To say I was ready for my first Digital Detox retreat was an understatement, despite being fairly disciplined with my smartphone (no notifications switched on, not even SMS), I was just starting to feel a bit overwhelmed with all the technology around me due to my own fluctuating laptop and tablet usage plus being surrounded by people daily buried in their smartphones.
My first stop on the Digital Detox Adventure map was in Arrifana, Aljezure which is in the Southwest of Portugal at Offline Portugal which is run by two Portuguese ladies called Babara and Rita who had quit the London rat race and ventured back to their home country with an enormous passion to create an off-line space for people to get away from it the digital noise and focus on surf and yoga activities.
Greeted at the airport by a very smiley Rita and an hour and a half drive through beautiful countryside in heavy rain. Weather forecast was storms all weekend which I love, so all good with me.
Arrived at reception to an equally radiant and warm welcome by Barbara, Rita prompted to handover any contraband (gadgets) and they were swiftly locked away in a funky cabinet and I was handed the key. Rita explained that it is important for their guests to have the key as ultimately it is down to them to be accountable for their digital detox experience. Nothing quite like a willpower challenge to keep you on your toes!
A quick tour of the house and a meet and greet with the staff and then shown to my room. The lack of TV in my room wasn’t unexpected but did make me realise how conditioned I am to expect one when staying away from home.
At 12.30 I was tested to my limits by Barbara with a Yin Yoga session that saw my body bend into poses I never thought possible after having three children. Uncomfortable physically but incredibly rewarding, being given the space to lie on the floor without being jumped on like a bouncy castle by my kids was a huge novelty.
The afternoon was spent relaxing and getting a better understanding of the vision for Offline Portugal and Barbara and Rita’s philosophy. As Rita has a psychology degree she really understands the importance of creating a space that allows her guests to breathe and enjoy the moment.
Come the evening you could find guests from all over Europe sprawled out on beanbags in front of a roaring fire, listening to chill out music, reading and playing jigsaws. Delightful!
Woke at 7.30am (analogue bedside clock) and it took me a few moments to register where I was. Had a fleeting thought about checking my phone but realised I couldn’t and settled back down with my book. Unphased by the lack of tech access, headed for breakfast at 9am.
Mid-morning, had a great chat with Sten who teaches the surf activities about his journey from London to Portugal, amazed to hear that he checks his email just once a week. It reminded me how fascinating conversations with different people are and how they are so overlooked these days due to technology. Human connections and real conversations are the fabric of a healthy society and its apparent how rapidly these are in decline.
Another lunchtime Hatha Yoga session and very different to the day before, much faster paced and involved paired yoga which is interesting to say the least, you’ll need to be comfortable getting sweaty with a stranger.
A quick call home to the kids on the old school analogue phone, managed to stay in touch without a digital device. Yay!
Dinner was making pizzas from scratch with guests and staff, there were some interesting masterpieces (in particular from the veggies), vegetables piled so high they hadn’t a hope of cooking being tender this side of Christmas. Dinner was followed by a jam session on an assortment of instruments with the odd beer and plenty of hearty laughter. A truly fabulous way to spend the evening.
Breakfast and then some serious stealth persuasion tactics employed by Sten the surf instructor to convince me to go on a road trip with him and another guest to a surf beach down south. Despite numerous attempts insisting that stay put (scared of the sea), I finally relented!
Unfortunately, due to a tragic event that had happened along the roadside as we were on our way we had to head back to the house half way into our journey. The rest of the day was spent reflecting on the amazing experience with let’s face it, total strangers. Mulling over and savouring every moment of tech free existence.
Up at 5am to catch my flight, I felt genuine sadness when I asked for my phone back, it signified the end of what had been a transformational and eye-opening experience. I knew that the ‘digital noise’ and lure of using my phone would rear its ugly head as soon as I switched it back on. I left turning it on until the last minute at check-in I could let loved ones know I was on my way home.
My biggest takeaways:
Did I miss my phone? In a nutshell, no!
- I had an over reliance on checking my phone for the time. Going to invest in a watch and get an analogue clock for the bedroom.
- Surprised how much I used my phone for the camera. Going to use my digital camera more.
- Music is one of my main phone usages. Going to get an MP3 player.
- A renewed appreciation of how bloody rude and intrusive it is to have a phone either in your hand or visible to those you are with. Going to hide it away more when not in use.
- How little I practiced being still and present. Going to continue incorporating mindfulness into my life.
Offline Portugal, Too Good Not To Visit!
If you are looking for a beautiful, peaceful and authentic break, that will kick-start some real changes with your relationship with your smartphone, introduce you to new people and help you practice mindfulness through surf and yoga, then this is the place is an absolute must. Rita and Barbara are such gentle and caring hosts and have created something really magical, like home from home. I cannot recommend Offline Portugal highly enough and I can’t believe how much I miss still being there.
Prices range between 20-100 euros per night depending on the type of the budget/accommodation: They have a dorm room that sleeps four but also en-suite double rooms and even a small apartment with a private kitchen.
The team are at least 5 living at the house (founders and staff) and I promise you, they will insure you have the best holiday away but whilst also feeling like you are at home.