journey to Antarctica was more meaningful to me than ever. I think it has to do with the fact that I was more present, and less in my digital world of work and sharing. Going forward, I need to find a better balance when I travel and put sleep as a priority. I learned you don’t need to have answers to every question asap, sometimes it’s exhilarating to simply wonder.

The lack of noise on the digital side; no email, no wifi, no Google, and no connectivity awakened other senses in me. Even though I took over 3,700 pictures and videos on this trip, I realized what I will remember most from the journey is the sounds, not the pictures.

The sounds of the albatross gliding through the air on Campbell Island cutting through the complete silence.
The incredible constant roar of the penguin colonies 40,000 strong.

The sound of the avalanches in the distance at Inexpressible Island.
The crunch of my boots walking in the snow.
The wind howling and whistling so loudly I couldn’t hear.
The slosh of the waves of the southern ocean.
The sound of the boat slowly moving through sea ice.blazing a trail.
The chirps of the Adelie chicks looking for food from their parents.
The flatulence and groans of the elephant seals.
The patter of the penguins walking through the water on the beach.
The squish of the water-logged landscape of Campbell island as we hiked through the bog.

Basically, it is only when we are silent for a bit that we can hear these things and process them. And that’s what this trip was about for me; learning, listening, and processing what Antarctica was all about. Breaking out of my comfort zone and leaving the digital world behind was the best thing I’ve done. I found the joy in silence and travel again.

Just Listen for Yourself

Do you Own Digital Detox Vacation

Want to break out of your comfort zone and into something or some place new? Check out World Expedition’s adventures that will take you all over the world to new places, cultures, and experiences!

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This article is brought to you by World Expeditions #WEVentureOut; break out of your comfort zone to venture into something new! All opinions expressed here are my own.

The Sound of Silence
How does one handle a digital detox vacation in the middle of the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea?

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