We’re giving up our phones for a week and then we’re throwing a big party

For the next seven days, we’re giving up our phones. Seriously.

The next segment of our Away is Home family travel blog starts tomorrow morning when we drive up to Pensacola, Fla. We’re headed north, to Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Washington and North Carolina. And for part of the journey, we’re going to do it phone-free.

Or at least we’re going to try.

This isn’t the first time we’ve given up our cellular devices. I asked if it was possible a few months ago. Then I tried it during the Fourth of July week.

It worked pretty well.

Now comes the real test. Can we give up cellular phone service during a work week?

First, a little disclosure: our family travel blog is sponsored in part by Skype, so we definitely have a horse in this race. (But you know me. When has that ever stopped me from telling the truth?)

During the next week, I will report back to you exactly what happens when you disconnect your cellular service. Let me be a little more specific: by “disconnect” I mean go without voice communication offered by our wireless provider. I’ll continue to use our unlimited AT&T data service as long as there’s adequate reception.

Some of our calls will be made exclusively through Skype, but others may or may not use Skype. For example, I have colleagues who strongly prefer to use another service to chat. I can’t stop them from contacting me that way.

Also, I can’t not talk about the way they attempted to communicate with me. That just wouldn’t be sporting now, would it?

The point of this exercise is to show that it’s either possible — or impossible — to completely sever your cellular service without also unplugging from the world.

OK, so here are the ground rules: no outgoing phone calls, no incoming phone calls. Any voice communication from our end will happen via Skype. We will leave other applications open in case someone wants to contact us that way. We’ll also check voicemail.

And there’s a waiver for any emergency that might crop up along the trip. So, for example, if we have a flat tire, we are not going to fire up Skype to try to make a phone call to AAA. We will use our normal phones.

Every day for the next week, we’ll weigh in with our observations about life without a phone. Will describe the ups, the downs, the ins, the outs, the frustrations and the triumphs of going phone-free.

If you’d prefer a more real-time assessment of how this experiment is running, you can follow us on Twitter. The hashtag we’re using for this journey is #nophone and if you follow the Awayishome or Elliott Twitter accounts you’ll see it a lot next week.

Oh, and one more thing: next Sunday we’ll be hosting a Twitter #nophone party, where you can ask us anything about our phoneless adventure the previous week. You can also commiserate with us about lousy cellular phone service, rip-off data plans, or anything else that troubles you about the state of wireless communication today.

Ask us anything. Really.

If that’s not a good enough reason to come to come to this virtual party, then how about this? Our sponsors (we love ’em) have given us a cache of prizes that we are going to freely distribute among our beloved followers. You don’t even have to be there on Sunday evening to win. Just submit your own irreverent question about giving up your phone, or losing it, between now and next Sunday, and you could qualify to win.

The #nophone party starts next Sunday at 5 p.m. Eastern time. It’s going to be a crazy week. Thanks for joining us.

Want to make a bet that we can stay off our phones? Vote now. Go on.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://twitter.com/kari_marie kari_marie

    You’re not really severing your cell service if you’re still using data. It’s still screen time. You may not be talking on the phone, but that’s not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things–you’re still communicating with people not present on your trip.

    I have four lines for three people (ages 22, 27, and 33) on my cell phone plan. We have 700 minutes between the three of us, and we rarely even break 400 minutes. Our data usage, however, is another story–between the three of us, we average about 6-8GB/month just on our phones, none of which is used for Skype/VOIP.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Say the word “Pay Phone” to your average American middle schooler and enjoy the blank stare.

    Course, one of my nieces referred to Motley Crue as “classic rock” and I instantly felt old…

  • S363

    I’d be curious why one would need to call AAA to change a tire.

  • y_p_w

    You’re still using cellular data. This is all still being attached to the cellular network. Now if you were trying to get by with simply using something like free public WiFi, that would be different. There are some cities that have set up public networks, as well as some that have set up several neighborhood “Hot zones” with public WiFi.

    I’ve actually gone pretty much a week without cellular service. I was in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. There was some service available at Jackson, WY, but very little elsewhere for almost an entire week. It wasn’t that we were planning on using it, but turned our phones on just in case we couldn’t find each other. They’re supposed to have limited service inside, but we looked at our phone, which weren’t showing coverage.

  • lclar

    Boy, what a difference a generation makes. I’m a retired attorney, and I could easily put my cell phone and computer away for a week, and would hardly notice
    they’re gone. Data? Outgoing voice calls? C’mon, you’re cheating….

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Let’s see who might need to call AAA:

    1) Elderly person

    2) Medically frail person

    3) Doesn’t know how

    4) Nuts are rusted on/machine-tightened so tire won’t come off

    5) Wearing attire that would be ruined if worn to change a tire

    6) Equipment necessary to change the tire is missing (such as in a rental or loaner)
    7) Dangerous to do so, due to locale or traffic
    This is just a minute’s worth of thought. My husband recalls getting a flat on the way to the emergency room with a kidney stone and being very, very grateful AAA could come, since I wasn’t available.

  • cowboyinbrla

    When it’s over, Chris – not to interrupt your vacation – what I’d be curious to know is “why?” – in the sense of, what are you trying to prove (either direction)? You talk about the “triumphs” of going phone-free, but really: if you’re still going to use it for texting, wi/fi, email, and (as you’ve already discovered) an emergency cell/data signal for your family Skype update, it’s clear you can’t be “phone-free”; you might be able to become “(almost) voice-plan free”, but that’s an entirely different animal.

    Not that I can’t imagine good reasons to be unplugged on vacation – but you’re not; you’re specifically making alternative arrangements to continue working via Skype, for instance. If it’s to prove that voice plans are now unnecessary, then I think you already have your answer; you’re unwilling to trust “emergencies” to the data half of the network, and hoping not to need emergency services is no model for getting by.

    I’m not saying this isn’t a worthwhile experiment – I just don’t know what it’s attempting to prove.

  • cowboyinbrla

    It’s not just a generation. You’re retired. Chris is working. Most of his work is done online. Big difference.

  • ploughmud

    Can’t you change a tire? ;(

    As a regular traveler to the mountains, we are often without cell service. Most of these areas are dead for cell in the mountains. Sometimes we can stand at the highest point, don’t even think about moving and get some cell service. Once in Tennessee, after climbing to the highest peak, I found in searching by walking around, I could stand on the picnic table facing south and got some reception. Some, just enough to call my family to let them know we were fine. Many of the mountainous areas are not with service and so we just turn the phone off until we are in a town again. Often that would not be for 4-5 days. So I figure if someone really wants me, emergency only, they can call the campground and they will find us. I find it terrible kids all have phones and spend endless time texting to the point they have to see a doctor for carpal tunnel wrist issues. They are connected 24/7 and cannot hold a conversation face to face. I have even seen them texting to another who is standing right next to them rather than speak. So the future of America will be full of people that cannot communicate with others.