The notion of going off-grid can be downright scary for some people. No electricity means no running tap water, no wifi, no lights at the flick of a switch. But in this increasingly wired world, that’s also pretty liberating.
Alice Saunders, founder of Forestbound, a tote bag company, got her first taste of off-grid magic in elementary school, when she took a trip to a small island off the coast of Maine. “I have a vivid memory of the moment I realized how special and beautiful the island was,” says Saunders. “We were only able to stay there because this little house didn’t need to be connected to any electricity or running water (this was also my first time experiencing a composting toilet and that memory is definitely not as pleasant). I’ve been fascinated by off-grid cabins ever.”
These days, Saunders heads off the grid at least once a month.
“Living in Boston for the last 14 years has definitely increased my desire to fully unplug when we escape the city limits,” she says. “I love a good challenge and enjoy getting outside my comfort zone, especially because it really makes you appreciate all the little things most of us have in our day-to-day city lives. It’s like when the power goes out during a big storm—you run around the house and collect all the candles you forgot you had and regret not charging your phone battery to 100 percent earlier in the day. Then when the power comes back on you fully grasp the value of a light switch and a toilet flush like never before.”
Here, Saunders gives us the low-down on why you should unplug, how to do it right, and where you should go.
Why even bother going off grid? Can’t you just turn your phone off when you go to the park?
“For me, the biggest benefit to an off grid escape is the chance to be fully present and engaged with yourself, your friends, and your surroundings. An off-grid getaway is also a great way to gain a new appreciation for the little things we typically take advantage of in our daily lives—running water from the tap, a flush toilet with paper on a roll next to us, electrical sockets that produce power whenever you need it.”
But there’s cell phone service basically everywhere…
“If you happen to get service, be sure to put your phone on airplane mode so you can snap some good photos but aren’t tempted to check your email or Instagram.”
If someone isn’t quite ready to take the plunge into off-grid camping, where can you find off-grid cabins?
“If you’re looking for an off the grid experience, but aren’t ready to go full on sleep-on-the-ground camping, try renting a canvas wall tent (like this one in Upstate New York or one at this camp in the Adirondacks) for the weekend. It’s tent camping with a bit of luxury.
Okay, you convinced us. We’re going off-grid. How do we eat?
“Nothing I love more than off-grid coffee and breakfast. Hot dogs and s’mores are easy go-to’s to cook over the fire, but I think cooking breakfast over the fire is even better. Throw some pieces of toast on a camp fire toaster, cook some eggs and bacon in the skillet (we use a small cast iron skillet we picked up at a flea market, reserved for over-fire use only), and enjoy a peaceful breakfast outside. Even better if you a have a handful of foraged berries add to the mix.”
“Dishes are a pain without running water so a cheese plate is usually our go to dinner. Even better if you can seek out a local farmer’s market and buy seasonal fruits, veggies, and cheese from local farmers.”
So about that fire… Any tips?
“Challenge yourself to start a fire without man-made fire starters or paper—you’ll feel so accomplished when it lights up! Here’s a tip: dried birch bark and dried pine cones are excellent fire starters that you can easily find in the woods.”
What should we absolutely not forget to bring?
“Don’t leave home without wipes. I use them for washing my face at night and in the morning, wiping down my hands after cooking, wiping off the dog’s paws after she’s been running through the woods, etc.
Also toilet paper! Many off grid cabins have outhouses or composting toilets, but it’s always a good idea to bring your own roll of toilet paper just in case.”
How can you make the experience a little more comfortable and homey?
“I always forage for flowers around where we stay—a perfect way to spruce up the cabin while appreciating what is currently in bloom.
Wind up radios are a great way to have music without having to plug in a speaker or drain your phone’s battery.”
What if we can’t bring ourselves to fully let go?
“There are portable power sources you can buy. If you want to use your phone (might be a good time to try and go without it for a few days though), you have to supply your own source of power since there most likely won’t be any outlets to plug in to. Try a solar charger—they can easily charge a phone to 100 percent in about 30 to 40 minutes of direct sunlight—or bring a few rechargeable batteries (that are already full).”