30 Days: No Phone in Buenos Aires

I lived without a phone for 30 days in Buenos Aires. It wasn’t on purpose, but I managed to survive. It’s funny because I also didn’t have a phone when I lived in the city in 2005. But nobody really had phones then, so it wasn’t so bad. I didn’t need my phone to sort out public transport because I had the Guia T. I didn’t need a phone to find cafes. Instead, I just went to the ones I saw. But the whole world has changed since then, so the truth is, 30 days without a phone in Buenos Aires in 2022 was not easy.

The REASON I didn’t have a phone in Buenos Aires for 30 days

I didn’t do this for fun. It wasn’t a neat experiment to see if I could do it or not. I was forced into it. If you’ve read my blog before, or follow me on Instagram, YouTube, or get my Substack newsletter, you might already know, but my phone got stolen. Snatched right from my hands as I was using it. I tried to track it down, with no luck. Because electronics are so pricy in Argentina, I decided not to buy a temporary fix. Instead, I bought a new phone online, and had my sister and mom bring it down with them when they came for an already planned visit. I was without a phone for exactly 30 days.

Addressing my phone addiction issues

Like most people, I use my phone a lot. Too much. I check Instagram on the toilet. While I’m waiting in line. During the 12 seconds it takes for the Netflix logo to disappear and the show to start. I used my phone to check the subte map, the bus route, to find the supermarket, or a cafe that’s open on Sunday. I relied on it.

Every morning, I would wake up to do my daily Wordle, check the news, and get stuck staring at Instagram again, a habit I hated but couldn’t stop. But I use my phone not only for zoning out or playing word games. I use it to take photos for my blog. To make videos for my YouTube channel. To create content for Instagram. All things I’m working on building up to turn the small drips of monetization into full streams I can count on. No phone, no money. I didn’t just want my phone, I needed it.

The emotional ups and downs of not having a phone in Buenos Aires

The first week was the hardest, emotionally. Especially the first two days. Out of reflex, I would reach for my phone like a phantom limb. To look things up. To login to something. Out of habit. After the first week, there were actually several moments where I enjoyed having freedom from my phone. I was feeling more observant. If I had small moments of time, I would look around, observe my surroundings more. I wasn’t filing those few seconds with a screen.

The mornings were hardest because I hate waking up in the morning and not knowing the time. But gradually I started reading my book in the mornings, rather than stare at my phone screen for an hour. Something I never intended to happen, but something that did anyways. Because of the way I lost my phone, I was having a lot of nightmares involving my phone and violence and theft.

Even though I was an avid and daily user of social media, I found I enjoyed the break. I liked the stress of not posting something everyday. Of doing other things with my time. I liked knowing that if I was out of the house, I wasn’t reachable. No pressure. I would respond in my own time, once I got back home. Old school 1999 style. Whatsapp web desktop worked for the first two weeks, and then just stopped.

The most frustrating moments came when I was on holiday in Puerto Madryn. Not being able to take quality photos and videos of the incredible nature that I was seeing all around me was awful. I got really fed up and was really losing my patience by the last week.

During this 30 day period, I was also struggling emotionally with other things, personal things, going on in my life and my relationship. Having no form of spoken communication felt really isolating. I couldn’t make a phone call. All I had was Facebook messenger on my laptop.

The alternatives to having a phone

I figured I could get by with the limited desktop versions of social media, using my computer. I lost all my Instagram reel drafts, I couldn’t create reels on my desktop, but I could check my messages and comments. YouTube is of course easier to access on the desktop, so no problem there. But I was still dealing with the content issue. I needed photos. I needed videos. Ultimately, I figured I could probably get by with a basic point-and-shoot children’s camera. After looking around on Mercado Libre, found one that seemed like a good option, and the next day it arrived in the mail. It was ridiculously small, and the quality of the photos and videos was so low that I could barely tell what I was looking at, even though I had just taken the photo. So, back to Mercado Libre it went, the very next day.

Then suddenly, and with delay I will admit, it hit me that I had an ipad. My ipad doesn’t have a sim card tray, so it couldn’t be used in quite the same way as a phone. But it does connect to wifi. It has a camera. Not the greatest camera, but much better than the toy. So I started using my ipad. I brought it with me on the bus and watched the blue dot until I reached my stop (I had determined back home while I still had wifi). I recorded videos with it. and even took it on holiday with me to Puerto Madryn and used it for lower-quality photos and videos than I was used to, but hey, they were still photos and videos. So my ipad became my lifeline. It was the in-between.

