Off The Grid in Oz

We’ve all felt it.

That feeling where you reach into your bag, your pocket, or your cupholder, and you realize you’ve forgotten your phone.

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The initial reaction is of course panic. Mostly around the “what-ifs” that immediately flood your brain. What if someone needs to get in touch with me? What if there’s an emergency? What if Grandma calls? What if I lose my way and I don’t have the maps app? What if I pass a perfectly instagrammable cafe window and I can’t take a picture of it? THE HORROR.

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Don’t be ashamed, we all do it. Our collective addiction to technology is unfortunately something most of us can relate too. We’re lucky enough to be living in a universe where you can summon a pizza, a ride home, or even another human, just by pressing the right buttons on a fancy looking calculator. That is an enormous power most of us take for granted, and we don’t realize how ingrained these devices are in our daily lives until we are suddenly and without intention, deprived. This happens a lot when we’re travelling…but not as much as you may think..  

"Whether we’re following Google Maps on an epic adventure, framing the perfect panoramic snapshot, or connecting with family and friends back home, our mobile devices contribute a huge portion of our experience as travellers."

I was no exception when I made the big move to Australia in 2010, planning to spend a year working up and down the coast. I made sure I had a Vodafone contract before I even stepped off the tarmac. I didn’t want to miss a second of news from the city I was leaving behind for a whole 365 days. Despite being on the other side of the planet, I felt connected. It wasn’t until my boyfriend and I decided to buy a ‘97 station wagon, name it Agnes, and make it our home, that things changed.

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Good ole’ Aggie and I

When we ushered in The Age of Agnes, we knew we would be making a few sacrifices when it came to modern technology. While we were still considered fully equipped children of the millennium, simple tasks like charging laptops or finding reception always turned into some kind of technological hunting trip. This usually involved setting up camp in a mall lounge chair and bogarting the outlets only meant for the cleaners, or nursing a solo iced coffee for 3 and a half hours just to piggyback on some poor café’s WiFi. It was tough at times, but we made it work.

"We recognized the limitations of our new living situation and instead of embracing them, we worked around them."

We were stationed in Sydney during the legendary heatwave of 2011; the hottest January I’ve ever lived through and the only one during which I voluntarily slept – night after night – in the back of a car. We knew the city was overflowing with useful resources like jobs, free internet, and easy access to unlocked bathrooms, but we could only take the heat and the crowds for so long.

Fleeing from the radiating pavement on our way up the east coast, we stopped for a few nights at a campground on the edge of New South Wales. It was probably hovering around the same temperature as the city centre, but somehow being away from the buildings and noise made the air seem cooler. The campground was on the water and surrounded by trees, with trucks and tents dotting the green spaces in between. We rolled into an empty lakeside plot with fresh air in our lungs and smiles on our faces, and set up camp.

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Pondering the meaning of life on the Australian coastline.

It wasn’t long before we realized we were out of reception. WAY out of it. Our phones were flashing “No Service” no matter what obscure angle we held them at, and the laptops were both dead. There was no WiFi at the campsite, and not an electrical outlet in sight.We had paid for 3 nights.

"Without even planning to, we had gone completely off the grid."

I actually hate to admit the new freedom I felt, to be so completely and suddenly disconnected. It was like ripping a band-aid off. I should have felt this before, but realized I had never really given myself the chance. Even while living in the trunk of a car, I still managed to stay more or less connected. Usually something along the lines of “you can reach me at this number” or “message me on Facebook” would be sufficient to suppress the lingering panic of being AWOL in an emergency, but suddenly the decision was out of my hands. Not a soul on earth could reach me if they tried. It was weird, unfamiliar, and remarkably liberating.

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That night as we slept by the lake, we experienced a new kind of quiet. No street noises, no hum from the air-conditioner, no buzzing of text messages on the nightstand. Just the sounds of the crickets and maybe a rustle in the bushes every few minutes. I went out to explore, and automatically reached for my phone to light the way. I stopped, re-calculated, and picked up the actual flashlight beside it instead.

I stood ankle-deep in the lake and watched the moon rise over the water. I turned off my flashlight and listened to the sounds in the trees. I wanted to text my friend back in the city and tell her how nice it was out here, but I couldn’t. I wanted to call my mom and tell her how much she’s going to love it when she comes to visit, but I couldn’t. I had no choice but to stand silent and experience the moment happening around me. I never knew limitations could create so much freedom.

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Enjoying the serenity being in a particularly rural campground.

After that night, we made an effort to go off the grid more often. We would spend our nights exploring, playing cards, or cooking dinner by the beach. I’m not saying I didn’t fall right back into old habits when we moved back into a place with electricity and a ceiling, but it was a much-needed reality check. 

When you spend life refreshing your newsfeed you miss the little things. What are the little things exactly? Well, they are life. As much as we might like to think that the documentation of life serves as a reminder of the little moments, some things are best experienced firsthand — not through the lens of a camera.

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Adam and I enjoying the expat life.

Original photos by Adam Syrnyk of Drifting Vision.