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Jill Martin: My personal Ambush Makeover

I thought I was making one kind of change,
/ Source: TODAY

It's a new year, and I still can't believe my holiday vacation is over — I'm sure many of you can relate!

I wanted to kick off 2017 with a fresh start, and for me, that meant quitting technology for 10 days before saying goodbye to 2016.

I started planning my latest technology cleanse in August (I last tried this in 2014), when, after working nonstop, I hit a wall and needed a break.

But I knew I needed a different kind of break. Time alone, time to travel, and time for a new adventure.

I thought my trip would be about giving up technology. In the end, it didn't go how I thought it would.Jill Martin

I didn't envision 24 hours in the air, but after some research, that's what happened. In December, I was able to travel to Bali for a few days and then to a nearby island called Sumba. I'd been told about a beautiful place there called Nihiwatu, where I'd heard I could not only experience some incredible excursions, but give back to the local community while also cleansing my mind and body in the process.

The experiences I had there were life-changing. But first, how did the technology cleanse go?

Not as planned.

My original plan (as many of you saw) was to lock up my phone in the safe and not touch it until I returned.

As it turned out, this trip was not the place to do that. I couldn't. I was by myself, trying to get around, there was barely Wi-Fi or cellphone service anywhere, and I was venturing off on interesting (but remote) adventures.

Not to mention, I sprained my ankle on a major hike and had to call a doctor to look at it — luckily it wound up being minor and didn't ruin the entire trip.

RELATED: Why doing less in 2017 can make it the best year ever

So I decided to use my phone, but in moderation...only when absolutely necessary.

I came to the realization that sometimes going to the extreme is not as productive as just finding a happy medium.

Some of the amazing people I met.Courtesy of Jill Martin

In the long run, I think I will be able to maintain this measured use of my phone better than if I had gone totally off the grid. It's like when you don't eat carbs for a while and the second you eat a piece of bread, you go nuts (yes, Joy Bauer, I admit it)!

I never took the phone out of my room for meals, it never came out at night with me, and I only used it when I had to...and I never once checked social media. To be honest, I was so into being present, I didn't have any desire to.

So what was so life-changing about the trip? The people.

When you land in Sumba, you arrive at a small airport and then take a 2 1/2 hour trip in an open Jeep to the hotel. As you drive through the villages, you see hundreds of families outside homes with basically nothing but a roof over their heads (and barely that) waving and smiling at every car that drives by. Water buffalo march right next to your car, and heartbreakingly, dogs run through the streets, so thin and hungry. These men, women and children are in need of so many essentials that we take for granted.

Yet the people were so welcoming — everywhere we looked, everyone was smiling, and the kids were all waving and yelling as we passed, calling out "Da Da!" (Which means "Bye Bye!")

Meeting some kids on my paddleboard adventure.Courtesy of Jill Martin

One particular excursion epitomized the beauty of Sumba and the universal language of laughter and happiness. The river there is the source of life for families: they bathe, wash their clothing, and boil the water for drinking. I went on a paddle-boarding adventure that lasted about 4 hours. Along the journey, I saw kids playing, frolicking and laughing and as I passed them, they swam over and jumped up on my paddleboard, not asking for anything, just wanting to play and laugh.

That moment resonated with me, hitting home that it really takes so little to be happy — and, not to sound cliché, it really made me appreciate everything I have. I gave one of the kids the bottle of water on my paddleboard, and you would have thought I'd given him liquid gold.

On Christmas day, I went back with a family from my hotel and two new friends I had met. We loaded our boards and kayaks up with candy and food, and as we made our way down the river, the kids swam up and we handed out holiday treats. My two new pals, who were also staying at Nihiwatu, were in their kayak watching these kids scream and rejoice over getting a candy bar. At one point, I had 20 kids jump on and around my board, each waiting his or her turn politely to get candy and food. They laughed hysterically as they swam away. I have traveled all around the world, and this was one of the most impactful and touching experiences I've ever had. It was even more meaningful for my two little helpers who were able to see the value of something so many of us don't even think twice about.

Villagers in Sumba.Courtesy of Jill Martin

I would love to travel back and spend more time in the villages there. As you walk into many of them, families will lay out a blanket and lay down beads, bags & shells to sell. That is their source of income. A bracelet cost about 40,000 Rupiahs (about $4 US dollars.) The need is so great there that it has inspired me to work with the Sumba foundation which is dedicated to lessening the poverty on the island (including malaria control, education, water & income-generation).

I was particularly touched by one family I was told about. There is a woman who is about to give birth to twins (she was due a week ago) and I am helping the foundation provide her with basic essentials to start a healthy family. I was shocked when I was told the process of pregnancy in Sumba. They just received two portable sonogram machines so women will be able to monitor the health of the unborn baby and find out the sex. Before that, women in the villages didn't know anything about their babies before they were born.

Another highlight of my stay in Indonesia occurred on my very first day in Bali. I met up with a friend of a friend, John, who recently opened a hotel in Bali with his wife and developed The Green School in Ibud. I was able to take a tour of this extraordinary school which is made entirely of bamboo and is a totally wall-less environment. Their mission is to teach students to be creative and critical thinkers who also champion the sustainability of the world and the environment.

The "trash walk."Courtesy of Jill Martin

John, his beautiful wife Cynthia and their daughter asked me to go on a "trash walk" with them. My obvious question "Ummm...what is that?" Well, it is exactly what it sounds like. Almost daily, their family, along with members of the community, hike through villages, valleys and the breathtaking rice fields with a spear in hand and a huge bag draped across their bodies. They collect trash, which is then recycled into shipping pallets. We hiked for about 3 hours, balancing on logs over rivers and sliding down steep hills. The trip was punctuated by us emptying our bags and John explaining to me the 360 process and how the recycling works. Truly incredible.

RELATED: Meet the TODAY Style Squad: Jill Martin, Bobbie Thomas and Lilliana Vazquez!

So this time around, it was my turn for an Ambush Makeover. These past two weeks I gave myself one... and like so many of our makeover-ees, I plan on making it stick.

Hope yours worked out too if you joined in — would love to hear about it.