The GOOD about not having a phone in Buenos Aires

I felt free at times. Not just that I didn’t have to respond to messages. But that I wasn’t constantly panicked. I wasn’t reaching for my phone every few minutes to check that it was there, like I did previously. Having nothing to steal felt freeing. It felt almost defiant. Like “go ahead and try to rob me. I’ve got nothing! You already took it!”

I also liked the feeling of changing my brain chemistry a bit. Lessening that dependence on my phone. Reading instead of scrolling.

I also felt focused. I didn’t have a phone beeping and buzzing every few minutes with notifications.

The BAD about not having a phone in Buenos Aires

Besides the freeing feeling of having nothing to be stolen, everything else felt awful. It made life harder in so many ways. I had to look everything up before I left the house- which bus to take, where to get on and off. No room for error. And if you know Buenos Aires, you know that things more often than not don’t work they way you might expect. At least I had my ipad, but that added worry too. It is bigger. Will they steal my ipad too?

I had to make specific plans when meeting with friends. No room for error there either. My first weekend without a phone, I was invited to the opera where my friend Sarah plays the harp. I was to meet her at the back of the opera to get the tickets 30 minutes before the show. We both had different ideas about what was considered the “back.” So because I couldn’t send one simple clarifying text one I got to Teatro Colon, I was stressed when I couldn’t find her. She was stressed waiting for me.

The absolute worst thing, of course, was just feeling trapped. I felt I had no outside connection with the world, or at least a very limited connection. Once whatsapp stopped working after 2 weeks, that feeling only intensified.

I survived 30 days without a phone in Buenos Aires. Did it change anything?

I’m going to be bluntly honest. The short answer is NO. I had missed my phone so much that I think I used it far too much the first couple weeks of having a phone again, just to make up for lost time. I’m back to morning scrolling, even though I really don’t want to be. I’m back to mindlessly scrolling through Instagram when I definitely should be doing other things.

I was forced into this situation that I really didn’t want to be in. But I’m also glad I had that 30 day experiment as I never would have gone phone-less otherwise. Do I recommend it? For sure, no! 🙂

Can you manage to get around Buenos Aires without a phone? I proved that to be a yes, but it definitely made things more challenging. What can I say? I’m glad to join the world of phone havers once again.

2 thoughts on “30 Days: No Phone in Buenos Aires

  1. I agree 100% with your post. When I came back from home with a new phone, I would simply leave it at home so that I didn’t have to worry about it getting stolen. I have also stopped wearing a purse, as I am tired to have a purse on me while eating (as you know, you don’t hang your purse to your seat while eating, here…) and my purses all got stained with food. I bought Fabris purses on purpose but the accidental pizza dripping in it was a killer.

    We rely too much on phones, as you correctly note. But it is inevitable.
    However, I am annoyed when I go out without my phone and sit at a place only to be handed a QR code. Most of those places don’t even have a hard-copy of the menu. Or if they do, the prices are not updated.

    It is like the world is pushing you to be connected 24/7.

    I also tend to think offline time as me-time. If I want to go out at the end of a long work day and actually enjoy my husband’s company, I leave the phone at home. He doesn’t agree with this choice and tells me “you never know what may happen. You may need your phone, please bring it with you”. But we all know that bringing it with me means to check on it constantly. I hate it when we are out having dinner and he is laughing at some meme on the internet or chatting on WhatsApp groups.

    1. Isa, yes, completely!! I didn’t even think about how we are forced to use our phones with the QR codes. Absolutely true that the world is forcing into being connected all the time. As much as I want to disconnect at times, it’s nearly impossible. As you mentioned so well in all your examples, it’s so hard to work around not having a phone or trying to think of tricks so that you don’t get robbed. It makes for a really hectic time, and it makes me feel like I’m losing my mind. I also agree with you that when I’m out with friends or a partner, I hate when they are looking at their phones instead of spending quality time, but I suppose we all do it from time to time. Sometimes I long for the days before we had these smart devices. Thank you so much for leaving such a thoughtful comment.