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Three Tips for Taking an Unplugged Vacation

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Taking a vacation isn’t what it used to be. The concept of “getting away” seems to be disappearing from our traditional idea of what it means to be on vacation. Smartphones, laptops, and tablets—all amazing technologies—have redefined the “portable office” to such a degree that many people have a hard time leaving the office behind.

Meanwhile, video gaming, social networks, and a seemingly infinite array of online streaming content define the landscape that our children navigate. These technologies make up what I call the “portable entertainment center.”

Nowadays, along with our suitcases, sunscreen, and coolers come our portable work/play screens of various shapes and sizes. But as much as the technological explosion has delivered convenience, connectivity, and fun to our lives, it has also brought with it a bundle of unnecessary, unwanted arguments over misuse of the technology.

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How many couples have too often heard the question, “Can’t you put that phone down?” or the accusation, “You pay more attention to that screen than you do to me!” Parents, how many of you have found yourselves competing with a screen for your child’s attention, in some cases triggering messy tantrums or teenage pout-fests that make you wish the Internet was never invented?

The fact is these faster, smaller, more portable technologies pose a major challenge to us all. This challenge, in my opinion, is to ensure that we maintain control over the devices rather than be controlled by them, and to make sure they don’t interfere in a negative way more often than they enhance our lives.

Below, I offer three tips to keep in mind before you leave home that I hope will contribute to more peace and enjoyment on your trip. After all, isn’t this why you’re going on vacation?

Tip No. 1: Preparing for the Vacation

  1. At work: Prepare your coworkers, employees, and team members for your time away. Before mobile technology existed, people found a way to get away with only a land telephone line between them and the office. It’s still possible. But if your workmates believe you are reachable, guess what? They will expect you to be reachable and they will reach you. If possible—and this is possible if you take the time to blueprint it—delegate and prepare your workmates to make decisions in your absence. Prepare them for the expectation that you will not be reachable. You will be on “vacation.” If absolutely necessary, agree to an emergency plan whereby they should contact you only in the event of an emergency. Be sure to define exactly what constitutes an emergency. You deserve time to recharge your batteries. You will be more valuable to your business when you return.
  2. With your significant other: Have a discussion about technology on your getaway. Talk about the laptop, the tablet, the smartphone. How will these be used? The trick is that these technologies can be used in so many other vacation-enhancing ways—taking pictures, video, coordinating meet-ups (via texting, etc.), as a map/GPS, as a search engine for attractions, reviews, etc. Commit to a plan that excludes (or minimizes) checking work emails, playing solitary games, and any other activity that would disconnect you from your partner and detract from your vacation experience. Remember, you left your daily routine to “get away.” Once you are away, act like you’re away.
  3. With your family: As with the previous two, planning is everything. The vacation starts way before you pack your bags. Get your kids excited! Get them involved in the planning way in advance. Set clear boundaries about how electronic devices will be used. The last thing you want to do is argue over “screens” while you are on what should be a stress-relieving time away together. I can guarantee you will be frustrated and will have an angry child/teen on your hands if you decide “on the fly” to take away a device because his or her face has been buried in a screen for too long. As fun as technology can make life, if anyone feels that he or she can’t have fun without an electronic device, there may be a larger problem.

Tip No. 2: Planning Activities

  1. Take an active role in planning your time. Most people tend to “go to” their screens because they “feel” a need to do so when they have nothing better to do. Most of the time, it is done simply out of habit or boredom. If you are traveling with family, prepare nonelectronic activities and games. Make it fun. Kids don’t typically just want to sit and stare at their parents and be told to “find something” to do. Parents should take an active role by planning fun activities to choose from—e.g., board games, outdoor excursions, explorations of the area, etc. Whether it’s with your children or your significant other, be proactive in planning fun activities that everyone can get excited about well in advance. Parents: Talk with your children about what they’d like to do. When they have more of a role in choosing the activity (be it indoor or outdoor), they are more likely to engage in it with you as a family, rather than feeling forced to do “the family thing.” Ask yourself: Are we doing something on our vacation getaway that we could just as easily do at home (e.g., staring at a screen)?
  2. Locate and get your hands on the local papers, circulars, periodicals, and magazines. Learn what’s going on locally. Take part in the activities and get involved! Have a contest to see who can come up with the most ideas for what to do without using an online search engine. To up the ante, see who can go the longest period of time without using their phone or other electronic screen while on your vacation. Some travel agencies specialize in “technology-free” vacations, recognizing the importance of “digital detox.”

Tip No. 3: Plan and Stick To a Check-In Time for Urgent Information

If you absolutely cannot go without checking your email or other technology-related tasks while on vacation, plan a designated “check-in” time. Inform your workmates so they can succinctly share only crucial information you need to know, and only information that absolutely cannot wait until your return. Arrange a specific time and place for the check-in. Share this plan this with your partners and family members so they know what to expect. This strategy is a good way to alleviate unwanted work-related anxiety and interpersonal tension. For parents of teens who feel they must stay connected to their peers via an electronic screen, create a plan that you can all agree is fair and will not be disruptive to your vacation.

If you can follow these tips to better balance your use of electronics on your trip, remember that these strategies can also be effective when you return home.

Keep in mind we are all still learning how to manage the unprecedented access we have to mobile technology. Going “unplugged” should not feel like a punishment. When technology shifts from being a fun-filled choice to a compulsion that people feel they can’t go without, it may be an indication of a larger problem. These three tips should put you on your way to a more fulfilling and relaxing vacation!

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Fraser, PhD, therapist in New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Sandrine June 19th, 2013 at 4:17 AM #1

    With all of the technology literally at our fingertips, is there a such thing as going totally unplugged these days?
    It sounds good when you first start thinking about trying it. . .
    but then you start wondering about all of the information that you could miss by not checking your phone, your email, Facebook, Twitter, all of those other littel programs that literally have us by the you know whats.
    I would love to say I could do it, but I am probably as guilty as the nest person, in that I would be sneaking around looking for a wifi signal.

  • Hank June 20th, 2013 at 4:27 AM #2

    I agree with Sandrine. I don’t really think that going unplugged for a vacation is really even a possibility anymore. I think that in my line of work there is a connection between me and my clients and if they need me, even when I am away, I need to be there for them. The economy is still not the strongest, we all know that, and sometimes people will think that if they can’t get in touch with me when they need me, that maybe there is someone else out there right then and there who could help them and I lose an account. I know that loyal customers would not do that but what about those with whom I have just started working? Are they loyal enough to wait a wekk until I get home, or should I just suck it up and do the ordering and such for them while I am on vacation? I think that I prefer to keep that customer loyal and confident in me and take just a little time every day to help them out. My family understands that this is how we maintain all that we have and get to do, so I think that as long as they are all right with it then this is how I will continue to operate.

  • mary June 20th, 2013 at 1:24 PM #3

    I don’t get the big deal about technology. It’s not the end of the world people! Modern tech is not inherently bad for you ok? I think if someone wants to play words with friends or whatever on vacation that is not a problem.

  • grace July 26th, 2013 at 6:30 AM #4

    Wow! Talk about dependency! I understand the need to use technology if you have a job that requires you to be on call while you are away or if you have your own business. But too much of anything is not good. Are you really that hooked to technology that you can’t enjoy life without it? There’s a world of options out there for fun an relaxation that don’t require being “plugged in.”

  • Sue April 7th, 2014 at 2:46 AM #5

    I wish that all homeowners would become more aware of the serious dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
    Every year more than twenty people are needlessly killed by this odourless,
    colourless gas leaking from faulty gas boilers together with hundreds more who suffer
    serious ill health because of it.

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