Twenty years ago when you volunteered abroad, you didn’t have to think about being “present”. Without social media and smartphones, there wasn’t much of an alternative.
Fast forward to present day and it’s hard to find someone who isn’t wheeling a selfie stick, hunting down a WiFi signal or snapchatting their day.
Our intrusive email alerts and social media sharing habits have snuck their way from our dinner tables into experiences that are meant to be revitalizing and immersive.
If you want a more meaningful volunteer experience abroad, it’s time to ditch your technology and go on a digital detox.
What is a digital detox vacation?
A digital detox vacation is when you leave your cell phone and laptop at home.
The only thing in your suitcase are the essentials like clothes, shoes, and toiletries. All your other electronic devices don’t get to board the plane with you.
Why would you want to do this? A digital detox helps you break the habit of social media addiction. Instead of scrolling aimlessly through Facebook, you’re forced to engage with what is going around you.
Whether it’s talking to new people or figuring out how to get from A to B without the help of Suri, pairing a digital detox with your trip will change the way you travel.
Five surprising benefits of a digital detox vacation
1) Your memory improves
Without the constant distraction of technology, people are more likely to remember details of conversations.
Scientists believe it’s because constant technology use has trained our brains not to register insignificant details.
By re-training our brain to cope without technology, we can learn, and retain, facts about other people and places that help deepen friendships and enrich our experiences abroad.
2) You’ll sleep better
Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Your screen addiction could be to blame.
Neuroscientists believe that the blue light from our smartphones suppresses melatonin in the body. Melatonin helps us relax and prepare us for sleep. Without it we remain more alert.
If you’re checking your phone before going to bed, you’re not going to get the high-quality rest that you need.
3) You open your mind up to new perspectives
Without the constant noise of technology, we suddenly have a lot of time to think.
All this extra time gives you a chance to solve problems, commit to making changes in your life and brainstorm your next adventures.
You might decide to make a career change, stick to a new fitness regime or figure out the best way to approach a challenging project at work.
While volunteering abroad, gaining new perspectives is crucial. You need it to come up with innovative ways to solve a problem and to understand the intricacies of a culture completely different to yours.
4) You will connect more with those around you
Have you ever gone to dinner with your family or friends and the table is silent? Where everyone is staring at their phones, scrolling through their Instagram feeds, answering emails or playing Candy Crush?
Technology may bring us closer together online, but in the real world, it often gets in the way of our personal and professional relationships.
The same habits have seeped into how we travel. The first thing most us do when we land in a new country is to buy a local sim card. We spend long bus rides mindlessly tapping away instead of striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to us.
By going on a volunteer trip without the crutch of technology, you’re forced to get that human interaction from real people. And you might just learn something about their culture, get an inside tip on where to get to the best food or make a new friend.
5) You’ll have more conversations
How often do you swipe open your phone and tap on Google the moment you have a question?
While Google has improved our lives in countless ways, it has affected how deeply we connect with other people.
When you don’t have Google to answer a question, you have to rely on the people around you.
Four incredible places to take a digital detox
Ready to cut your digital tethers on your next volunteer trip abroad? Try one of these locations where the WiFi signal is weak, but your impact is strong.
For the ultimate digital detox vacation, fly to Seychelles and sign up for a marine conservation expedition. You’ll get to explore the island’s white-sand beaches and ocean depths while helping the local government sustain their natural heritage.
Don’t know how to dive? Become PADI certified and go from a novice all the way up to a Divemaster in the island utopia.
Reconnect on the picture-perfect island paradise of Fiji. The WiFi signal here is limited, and you’ll have to make an effort to check your social media or send an email.
On your days off you can head into the lush jungles for a hike, hire a kayak, island hop or take part in local ceremonies and traditions.
Jalova, Costa Rica
For a remote digital detox trip, volunteer on our jaguar conservation project in Costa Rica. You’ll live inside the dense forest and have to take a boat across the river before you’ll be able to find some bars.
But with all the exotic wildlife around you, your phone will be the last thing on your mind. Wake up early and watch as sea turtles lay their eggs, or as the turtle hatchlings break free of their nests and dash for the ocean.
You’ll also learn new skills such as how to undertake a biological assessment survey, how to monitor the movements of 30 key aquatic bird species and how to set up camera traps to observe the elusive jaguar.
Limpopo, South Africa
Go on the safari adventure of a lifetime and volunteer in Africa with animals.
Cell phone signal is spotty at best in Limpopo, ensuring that you’ll remain present as you track down the king of the jungle. During this time, you’ll work with the reserve to help manage the delicate ecosystems of South Africa’s wildlife.
If you’re looking to make the bush a permanent lifestyle and career change, you can also sign up for an accredited safari field guide course.
Ready to plan your digital detox and volunteer abroad? Speak to a member of our team today.