A Return to Summer Camp

Outdoor retreat, meditation retreat, yoga - retreats are big these days. People are eager to get away, try something outside of their comfort zone, and meet some new people. There are a lot of options out there but one little retreat tucked away in the Sierra Nevadas is doing things a little different. Nellie Davis, started Camp Out Yonder with the goal of giving people the chance to have a “digital detox” in nature and teach the skills to implement tech boundaries in our day to day lives. "As entrepreneurs and freelancers I observed that there is no line where technology ends. I don't want to encourage an anti-tech mentality, just mindful tech,” says Davis.

About a month ago I was invited to join 16 other guests at this years camp, nestled in a yellow pine forrest about 45 minutes outside of Reno. We were a diverse group that came from all over. There were a few couples, a few friends, but mostly solo individuals - all looking to disconnect in a calm and natural environment. 

Image from the New York Times

Image from the New York Times

Upon arrival at camp attendees are greeted with champagne and then asked to say goodbye to their phones. Each guest is given a Yondr magnetic locking case that they can keep with them in their cabin or yurt. If a guest requests to have access to their phone Nellie or her staff will happily unlock the case, although she says no ones ever asked in previous years.

While at camp your days are filled with anything from intention setting workshops, outdoor yoga, alpine tower climbing, to a whiskey tasting, campfire lectures, or an ecology hike identifying medicinal plants. The food provided is healthy and delicious and there is plenty of down time to journal or ready a book in a lounge chair. Participation for every activity is not required but no cell phones is.

According to the 2017 report "Surveying The Digital Future", conducted by University of Southern California, the average American spends 23.6 hours per week online and 14.3 of that was for work only. These staggering numbers may be shocking to some but they should come as no surprise given our current digital obsessed age. “Our work weeks have gotten longer, our anxiety has gotten higher and we are losing touch with what it is that makes humanity so amazing, " says Davis. 

Human connection to each other and nature is what inspires Davis in her own life and she was eager to challenge folks to connect on a human level with everything around them while at camp. Like most people I pretty much always have my phone on me. Typically the only times I disconnect is when I’m out of service. Checking our phones has become habitual but through my stay at camp I learned how to make taking breaks from screens a regular thing in my life.

You arrive at camp a little nervous and unsure, just like the first day of summer camp as a kid, but you leave having made new friends, learned new things, and most importantly you've taken a much needed break from technology. These fleeting moments seem to be few and far between these days so a weekend a camp helps set new intentions for when you leave camp. As our weekend came to an end more than a few of us mentioned how we weren’t ready to use technology again and return to the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. Thankfully, Davis provided us each with some actionable items that we can all add to our “toolbox” to help achieve greater work life balance. Here are Davis’s suggestions:

  • Digital sunset. From 7:30pm-7:30am, we set aside one hour each evening and morning of undivided time without phones. This could be completely different for you, according to your schedule. But we suggest turning off your devices at least a hour before bed. 

  • No phones with meals. Whether we are at home or eating out, no phones at the table. Encourage everyone to participate by phone stacking-- whoever picks up their phone first also picks up the tab. If you are at work, turn away from your desk when eating. Notice the color, taste and smell of your food.

  • Tech-free zones. Most of us already know not to text and drive, while crossing the street or at the movies but what about times that may not be so obvious, like in bed? Besides stating the fact that it’s not very sexy when your partner is more engaged with a screen than you, screen time before bed kills your sleep cycle. The bed is a sacred place for rest and… not resting.

  • Create a morning ritual. Try to wake up your brain tech-free for one hour. Replace digital with analog and use meditation, yoga, journaling and gratitude practice to set your intention for the day. 

  • Get out in nature! Often when we think of nature, we assume that means getting out to the middle of no where— forced without service. Take a stroll in your neighborhood and notice the blades of grass popping from the cement, the tree’s changing leaves, or the cloud pattern in the sky. Intentionally leave your phone behind. 

  • Batch and set boundaries. Establish content plans and schedule posts. Limit social media use by deleting apps and giving yourself a time limit. Set clear expectations in communications. 

I hope that you have been inspired to do your own digital detox and spend some time reconnecting with yourself, your inner circle, and of course Mother Nature.