How a 14-day Digital Detox On The Atlantic Ocean Changed My Life

I will never forget the sixth day of my first cruise ever — aboard the Nomad Cruise going from Colombia to Portugal. Like every previous morning, I greeted the cleaning crew near my cabin. But this time, before I even knew it, they could tell something was off. “What’s wrong Nora? You seem sad!” I was taken aback. I had no idea, to be honest. I had to ask myself: What is wrong with me? I had sought out this experience and I was living it by choice. Were others feeling the same? I started to ask around.

Soon, I realized that we were all going through similar ups and downs. Well, to be clear, only those of us who were willing to face our feelings without hiding behind cocktails and constant alcohol-fueled nights of networking. But I think it is safe to stay that all of us found true friends over those cocktails, friendships that will endure far longer than the boozy nights.

Before you tell me its absurd to feel down during an all-inclusive cruise, I need you to understand something. The truth is: no matter what situation you are in, there’s a certain cycle we tend to go through at the start of new experiences in our lives. Knowing about the cycle can help us choose how we react to the ups and downs, instead of letting our subconscious take the wheel.

Although the Gartner Hype Cycle is usually used for technology, I think it can easily be applied to the phases of experiencing something new or, in technical terms, becoming part of a new hype. The ‘hype’ in this example would be participating in a cruise conference with 135 digital nomads that you’ve never met before (a.k.a. people who work remotely from their computer and have no home base).

According to the I.T. firm Gartner Inc., the Hype Cycle can be narrowed down to 5 key phases:

This was the premise of Nomad Cruise. A new way of traveling and learning at the same time. Even I, someone who does not consider herself a digital nomad, was excited. On some level, we all knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. What we didn’t know was the range of feelings we would confront during the journey. Only after the trip did someone tell me: “I should’ve warned you that it can be emotionally challenging to be stuck on the boat without friends.”

During the first few days, everything was still new. We were excited. We wanted to do everything we could squeeze in. “Some companies take action. Some don’t,” Gartner explains in relation to startups and business that experience this upward trend of energy and potential. That’s what happened to us, too. Some people had fun until the wee hours on the rooftop pool bar or the all-night disco while others got 8 hours of sleep every night. Many of us networked day and night, went to all the lectures and workshops, talked to absolutely everyone (even those they didn’t really like), dressed up for events, and totally left behind the basic routines of daily life. Everyone was having the best time ever, because we were not only surrounded by likeminded people but most importantly, we were “on a cruise” and with no worries in the world.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

We’d stopped on islands in the Caribbean Sea for two days but now the real journey began all we would see was the horizon of the Atlantic ocean for the next week straight. Some people became seasick. Others felt overwhelmed and disoriented to not see land. Still others continued to fake how happy they were all the time.

Not everyone was being quite so friendly anymore, but that’s understandable in a mixed community of so many people with different backgrounds, nationalities, etc. “Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of the early adopters,” says Gartner Inc. We invested in this trip, so we all thought we had to enjoy every moment and weren’t prepared for the dip in “fun.”

It was annoying, but I knew it wasn’t time to connect with others in my own way yet — my way of connection is about being honest. When the Internet connection completely broke down, not as though it had ever been perfect in the middle of the ocean, I had to face the idea of opening up to strangers and being alone with my own thoughts. To think that I had only been “doing well” because I always had my friends at my fingertips, thanks to the Internet, was sad. I had to relearn the importance of trusting my intuition. And this trip was the best way to find confidence and trust in oneself.

We began to realize how we could make the most of our experience. We learned who to talk to and who not to, how to reconnect with ourselves, what to do and what not to do, how to be alone, and how to protect ourselves in the face of people we didn’t really know and those same people judging us. We did not have to care about groceries, cleaning our rooms, or cooking. Everything was right there for us. We only had to focus on learning, and being present to experience the intensive workshops during our conference at sea. It was amazing to spend two weeks with people who were willing to share and exchange their knowledge with each other, and who bent over backwards to help if we were stuck with a problem we couldn’t fix. We’d been strangers at the beginning of the cruise, but by the end, we all shared the common experience of two weeks together at sea and that will bond us for life.

Day 8 was the first day I started to open up to the right people, people who were going through the same cycle of self-realization and evolution. I learned something very powerful on this trip: you CAN’T say “I have friends, and they are enough.” NO! That’s what I did this past year. Ever since my best friend died last October I had completely closed myself off and refused to let others in. I was dying inside. I knew letting others in would heal me, but at the same time I was afraid to lose them. And let’s be honest, traveling sometimes means you meet people who will leave you. After 3 years, people were finally talking to me, and not just about my success. It was refreshing. When someone asked me what it is that I do, I said, “I am a struggling writer.” They left. It was funny because the truth is that I am successful in what I do. I was just tired of the same question. Who cares what you do? Ask me who I am.

As we passed day 12, we were nearly there. For some reason, none of us were able to work. We were excited to arrive at our first stop: Madeira. When we did, we acted like people who just got out of jail. “OMG! This is a real tree! Look, there are people we don’t know!” It was hilarious and surreal. We learned exactly what freedom really means. The freedom of choice — to be alone, to go different places, to eat what we want, and to spend time with whoever we’d like to, to not be stuck on a boat. It was a reconnection with the world we live in, all because we had experienced what it’s like to be removed from that world.

In my opinion, the main value of the cruise is what happens afterwards. All the new friends you made on board, the business collaborations that come out of it, and so on. Your experience might be different, but if there are parts of you that feel broken, this opportunity will heal you, for sure — but only if you chose to face them.

Gartner Inc. says, “The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.” Everything paid off. I remember the last morning we arrived in Lisbon, the place where I had lived for half of last year. Last year, that city changed my life and now it welcomed the new me, the me I never imagined I’d become. My eyes got wet when I walked to the top deck to soak in the view of beautiful Lisbon. As I was standing there I felt free, confident, and happy with myself.

But wait, did I know in the beginning why I was on that cruise? No. I had no idea. First, I had told myself it was because of networking and because I could learn a lot. But in the end, it all made perfect sense. I had the choice to be solitary, just as I was back in school when I chose to disconnect from everyone because they had hurt me. But I didn’t do that. Instead, I chose to open up and find ways to connect to the right people. I learned about the importance of rootedness, particularly how important it is for me.

Finally, I got to spend two weeks with the Nora I became in the last ten years. No Internet, no friends, no pressure. All I had to do was explore myself again through connecting to myself and to my surroundings. I feel grateful about the life I live, the people who surround me, and the freedom I have built for myself with my own hard work and belief that I deserve a better life.

Originally published at on June 19, 2017.