cabin in the woods

I spent a weekend in a remote cabin to do a digital detox

I spend too much time on my phone.

From the moment I wake up until I go to bed, I’m holding a smartphone in my hands. 

It’s a beautiful device. I can reply to my friends, look up things I want to know, and answer an urgent email. It also allows me to procrastinate, spend countless hours browsing Reddit, and pings me for attention, even when it’s not essential.

I’ve tried numerous things:

  • I’ve attempted turning off my phone. It went great until clients needed to talk to me and called my co-workers. Turning off my phone entirely just wasn’t an option.
  • I’ve tried putting it on “do not disturb”-mode. This helps me during periods in which I need to focus, but afterward, I have to catch up on all the things I’ve missed while my phone was on silent mode.
  • I’ve limited the list of apps that can send me notifications. This limitation was a good option, but sometimes it was a bit too limiting. On the one hand, I get quite a few critical messages through Facebook Messenger, but on the other hand, a lot of notifications are of more spammy group chats. It’s a catch 22. 

Valentine’s day was catching up to me. My girlfriend and I love exploring, so I figured out a plan to kill two birds with one stone: spending quality time with Evelien -my girlfriend- and detoxing from my phone usage. 

I booked a ‘cabin in the woods.’ It’s a semi-remote cottage not far from our home. The fact that it was near our house provided a bit of security for when we ‘forgot’ something or if it didn’t work out and we would be bored out of our minds. 

Mindset-shift

My girlfriend works at a law firm, and I run a marketing agency. Our daily lives are hectic. I booked the cabin from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning. The first big test was to see if we could quit work early and enjoy the rest of the day doing anything but work.

When I woke up on Friday, the sun was shining, and it looked like it was going to be a great day. I kicked off with a gym session with my trainer and headed to the office afterward. 

Even at the office, it was peaceful and quiet for a change. I only had one single meeting and some work on a few fun projects to get through, and we’d be off to the cabin! I love it when a plan comes together. 

Ten minutes before I had to depart, the ‘urgent’ emails started pouring in. I had to shift my mindset here. Do I continue working and delay our weekend, or do I stick to my digital detox plan? 

I reminded myself that we needed this. I put my phone on do-not-disturb, informed my colleagues of the urgent issues, and departed to the cabin. It was the right decision, after all, if I’d put work first (like I usually would), I would have failed from the start. 

Can my car handle this? 

I drive a Mercedes CLA. It’s a lovely, sporty vehicle. I opted for the AMG-package, which lowers the car. Great for highways and regular Belgian traffic. That is until you try to get to a remote cabin that’s only reachable by a narrow dirt road with more holes than a golf course. 

“This is all part of the experience!” I reminded myself while fearing for my car’s life. I slowed down to pedestrian speed and tried to avoid wrecking my car. It took us ten minutes to drive a few hundred meters. We laughed it off and thanked the Lord (whoever he/she/them/it is) that we did not get stuck! 

When we finally arrived, we found a beautiful wooden lodge. It was like we were in a movie (the romantic kind, not the creepy horror movies). I took a quick tour of the premises and found a friendly, sweet black cat that would stick with us for the whole trip. She was called ‘Kado,’ which loosely translates as ‘Gift.’ 

We decided not to bring any food or drinks. Going to the store after checking out what was already at hand in the cabin (we booked it via Airbnb) seemed like a logical idea. It was. It also meant we had to drive back on the bumpy road. Like the adventurers we are, we got right back on it! 

Time for snacks

We drove to the store and bought water, food, and -too many- snacks. It’s a holiday, hey, what did you expect? 

Even though the cabin had a fully equipped kitchen, we decided we were spending our first night in a local restaurant. We checked Google Maps for recommendations (so much for digital detoxing) and found a 4* rated place nearby. We were a bit caught off guard by the setting when we got there. Even though it was highly rated and also looked a bit fancy online, it felt like we were in a local pub or dive bar. My girlfriend was a bit hesitant at first, but we always try to make the best of every situation. So let’s try this, I said. 

