Why My 9 Day Digital Sabbatical in Samoa Transformed My Life

Posted on / by Natalie Sisson / in Business Travel, Lifestyle Business Videos / 37 comments

So I spent 9 days on a tropical island recently that quite frankly changed my life. I didn’t expect it to. I just needed a holiday. Despite traveling all the time I realized I rarely actually stop. I wanted a digital sabbatical – to go offline and just enjoy being present.

What I didn’t account for when I booked my flights from Auckland to Apia, the capital of Samoa, in the IMG_0223South Pacific, was to experience what I did.

Not only did I fall in love with Coconut oil (that originally smelled quite smoky, but soon became my favorite daily slathering routine), but I met a Queen, spent quality time with my Dad and completely rethought my entire life and business purpose.

The result was I came back with a stunning tan, thoroughly well rested, a little less lean than when I arrived, and with a whole lot of clarity about what I wanted to do next.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my thoughts on the country of Samoa, the people and culture, as well as why it’s so important to take REAL time off and give you space to think.

I’ve scattered in some stunning photos and a video montage shot on location to give you the feel for this special country, and touched on the revelation I had there that has completely changed my future freedom plan.

Reflections on Samoa

With a population of 190,000 people across 4 islands, Samoa is laid back, warm, relaxing and clean. The temperatures only differ by a few degrees from winter to summer so it was mainly a balmy 30 degrees Celsius and the ocean was so warm, inviting and crystal aqua blue.

You couldn’t help but relax, and for me my main aim was to do a lot of nothing – which I managed to do extremely well. My days consisted of waking up whenever, having a swim in the ocean, eating a yummy breakfast, lazing around the pool reading a book, snoozing, swimming, reading, snoozing and sipping on a G&T.

I also swam and snorkeled over giant clams, fed some beautiful big turtles, kayaked to the mangroves and out to the ocean reef and hiked to Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave at the top of Mount Vaea.IMG_0369

In no particular order, and as narrated in my video below are things I wrote at the airport so as not to forget my time in Samoa:

  • White stones lining the road
  • Colorful red and yellow plants to contrast with the lush green
  • Abundance of yellow coconuts and shorter tree to make it easier to get the drinking coconuts
  • Friendly smiles, waving kids
  • Open house, verandas, colourful paint on the houses – lilac, green, yellow, peachy red and blue
  • Churches everywhere
  • Vibrant colours of the sea
  • Distant breaking surf over the reef
  • Taro leaves baked in coconut milk
  • Deep fried everything
  • Chickens and pigs running everywhere
  • Stray dogs who roam the roads and some cats too
  • Beach fales – simple living for family days at the beach as well as for staying in
  • Turtles, giant clams,
  • Sound of Polynesian when spoken and when Samoan’s speak English it sounds more English and for the young kids it sounds American
  • Warm temps morning and night – hot and humid
  • Warm seas – perfect temp
  • Upolu island mountainous and lush and more populated
  • Savai’i flat and large and cleaner and more traditional
  • Little lizards
  • Robert Louis Stevenson Museum and steep climb up Mt Vaea to his burial site
  • Mosquitos – damn them
  • Coconut oil…mmmm

I found the Samoan people particularly friendly, relaxed, and helpful. They’re a god loving people who live simple, non stressful lives, at one with nature and each other.

Being a Tourist in Samoa

To get the most out of the 9 days there Dad and I spent most of our time on Upolu island, where the capital is and a big chunk of the population. We decided to treat ourselves at the brand new Return to Paradise resort on the Southwest side of the island, where the famous film of the same name was shot in the 1950s with Gary Cooper as the lead actor.

Return to Paradise montage

We were shown great hospitality by Zita Martel who I reached out to via email and is the Marketing Manager for this lovely resort. She is also founder of her Polynesian Explorer company that provides tourists with the best custom experiences when they visit Samoa including accommodation, transfers and activities.

Turns out she’s also a Queen! I had no idea of her status as she was just so down to earth and lovely, but she sure had something special about her and I’m so glad it was my blog that connected us!

Owners Jim and Ronda made us very welcome too. We dined with them several times during our stay and they even brought forward the cultural evening by a day so we could get a taste of it (which you can see a bit of in the video).

We lazed by and in the pool, read lots of books, swam in the sea, watched beautiful sunsets and enjoyed dinners by the ocean. This was for me, my complete and utter unwind and veg out time. That said we did go snorkeling to see giant and beautiful clams in the local village. We also had the privilege of going kayaking and canoeing on the ocean to the mangroves and out to the reef with Zita and her son Yannick.

From there we headed on a rather small and basic ferry over to the big island named Savai’i. We were picked up and dropped off thanks to Zita’s company at Tanu Beach Fales, which were in complete contrast to the luxury of Return to Paradise.

We had simple beach front fales that were open air, with flax woven ‘curtains’ you could choose to roll down. Mattresses on the floor and just a sheet was all you needed in the gentle warm breeze at night. Mosquito nets that weren’t necessary and the sound of the waves lapping the shore were enough to send me off to sleep each night.Samoa life montage

Once again we’d become adept at doing a lot of nothing and I finished another book and dozed a lot until the dinner bell rang at 7pm. That’s when you found out who else was staying there and got chatting away. Turns out I made firm friends with two lovely ladies who lived on Waiheke Island.. NZ, who gave me some great recommendations for caterers and natural walks for my Waiheke Adventure Mastermind Retreat.

