Now Or Never

Desperate to disconnect, this dad took his son on a phone-free trip to Mongolia

A father takes his teenage son to Mongolia for a month, without their cell phones, in order to connect without the distraction of technology.

'There was actually a bet amongst them about which day I would crumble without my phone'

The adventure took Jamie and Khobe across Mongolia on motorbike, horseback and camels. (Jamie Clarke)
Listen11:18

"No. Not a chance. That sounds awful."

That was the response 18-year-old Khobe Clarke gave when his dad, Jamie Clarke, invited him on a motorcycle adventure across Mongolia, for a month, without their cell phones. 

"The idea of leaving my phone behind for a month and not being able to communicate with anyone scared me," said Khobe.

"My friends thought it was nuts! They were like, 'Why Mongolia? Why without your phone? Send me pictures... Oh, wait, you can't.' There was actually a bet among them about which day I would crumble without my phone."

The idea of traveling without a phone may have been terrifying for Khobe, but for his father it was a way for the pair to bond without the constant distraction of Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and the hundreds of other apps that fight for our attention. 

Plus, as a dad, Jamie felt partly to blame for his son's digital attachment. 

Jamie and his son Khobe ride horses through Mongolia (Jamie Clarke )

"When Khobe was first born I remember having my BlackBerry with the Brick Breaker game and when he was a little fellow, jumping into bed to read some stories, I'd pull out the BlackBerry and play a little Brick Breaker with him before bedtime. Fast forward to now and I realized that I was the jerk that got him hooked on it in the first place."

Not only did Jamie feel responsible, he also felt like he had let technology slowly take over his life as well. The only difference was, it took him a bit longer to notice. 

"I'm travelling for work and I'm on my phone all the time but I like to pretend I have more important things to do on it. He's on Snapchat and Instagram, while I'm on email and looking at spreadsheets. But I'm still on that thing. And so I felt like, man, how, as your Dad, did I let that thing distract me when we were at the park and we were playing and you were in some imaginary world and I was looking down at my phone, taking care of some emails?"

Clarke pauses for a minute before letting out a reflective sigh. 

"If I could go back and talk to myself 15 years ago, I'd tell myself: don't do that."

After nearly a month of crossing the open Mongolian landscape, Jamie and Khobe ended the trip by hiking through the mountains. (Jamie Clarke)

Unfortunately, time travel doesn't exist. So in the absence of a DeLorean, Jamie chose to go to one of the most remote locations in the world and leave technology behind. 

To say it was an eye-opening experience for his son would be a bit of an understatement. 

Being disconnected

"It was very bizarre. I felt like I was on a different planet," says Khobe.

"Usually when you go away you're in a hotel and you're away physically but you're still connecting with everybody through your device. You're letting everybody know where you are and you're talking to the people you usually talk to. But then you go to Mongolia and it's like you die for a month because no one has any idea what is going on."

Not only was Khobe disconnected from the world, he was suddenly connected with his own thoughts in a way that an 18-year old who had lived his whole life with screens had never experienced before. 

Khobe found being on his motorcycle for long periods of time difficult because he's not used to spending that much time alone with just his thoughts. (Jamie Clarke)

His dad remembers it vividly. 

"We had just biked for hours across this huge valley, and I thought it was fabulous, almost meditative to be in your own thoughts for that long. But when we pulled over and popped off our helmets, Khobe was like, 'That was terrible! I shouldn't be left with my own thoughts like that!"

If there was a lull, no one would pick up a phone. There would just be silence until we moved onto another topic and I ended up learning so much about my son. - Jamie Clark

"I'm so used to having some kind of distraction my whole life with Instagram and Snapchat and whatever, so I've never had to entertain myself for that long. I was so bored I started daydreaming about washing my hands and picturing kitchen sinks," said Khobe.   

"I felt very human," he adds, "And I don't think I've ever felt that human."

Every night, the father and son would sleep in this tent, talking and learning things about each others lives. (Jamie Clarke)

Camping out

Over the course of a month, the father and son duo trekked across Mongolia, hiking across mountain ranges and spending most nights huddled together in a tent. 

And in the absence of their phones, they talked. 

"Every night you lay in the tent and there is no distraction," said Jamie. "If there was a lull, no one would pick up their phone, there would just be silence until we moved onto another topic. I ended up learning so much about my son. Things about his life, his experiences at school, struggles with friends, just life in general that I didn't know even though I'm his dad and we've lived in the same house for almost 19 years."

Without their phones, moments like these could be enjoyed without rushing to post them on social media. (Jamie Clarke)

Now that they have returned to Canada, a new adventure begins and this one may prove to be more difficult than traveling to the other end of the world without a phone. 

That's because now, with their phones back in their pockets and WiFi signals constantly at full bars... they'll have to work to disconnect at home. 

"You can't just say, well it's time for us to have a meaningful talk," said Jamie, "because walls go up immediately. But I think if we can create moments where we put our phones aside and the distraction that they represent, whether it's at the dinner table or in the car, there's value in that." 

Jamie Clarke and his son Khobe in the middle of their Mongolian motorcycle adventure. (Jamie Clarke)

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