We ordered ribs and chicken. Let me tell you; the portions were HUGE. I had never seen a side order of fries that large! The food was great, though. The waitress was super nice and accommodating. She laughed when we said that we couldn’t finish the meal; apparently, that was quite common here.

I’ve never made a fire before

When I booked through Airbnb, I noticed one night of bonfire was included. Sadly, I’m not a fire master, so I asked friends for advice through Messenger (strike two of digital detox). Use something small to start the fire, build a pyramid, and make sure the center is hot. Great tips, but I couldn’t visualize what I had to do. 

After messing around with numerous Yenga-style structures, the fire caught on, and we had a great, deep, and meaningful conversation and a glass of wine. A cozy ending of the first day being ‘remote.’ 

The bakery is busy, go early

I don’t tend to wake up early when I’m on holiday, but seeing as we fell asleep while watching the final episode of The Witcher (great show, by the way), we were exhausted (I think it’s something about the fresh air 😉

After waking up, I immediately remembered the advice of the nice lady who manages the cabin: go early; otherwise, there will be nothing left, and you’ll be waiting in line for hours!

So I put on clothes, splashed my face with water and took notes while my girlfriend was daydreaming about all the food she wanted. Around approximately 7 am (on a Saturday, no less!), I left on my mission to get my lady some fresh croissants. 

It was a quick drive to the bakery, and when I arrived, of course… nobody was there yet. Oh well, the early bird gets the worm, as they say. We enjoyed an excellent artisanal breakfast and lounged a bit while reading books. I’m working on Atomic Habits by James Clear; she was reading Stephen King. 

Let’s do something! 

Even though we crave rest and quiet while we are busy with our lives, we can’t deal with it for too long. So I decided we were going for a walk. The cabin borders a national park, so we set off. 

Harry Potter vibes

I took along my DSLR camera (Canon with Sigma lens) to experiment. I recently picked up photography as a new hobby and business opportunity — the pictures throughout this story I made with my camera. I love experimenting, and a forest with dunes seemed like the perfect place to try out some new tricks. 

Even though the walk took an hour judging by the estimates on the information brochure, we spent more than double the time of that discovering the area and taking a bunch of pics (980 to be exact!). 

What to do when you get an essential email

I spent the next hour editing the pictures while Evelien was making lunch. Eggs, bacon, and leftover bread from the bakery. I felt very content and down to earth, very “back to basics.” We put on some good music and danced around the cabin. Life was excellent and stress-less. I quickly glanced at my phone and noticed a few important work-related emails. Regular Oliver would instantly drop everything and respond. This version of me was so chill; I realized it’s not THAT important, and it could wait until Monday. 

We spent more time reading, sitting on the porch, and we finally finished that final episode of The Witcher. It felt like it was our destiny. 😉 

Did I detox from my phone use? 

Spending time in a remote cabin was a great way to reduce my phone usage. I noticed seemingly essential things weren’t that important. Spending time with the people I love, reading, hiking, and cooking allowed me to relax a lot more than during a regular weekend. Not being able to work removed my daily stress. 

Then again, a smartphone is useful. I was able to take quick pictures, searched for a nice restaurant closeby, and asked my friends for advice when I was stuck.

Smart devices aren’t the enemy; the way we use them is. If you can find a way to use it for its intended purposes, it’s okay. When it dominates your life, and you’re glued to your screen all the time, you might need to spend a weekend in a remote cabin to reevaluate those life choices. 

Writing this blog post in the cabin, digital with a purpose

Your experience will differ from mine. I was delighted that I was able to return to the roots of living. I’m going to monitor my phone usage in the next few weeks and try to focus on what’s truly essential in life. 

In the end, It’s more important to look at the beautiful things happening around you, than to look at your screen all the time. 😉 

Here’s a link to the cabin I booked: https://www.airbnb.be/rooms/6839448?s=67&shared_item_type=1&virality_entry_point=1&sharer_id=326772352

If you don’t have an AirBnB-account yet, feel free to sign up through my referral. You’ll get about 40$ off your first booking: https://www.airbnb.be/c/olivero2200?currency=EUR

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