Dad and I walked along the non busy road to find the turtle sanctuary and while on the way noticed a fresh coconut drop off the tree. He was walking over to pick it up when out of nowhere a young boy sped across the road and swooped it up (which seemed so at odds with the laid back setting) and proved coconuts are in demand. Took a great photo though!

This was also the first time I checked in online in over 5 days and I rather wish I hadn’t. It just made me realize how you really don’t need to check in on Facebook, email or Twitter. So I made sure all was great and my team had it handled (which they totally did) and I logged off again – bliss.

The Transformative Event

That night something strange happened. I was dropping off to sleep when my mind decided to suddenly have a heated argument with itself. It’s pretty common for us entrepreneurs to have doubts, but for whatever reason – perhaps with all the space to think coupled with my brief interaction back online – I started to doubt everything. Samoan Natalie

And I haven’t done that in some time, I tell ya.

I berated myself for being a failure. I couldn’t find one single good thing to think about myself, my business, my lifestyle and no amount of calling on deep breathing or gratitude seemed to work.

So I decided to just let my negative mind have its say and then counter each argument with what energy I could muster.

I tell you, it was a weird moment and when I finally quieted my mind I had a pretty broken sleep. I woke up the next morning with paradise in front of me, feeling less than jovial. I even had to tell Dad that I might wallow in this weird feeling of being lost, which he was very good about.

Over the next 2 days I started to throw all my balls up in the air, questioning everything that I’ve done and achieved and created. I didn’t care where they bounced and I didn’t try to find the answers. I figured this was just a process I needed to go through that had come about because of the digital sabbatical (and hence why going offline is so rewarding).

I took a good hard look at my life and what I wanted, and then started to decide on my future Freedom Plan, just like I teach my awesome members of my program to do for themselves.

The two nights and two days there seemed to end too fast but I was happy to head back to Apia where we stayed at the lovely La Manumea Hotel and I thought more on my new found ‘lostness’.

I considered everything like ending offerings I had, leaving the whole ‘location independent’ space since I think it’s become overcrowded with a lack of integrity, giving up everything and going off to write novels.

But thankfully my heart and mind decided to see eye to eye after a while and I got real clarity on what 2015 holds, as well as feeling more rejuvenated, recharged and enthusiastic again about my blog, podcast, speaking and plans.

I hiked with Dad up the steep Mt Vaea to see Robert Louis Stevenson’s burial site. After visiting the museum and learning about his books and the impact he made in Samoan society (and their future independence) in just 4 short years, it inspired me even more to stick to my guns about my mission to inspire 100,000 plus entrepreneurs to create freedom in business and adventure in life by 2020.  

On the very last day we were treated to a tour of the rest of Upolu island with Zita. She showed us through her district where so much of her family died in the tsunami and where she herself helped load bodies on to her 4WD to take them to the local hospital as so few people had transport that could get through the debris and destruction.

Lolamanu happens to be one of my favorite places now in Samoa. It’ stunningly beautiful and we spent an entire afternoon here playing in the ocean with the ball, rolling down the sand to the sea and lazing in the open air beach fale just like the locals do.  It was the perfect way to spend our time before heading to the airport.

Queen Zita Martel

Some special people come into your life for a reason at the right time and for me Zita Martel was this person on my trip to Samoa. I only found out she was a Queen when I returned home. She told me she was a chief of her district and I knew by the amount of people who knew her and came over to speak to her in the times we spent together that she was a pretty big deal.

She is in fact, the only woman to ever dare compete in the traditionally male sport of longboating. She is the first woman to captain a winning Fautasi (A 60 man strong longboat) and win 5 years in a row in the June Independence Anniversary celebration Fautasi Boat Races in Samoa. Here’s a video they made about her.

You can watch the video above or this feature here on The Coconet TV. She’s the founder of Polynesian Explorer, her tourism company (and her great husband Francois from Montreal) for over 20 years now, as well as one of the few people to make an app in Samoa.

Samoa Smart Guide app offers visitors to Samoa an easy and user-friendly way to plan their trip and discover the sites whilst they explore the Treasured Islands of the South Pacific and is the complete insider’s guide to Samoa with details on where to stay and dine, information on the best sights of Samoa, entertainment, wellness, organic gardens, local cuisine, handicrafts and local artists, as well as government and visitor services in Samoa. I highly recommend you download it if you go and visit Samoa – which you must!

The mix of local interactions, simple island living and luxury resorts made this a pretty special holiday to experience the whole range of what’s on offer. If you want a non touristy destination and to chill the heck out in naturally beautiful surroundings, with laid back, friendly locals and no real rules, then this is your destination.

Oh and the result of my ‘Solar Eclipse’ induced, throw all balls up in the air and rethink my entire life strategy moment?

I arrived home to receive two invites to speak at conferences next year, followed by 2 more the next week, a renewed love for my blog, podcast and community, put an offer on a studio apartment that got accepted and had two dates with two great men in one weekend.

That my friend, is why I highly recommend digital sabbaticals, especially on tropical islands!