Digital Detox: almost completely offline on the Way of St. James

St. James

Especially on vacation, many wish to stop not only the time, but also the racing pulse of e-mails, messengers and social media. Our author Ina tells how she managed to do this on the Portuguese Way of St. James - without completely forsaking the practical aspects of the World Wide Web.

I lie sleepless in my bunk bed. Above me, my roommate, who looks so delicate but acoustically takes up an amazing amount of space, snores loudly. So this is how it begins, my second Camino de Santiago. Because sleep is out of the question despite earplugs, I reflexively reach for my cell phone. It is 8 centimeters wide, 17 centimeters long and weighs 245 grams. My smartphone and I have a complicated relationship. I carry it with me almost all the time, without it I feel vulnerable and incomplete. But with e-mails, push notifications, stories and feeds, it not only robs me of an outrageous amount of my life, but also increasingly turns me into a person I don't even want to be. unfocused. Diverted. Not stay concentrated. It's time to change that, and if not now, then when?

Porto, this is where my journey begins

In the next 10 days I will make a pilgrimage from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. And hopefully regain a little more power over my life in the 250 kilometers that lie ahead. And that starts with these 245 grams, which are currently bathing my hostel room in a dim light.

Digital control instead of completely offline

Actually, I planned and prepared everything so well that I could just switch off my cell phone here and now for 10 days. I informed my most important private and business contacts about my travel plans. Anyone who still writes to me by e-mail will receive a friendly but firm note of absence from me. Between the lines it says that disturbing my need for spiritual rest can only be justified by a few extreme situations like death or hospitalization. And yet I can't bring myself to switch off my smartphone completely, especially since I would then be carrying 245 grams of completely useless luggage around with me - a pilgrim taboo! So instead of cutting it off completely, I decide to spend the next 10 days reducing it to what I think it should be: a useful item that makes my life a little bit easier, rather than mastering it.

Digital detox without e-mails, WhatsApp, Signal and Co.

Three different email inboxes with calendar, chat and video call options. Whatsapp, and Signal, Facebook including Messenger, Instagram, LinkedIn. How do I prepare my Digital Detox now? I can deactivate my e-mail apps and then hide them deep in some subfolder so that I don't access them out of habit. Unfortunately, I cannot deactivate the messenger services WhatsApp and Signal on my smartphone, only uninstall them. So I create a manual backup so I can reinstall it after the pilgrimage, but even after that's complete, my index finger lingers over the "Uninstall" button for a disproportionate amount of time. Until a particularly loud snoring from my roommate startles me so much that my click into messenger detox seems more like an accident than a liberation. The small, familiar green-and-white app icon vanishes into thin air, and before I can change my mind, I quickly dump its blue counterpart as well. Two disruptive factors eliminated.

My Way of St. James without social media

Because LinkedIn is a business and I want to do something with self-discovery here, it's easy for me to delete the app. I'm having a harder time with Facebook and Instagram. Wouldn't it be great to share my impressions with others right away? Stop. I've met far too often over the past five years, since I've been using more or less constantly I'm traveling with my sailing boat, caught thinking about how to present something in a story or in a post in particularly beautiful places - instead of just enjoying the moment to the fullest. I also know myself far too well: I don't have the discipline to just post myself and then close the app again straight away, but then mostly dabble aimlessly through feeds and stories for minutes - exactly what I do with my digital detox want to avoid. So I decided to uninstall both apps and after that my smartphone feels a whole lot lighter. What do I actually need it for now?

Way of St. James hiking trail
beautiful landscape

Smart phone: pilgrim apps instead of pilgrim guides

One of the many reasons I love pilgrimages is that it takes little planning. Pack, drive there and then just follow the signs day by day, step by step, towards Santiago de Compostela. Everything beautiful and not so beautiful, everything wonderful and sad, happens all by itself on the way - and that slows things down tremendously. Ultimately, there is only one core question that you have to answer again and again: how far do I want to run today? The answer to this question depends on the individual condition, the level of difficulty of the route, the weather and where there is accommodation and catering. I could now carry most of this information around with me in a pilgrim guide, completely offline. But firstly they are only up to date to a limited extent and secondly I don't buy books for one-off use. And that brings us to an aspect for which my smartphone proves to be extraordinarily smart.

Using the apps Good way and Camino Ninja I can find out in a flash which pilgrim accommodations are open at all, how far away they are from my current location and whether there is anything to eat there or on the way. I can even check if I need to hand wash my clothes afterwards or if I can share a washing machine with other pilgrims. Smart right? Long live the Internet! I usually call the accommodations briefly in the course of the morning to clarify any outstanding questions and, if necessary, to reserve a bed. And then all I have to do is follow the yellow arrows and refill my water supplies from time to time.

Digital Detox: the right pilgrim outfit for my smartphone

When I'm out and about, I occasionally pull out my smartphone to take photos. Even after the pilgrimage, I can always remember the pretty towns like Barcelos, Ponte de Lima and Tui as well as the lush green shimmering landscapes of Portugal and northern Spain in spring. And to places that mean something only to me personally - because I met someone there, understood something important or shed a tear that was about time. If my motivation lets me down, which is rare but does happen, I have a playlist with feel-good music up my sleeve. And if I can't sleep at night, which unfortunately happens very often, I can use my phone to play a sleep meditation. Since I don't share my photos with anyone along the way and downloaded music and meditations before my trip, I don't even need to be online for all of this. Accommodation, food, photos, music and meditation – I find just the right pilgrim outfit for my smartphone. 245 grams: rectangular, practical, good.

Break on the Way of St. James

Ina's three tips at the end:

  • Digital detox for beginners: Uninstalling apps completely is a bit too much for you to get started? You can also simply log out of Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Co. in the app – usually somewhat hidden under “Settings”. You will probably be surprised how often you still open the apps briefly out of pure habit.
  • Save battery, gain time: On the Way of St. James, in addition to the Digital Detox, I also learned to appreciate the ultra battery-saving function of my smartphone. In addition to the basic functions such as making calls and texting, you can select four apps that you can access in this mode - for example the camera and a pilgrim app. This not only protects the battery, but also helps with the digital detox, because all the other apps that otherwise like to draw you into their digital spell are not even displayed.
  • Group digital detox: If, like me, you occasionally make a pilgrimage with others who are not doing a digital detox, it can be a bit strange at first. For example, when you let yourself fall on the grass together for a break - and everyone else disappears online within a very short time. I have always used these moments to devote my attention to my immediate surroundings: What do I see, what do I smell, what do I hear, how does the ground I'm lying on feel like? A kind of reset button for all the senses - and at least physically I was more relaxed afterwards than those who had been staring at their cell phones in an often uncomfortable position.
The cat followed me everywhere
Ina on the jetty


Ina is a digital nomad and lives on one Sailboat in the Mediterranean. When there is a doldrums, the frees avowed minimalist Bays and Beaches of plastic, is on the lookout for special places for Good travel, photographs and writes articles on environmental and sustainability topics of all kinds.

Photo credits: Ina Hiester, Brittni-Moffatt (Ina profile picture)

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