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Home Vacation My phone got stolen on vacation. It turned out to be a blessing.

My phone got stolen on vacation. It turned out to be a blessing.

by Staff

The next morning, I woke up, frazzled and freaked, but excited we were leaving Quito for our primary destination: the Galapagos. After two flights, a bus ride, and quick zip in a zodiac out to the luxury expedition yacht Origin, we embarked on a weeklong Abercrombie & Kent cruise through the southern and central reaches of the archipelago residing in the Pacific 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.

In between settling into our cabin, exploring the ship, and meeting our fellow expeditioners, I engaged in marathon Skype sessions with AT&T and Apple customer service reps, because the thieves who took my phone were trying to hack it to steal my identity and access my credit cards. Though the crooks were eventually thwarted, it was a cat-and-mouse game on a flaming roller coaster, putting me on edge when I should have been savoring the special time with my son.

Though I still had my laptop and camera, I felt unmoored from reality. According to the Screen Time calculator, I spend roughly 3½ hours a day staring at my phone to read news, respond to emails and texts, surf social media, take pictures, and what feels like a million other things. Now all that functionality was gone. How was I going to survive without this lynchpin of modern life?

Sea lions on a beach in the Galapagos.Nevin Martell

My angst was unconsciously amplified by our fellow guests, who always had their phones at the ready to capture what was happening around us and stay connected with the world beyond us. Oh, how I yearned to be like them, taking a call on the sundeck. “I’d love to chat,” I imagined myself saying as I stepped into the al fresco jacuzzi at the ship’s prow, “but Zephyr and I are jacuzziing while watching the sunset over the Galapagos. Yes, I said the Galapagos.”

Not being able to humblebrag in that moment felt like I wasn’t enjoying the cruise as much as I could. I stewed on that thought for a few minutes as Zephyr and I relaxed in the warm, fizzing waters. And then I mentally slapped myself silly for the privilege and pettiness of such a thought. We were together in paradise. I didn’t need anything else.

The next morning, we visited the island of Cerro Brujo. Sea lions lazed on the beach, lava lizards skittered across the sandy pathways, and we soon found ourselves face to face with blue-footed boobies, one of the most recognizable native species in the Galapagos. Zephyr and I were in awe.

We both snapped a ton of pictures with our cameras, but we also listened to what our supremely knowledgeable guides, Antonio and Fernando, had to tell us about the flora and fauna surrounding us, and we had interesting conversations with our fellow travelers, getting to know them a bit better. It was a good group. Everyone was sympathetic to our situation, texting updates to my wife to assure her we were OK and offering to take pictures of us.

The following day, we docked at Espanola, home to the striking red and green mottled iguanas that look like dragons crossed with dinosaurs. Hundreds of them splayed across the rocky shoreline, claws firmly gripping the stones, their eyes heavy-lidded under the pleasing swelter of the sun. It was like walking through a land before humanity was even possible.

There’s so much beauty in the Galapagos. Could the author enjoy it more without his phone as a distraction?Nevin Martell

For the first time, I was pleased I didn’t have a phone. It would have felt out of place, almost inappropriate. Zephyr was elated at its absence, joking that it was nice I finally had a screen time limit, too.

It wasn’t like our fellow expeditioners were happier because they still had their phones. Many times, I watched someone seeking a signal, answering calls and emails, doom-scrolling the news, or flicking through Instagram, while utterly missing out on the otherworldly beauty around us. I’m not judging; I’ve done it countless times on countless trips.

As our magical week unfurled — watching male frigate birds inflating their brilliant red throat pouches to attract mates, frolicking balletically underwater sea lions, and getting up close and personal with century-old, impossibly gigantic tortoises — I found myself not caring about my iPhone at all. Not having it pinging away and popping up alerts lifted a burden I didn’t realize I was carrying. Instead, I concentrated on Zephyr, savored our time together, and lost myself in our unforgettable vacation.

Being phone-less while traveling was eye-opening and soul-lifting. I plan on doing it again. I’m not saying I want to get pickpocketed or otherwise lose my phone for an entire trip. Instead, some days I will leave it behind in the hotel room to be more present and engaged with the people with me, the experiences we’re having, and the world around us. After all, if you’re not in the moment, you’re not really traveling, you’re just moving through space.

Nevin Martell can be reached at [email protected].

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