Disconnecting While Traveling or How to Create a Feast for the Five Senses in Spain

Hiking the Camino de Santiago
Hiking the Camino de Santiago. Photo by Jimena Cuerva

I have a friend who was booked on a 13-hour flight from Madrid to Tokyo – in coach.  She was as excited as could be but not about her fabulous private tour through Japan, rather about the flight itself.   Her reasoning?  It would be the first time in a long time in which she could truly disconnect and not be riddled with guilt for not checking her phone every ten minutes.  She didn’t mention this, but I think the fact that she was also the mother of two children who would be staying home with dad for a week may also have had something to do with her excitement to squeeze into a tiny seat in the rear of a 777 for the greater part of a day.

I digress… It has been a while now since digital and mobile technology has permeated our lives and the benefits have been thoroughly assimilated. Life is – or at least it seems to be – easier, faster, cheaper, more comfortable, more connected.

But as we all know, these wonderful technologies have found a way to encroach on our down time making it impossible to take a break.   When it comes to being constantly connected while on vacation it can feel as if we had never been away.  There are no stories to tell our friends when we get back – they’ve already read or seen them all on social media.

Enter the idea of digital detox holidays which have become a modern day necessity with many now seeking help in learning how to save themselves from their digital selves.

What we’ve learned is that you do not have to travel to the North Pole to get away from it all nor do you have to lock yourself away in a retreat in the hills where WIFI is spotty.  

The trick is to go back to nature.  We’re not talking about escaping to the woods, although that could be a part of your plan.  We’re talking about using your five natural senses to guide your travels.  

Using our beloved Spain as an example we outline plans for the ultimate sensory stimulation – helping you live your experience rather than documenting it.

1. Sight

National Park in Spain

Spain’s 15 national parks are true national treasures with a diversity from perennially snow-capped mountains to volcanic deserts encouraging you to explore a beauty that can only be truly understood in situ.  Once immersed, it’s easy to forget that life beyond exists and this is why we come!  Make a visual memory rather than a digital one – it will be more fun to relate to your friends and family back home as you relive the experience using your mind’s eye instead of simply swiping right.  

2. Smell

Food Market in Spain


If you’ve never been to a Spanish market you’re in for a treat.  Tomatoes smell of summertime and the fish smells of – well, fish.  Maybe not the most pleasant of smells, but an olfactory awakening nonetheless.  Flowers, spices, and herbs are stacked and displayed releasing aromas we’ve forgotten how to describe.  Take your best descriptive adjectives out of your bag and create your story about your experience witnessing – and smelling – daily life in a Spanish town.  

3. Taste

Traditional Spanish Tapas

Ok, so this one is obvious.  Close your eyes and relish the flavours.  Don’t take pictures.  They may be pretty but your friends back home will not understand the true butteriness of a good slice of jamón ibérico through a photo – and neither will you if you focus on filters rather than your own taste buds.  

4.  Touch

Paella Cooking Class


What’s it like to hold a paintbrush in your hand as you paint a still life in the style of Velázquez?  Find out by giving it a go in a Madrid studio across the street from where the 17th century master created his best work.  Painting not your thing?  How about getting your hands dirty while making one of the most delicious paellas you’ve ever had in a hands-on cooking class designed to help even the inexperienced appreciate the tactile joys of gastronomy.  

5.  Hearing

Flamenco in Madrid

We’ve been taught to block out the sounds around us – from music players to constant chatting on our phones, we often miss the auditory stimuli of life around us.  We’ve not only forgotten how to listen but also how to hear.  Leave your devices in your hotel and wallow in the wailing sounds of Flamenco.  Raspy voices singing – almost shouting – as the click-clack of a dancer’s heels creates a musical harmony that will make you forget about your must-listen-to playlist.  

With all that travel has to offer us and life being full of experiences that must be had, many may reason that in order to find these cool places, these cool people, they must have their tech in their pocket.  If your thinking is such, make it easier on yourself and consider organizing a private tour with experts who will plan all of this for you.  

Go ahead – turn off the tech for awhile.  Enjoy your vacation. Your boss can wait.  Sit back, relax, and see, taste, smell, touch, and hear.