LOCATION: Patonga Beach, New South Wales

I am the first person to admit that I struggle with going completely off grid. Normally when I tell people that I’ll be ‘off grid’ for a period of time I’m usually referring to not having freely available and reliable WIFI; but I’ll still be contactable on the mobile, email, social networks, heck even carrier pigeon if you really wanted to get creative in reaching me! So when I heard about BioLite’s Off Grid Weekend challenge to encourage people to ‘unplug and celebrate energy independence’, I questioned whether I would be able to truly go off grid and disconnect from an electrical outlet and appliance of any kind. A big ask considering my phone is just about joined to my hand and my camera a constant presence around my neck. However, I like a good old fashioned challenge and so decided to take part in BioLite’s official Off Grid Weekend pledge to say good bye to fossil fuels and disposable batteries, and give myself a reprive from the cool glow of the LCD screen. 

What is the Off Grid Weekend?

BioLite is company that ‘develops and manufactures advanced energy products that make cooking with wood as clean safe and easy as modern fuels while also providing electricity to charge cell phones and LED lights off-grid’. They created the Off Grid Weekend (August 14-16, 2015) to raise awareness about the ‘opportunities provided to us when accessing energy is easy and what happens when it isn’t so easy’.

For many of the world’s poorest, access to energy is well out of reach, and for them the only way to generate heat (for cooking and warmth) is through indoor fires which put them at risk of a myriad of health problems and also takes them away from other activities such as schooling, as they must spend so much time looking for and collecting materials to burn (of which many contribute to carbon emissions as well).

The Off Grid Weekend aims to raise awareness of these issues by having BioLiters from around the world to unplug from electricity, and go without for a weekend, to experience what its like to go without energy or heating.

Campfire in Wingello

How did I go?

To be completely honest with you, I failed miserably.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated was how much preparation I would actually need to do in order for me to successfully go without energy for two days. We hadn’t taken the time prior to the weekend to actually research our destination, or even make sure that we had accommodation sorted for the entire weekend. It went down hill for us drastically when we realised that we wanted to change campsites and without any information to help us out, I resorted to searching for places on my phone. Then when we got to a place we had no idea on what was around to see or do, and again, out came my phone to the rescue. And it’s not like we didn’t stop in at an information centre along the way, it’s more that the information that you get at these places are aimed at families or well off vacationers and so I was left to search out budget options on the phone because I hadn’t prepared any information earlier.

That doesn’t even take into account the amount of driving we did over the two days! Our relaxing off grid weekend quickly descended into struggle town as we aimlessly drove between towns trying to find affordable accommodation and sights that by the time we went to bed we ended up watching a movie on Siu On’s laptop to help us unwind. Oh, and I almost forgot, I did have to put in a quick call to my brother, so again, out came the phone. *Sigh*

I realised pretty quickly that everything I do requires the use of and access to a readily available energy source. We did use a paper map for one of our hikes, but then lost the map and resorted back to the phone! So unfortunately, I wasn’t successful at going off the grid for a weekend, however I learned a hell of a lot about my own energy and technology dependency and that was actually really eye opening.

Using a paper map on a hike

How could I have done things better?

Looking back over the weekend there were definitely a few things I could have done to make this off grid weekend a successful one.

  1. Prepared before hand. It definitely would have been wise to prepare a list of accommodation options, places to eat, and things to do that would fit within our budget. Having something to refer to as a backup would have salvaged the weekend.
  2. Stayed in one location. When we decided to change locations and campsite, and especially without any information on other site option at hand, it made it pretty difficult to not resort to using the phone. Neither Siu On and I were familiar with the area we were in, and that made it hard for us to even choose another location to go to.
  3. Left electrical items behind. Just having them with me was temptation enough! And I don’t mean putting them in your glove box, I mean actually leaving unnecessary electrical items at home!
  4. Not scheduled anything. This would have saved me using the alarm on my phone in the morning, and instead just gotten up whenever I woke up.

Would I do it again?

I think I will actually do it again, and not just for a random weekend, but maybe be more proactive in scheduling some time away from the camera/laptop/phone. One big thing that I realized was just how attached to my camera/laptop/phone I really am, which made me feel quite ashamed that I can’t really entertain myself without those items anymore. I definitely think that spending small parts of my day completely away from technology, and not using anything electrical, will actually do me a lot of good and also help to reduce my personal carbon footprint.

This experience did also make me more thankful for having such easy access to things like clean cooking and readily available energy. It really has highlighted just how much I take these things for granted and how much I want to change that!

On the phone and charging batteries

All images by Jelena Stipanicev.