Unplugged: Off the grid on Hunting Island

By Victoria

HUNTING ISLAND, S.C. (WCIV) -- Staring into the freshly shattered face of my pricey new work phone, I can barely make out my emails. The words are now hyphenated by shards of glass embedding themselves in my fingers.

But I can read between the spidered lines. This isn't good.

So, I carefully slip what's left of my link to the outside news world into a makeshift case -- a plastic snack bag leftover from school lunches. It's a perfect fit, snug once I pinch the seal.

Then I toss it in my glove box. Where I'm going, it's useless.

"You're going camping?" said an unnamed 20-something reporter in our newsroom. "I couldn't live without email or Facebook or knowing what's going on in the world."

I can and I will, at least for 72 hours.

We head south on Highway 17 to what has become our favorite family get away -- Hunting Island. I hesitate to share the destination, fearing the solitude we've found and treasure will transform into the Jersey Shore.

But here goes.

Just east of Beaufort, three miles of pristine beach stretches between a mix of palms and pines. Endangered loggerhead turtles are safe to nest and waddle into the wild. A campground overlooks the ocean. The breeze is cool even in the middle of July.

Cell phones rarely ring. The silence is soothing; the scenery is stunning.

"I am a big proponent of disconnecting and getting back to nature as often as one can," said Dr. Kelly Holes-Lewis, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Ah-ha. Maybe breaking the phone was some kind of sign.

"It's a very hot topic right now as I witness the toll that remaining connected through smartphones, Facebook, et cetera, takes on my friends, colleagues and patients," she said. "Often even the mere mention of asking someone to disconnect for awhile incites anxiety that is often intolerable for them."

I think about the quaint campground store. Inside, there are the{} little necessities we may have forgotten, like toothpaste or matches. Outside, a small sign is plastered to the window. It says Wi-Fi.

You would think it was neon the way people gather like addicts, eager for a fix. Some sit slumped and fixated on laptops and iPads. Others stumble like zombies, heads hung low, thumbs twitching on phones.

A new eMarketer report finds the average smartphone/computer user spends 23 hours a week emailing, texting and using social media.

But here on Hunting Island, the Atlantic Ocean calls my name.

We fish, boogie board and lounge like lizards in the sun. Overhead, pelicans fly in formation. Their awkward bodies are so elegant in the air.

"In whatever form it takes, being with or in nature brings us back to our origin, where we are enveloped in all of our senses," said Dr. Holes-Lewis.

We take long walks on the beach, especially at low tide. The receding waves have carved what look like rocks and craters on the moon. Small tidal pools teem with flourishing wildlife -- sea urchins, starfish and sand dollars.

It's easy to lose track of time. The sun sets in streaks of pink and gold. We head back to camp to build a fire.

"Nature is a perfect example of balance, which is what many of us struggle with in our lives," said Dr. Holes Lewis.

There are no drive-through fast food dinners here. We grill burgers, char hotdogs and melt marshmallows until they drip off the stick. Billions of brilliant stars decorate the sky.

We head inside to play cards. The campfire still flickers, casting shadows against the tent. It reminds me of camping as a kid. There's no TV to fall asleep to tonight, but the waves and wind are nice.

"If one has had a previous good experience in nature of growing up experiencing nature, the sights and smells can be both invigorating and calming at the same time," said Dr. Holes-Lewis. "It can bring us to a place of new perspective, which is what many are searching for in today's world."

Packing, of course, is never as much fun as setting up camp. In fact, it's a drag. We cram the car full until it looks like even we won't fit. My 9-year-old year plugs into her iPod. Then I remember it -- that cracked phone is still there, tucked in the glove compartment, in that plastic bag.

"Regardless of how long it takes, the time spent disconnecting is always worth the inner peace that one is able to find within themselves," said Dr. Holes-Lewis. "It gives us confidence in the belief that it is always present and accessible and all that they have to do is put forth the effort to find it."

I free my phone and embrace it. It's not that bad. Like a newborn at times, it refuses me a moment's rest, but it helps me do my job. Information is always at my fingertips. I can connect with anyone, anywhere, any time I want.

But it feels good to disconnect and really reconnect with those I love.

I try to again to check my emails through cracked glass. There are now 541 new messages. So much for inner peace.