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Going “Off the Grid”

This post first appeared on LinkedIn, published by Dan Weis, Head of Security and Lead Penetration Tester, Kiandra IT.

So I have just come back from 10 fantastic days of sun, fun and being “off the grid” in Fiji. As someone who works in cyber security as a Pentester and as a public speaker on the side, I have to remain up to date on the cyber landscape, which means I’m always “on”. Whether it be email, phone, social media — you name it. I spend a lot of time in front of my laptop (or other people’s machines) and if I’m not working, I’m preparing for different events or spending time with the kids.

I’m constantly juggling these commitments unconsciously for work, family, presenting, social media, fitness and me time where possible. I will admit I had no plans to be “off the grid” while I was away. My team has some large security engagements on at the moment, I was planning on checking emails from time-to-time to make sure everything was going smoothly, checking social media from time-to-time and keeping on top of the latest threats via my feeds and prepping for my next big event coming up in 10 days time.

My phone and tablet were jacked to go; VPN, international roaming, day pass activation etc…

In November last year I booked this family trip. Five days on an island called Malolo Lailai located 30 mins drive from Nadi (Nandi), then a one and a bit hour boat ride out to the island.

The other four and a bit days had us at Denarau. Upon arrival at Malolo this is what welcomed us:

The Fijians working on the island, welcomed us through song and shell necklaces as we got to the end of the dock. There were nice basic huts/rooms for everyone to stay in, no TV or anything like that, but there was aircon, and we were definitely happy about that. The kids weren’t too pleased about the no TV thing of course.

My kids are very limited with tablet and internet usage and everything on their devices is monitored. Time limitations are enforced and I use Qustudio to control the devices, so having no internet wasn’t really a big deal for them besides missing out on their favourite Netflix shows.

We got settled in, had a few hiccups with our luggage arriving, and then hit the beach and the pools. There was only one main restaurant, a small “supermarket”, a cafe and that’s about it. Plenty of water activities to be done though, snorkeling, inflatable water park, swimming pools, different boat tours, jetskis, paddle boarding — you name it, and of course, deck chairs and hammocks to chill out and “kids club” activities for the kids. Nice.

Everyone got around by riding bikes or walking. It was refreshingly basic.

Dinner came and went and before we knew it the kids were off to bed. I saw this as a good opportunity to catch up on a few emails. Telstra’s Day Pass is quite limited, with only 100MB per day. I had already decided that I was not going to use any mobile data (as the costs for exceeding the limit were not costs I wanted to pay) and hey, everyone has WiFi, right? Went to connect to WiFi, yes they had it, but the signal strength was weak and dropped in and out, not to mention the large usage cost, billing in small increments. So WiFi is out, back to Mobile Data. I jumped on, coverage was really average, so I made sure everything was going well at work, caught up on a few feeds and had hit my cap of 100MB. At this point I realised that for at least the first leg of my trip, data was out, work was out, and we were effectively “off the grid”. By the next day I was loving not having the stress of emails, social media commitments and other hassles associated with being online. I’d forgotten how nice it was to not be online. I spent the rest of my time on the island with my phone in my room, only pulled out to take photos. I didn’t need it, I was on holidays!

Plenty of other activities were done, like drinking from coconuts and doing nothing.

Sunsets were some of the best I’d seen, with crabs coming out at sunset and frogs once it got dark. We were all enjoying this new, basic lifestyle, especially the kids.

Our five days came and went and it was time to head back to Denarau for the last leg of our tour and where most of the activities had been planned.

We stayed at the Radisson Blu, and It was VERY Westernised. We had learnt a little bit of Fijian as English was definitely a second language on the island, but here on mainland, they said “thank you” instead of “vinaka”. It was great being able to have a constantly flowing and hot shower, something not often available on the island and free Wi-Fi.

I connected to WiFi, connected up my VPN, and boom! It was on. I was hit with a ton of social media alerts, 200 odd emails, various notifications from my feeds…back to the chaos. Then it dawned on me just how much time I spent juggling the commitments I talked about earlier. I dedicated 30 mins to catching up on emails and anything else important, uploaded all the photos currently taken, and opted to not do anything else work related unless an urgent call came through. A lot of time was spent relaxing by the pools, drinking cocktails and doing adventures with the kids. After staying on the island for the first few days, they didn’t even bother turning on the TVs, I was shocked.

What did I learn? I think it’s important that everyone spend some time “off the grid”. We live in a connected world, there is so much going on, we’re always online, always busy, always on social media. I’d forgotten about how nice it was to be offline, I’m sure there are a bunch of you who are in the same boat.

Until next time, book some “off the grid” time and if you are online, stay safe and be smart.