Luke Mackley is a photographer, social media consultant and co-founder of ‘The Two Bohemians’, a travel account he runs with his partner, Tilly.
In October 2021, the couple packed up their Volkswagen and headed an hour or so North East of London to Pablo, our cabin in Essex.
Advocates of world travel, conscious living and mental wellbeing, Luke and Tilly haven’t taken a break from their phones in two years – they had no idea how much they needed it until they got there. Here, Luke explains why.
Unplugged: Why did you book a digital detox?
Luke: My work revolves around being online, just like so many other jobs these days. When you first work online, you’re full of energy and want to show up every day. But then you find bad habits creeping in, and what you are supposed to be doing for work turns into procrastination, and it's just a downward spiral from there. We've never gone away somewhere and said, "Okay, no phones" in two years of working online. We didn't realise how much we needed it until we got there…
Why do you think you needed the break?
It’s all the in-between stuff – the procrastination that surrounds my work on social media. Sometimes I will open up Instagram and be like, "Oh, that's a nice photo." And then be like, "Oh, this is a great photographer who's got lots of nice photos." Then you scroll, and before you know it, two or three minutes have gone. I try to allocate certain times when I'm on social media because I need to show up and connect, it’s networking for us, and other times when I need to work.
Were you worried about taking time offline?
The only thing I was worried about was making sure people knew we were going offline. We sent out a message to ongoing collaborations and let our assistant know to tell people we were offline. In the grand scheme of things, three days is not that long – it's just like a long weekend. So sometimes, you just have to press pause. Even if you work for yourself, you have to put in parameters.
How would you describe your first impressions of the cabin?
It was stunning. When we arrived, the huge glass window was facing the sunset and it reflected this beautiful pink and purple hue. When we went inside, it was as if someone had just left the log burner on because it was so warm and cosy. We just melted into it. As it got darker, we could hear the creeks of nature – I’m pretty sure we heard a badger when we were getting settled. We got dinner on the go and listened to the crackling of the fire. It was perfect.
What did you get up to during your stay?
We read books and meditated, which we frequently do at home. We walked to the town, which is about half an hour away. We went on a run one morning. We also filmed a vlog about the experience on one of the days. It’s something we enjoy doing and it was nothing associated with a screen.
How did the digital detox change your experience of being outdoors?
It was a reminder to slow down and be present as much as possible. Nature is beautiful. So many people are enamoured with distant and faraway places – I'm guilty of that as well. You want to go to a tropical beach or a cool winter escape. But being in the cabin surrounded by the beautiful English countryside made me feel so grateful for where I am now. I didn’t feel like I needed to be anywhere else.
What sort of things did you notice without your phone?
There were so many moments in conversation where we wanted to look things up on our phones and “just Google it.” We found ourselves saying these things by default when we didn’t know something. We had to retrain our minds not to pick it up. We didn't want to turn our phones on whatsoever when we left. Even when we got home, I really didn't want to be back on the screen. It was a weird sensation. It was like a complete 180 in the other direction.
Did your sleeping patterns change without your phone?
We ended up tuning into the circadian rhythm and natural time of the world. So we woke up with the sunrise and got tired when the sun went down.
Has anything changed for you since returning home?
I'm a sucker for a good morning routine. My current one, which has come off the back of the cabin, is to wake up, stretch for 10 minutes, do 20 minutes of meditation, and then read in a book. It's just so peaceful. This morning, because it was so dark, I woke up at 7 am and lit candles. Mornings are the only time you can really alone. I've also set screentime limits at 10pm, so all my apps shut down until 8am the next day.
Thinking about your whole experience, what does the word unplugged mean to you?
It means taking a step back into a quieter lane or a different path. The word unplugged represents an awareness that is neglected. This idea shows through in the cabin – they've got the games, the books about digital detoxes, a polaroid camera for people to take organic photos and not just whip out their phones. It's bringing back an old luxury. It's a luxury now to go somewhere completely remote.
Why do you think it is important to take that time offline?
With the growing pressure of social media, and the capitalist consumer state of mind, where you’re keeping up with the latest iPhones, or fashion trends, we need to reintroduce an intuitive feeling of organic connection. One of my pet peeves is when you go out for dinner and everyone is on their phones. People are looking into this tiny box rather than the wider narrative in front of us. I do understand the benefits of social media. But we need to remember to turn up in person and not just online, nothing shows support more than real-world connection and giving someone a hug.
Luke Mackley and Tilly were gifted a stay by Unplugged.
Interview by Harriet Osborne // @harrietosborne
Featuring Luke Mackley // @lukebohemian
Photography by The Two Bohemians // @thetwobohemians