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What It's Like to Take an Unplugged, Tech-Free Family Vacation

by Kerry Cushman Apr 12, 2019

Reconnecting on a family vacation should be easy, right? All that one-on-one time to have adventures, relax and unplug from the stresses of everyday life. Problem is, we’re often sitting poolside swiping on our mobile devices when we should be doing a cannonball into the deep end. From getting lost to encouraging kids to power down, here’s what you need to know about taking a technology-free family vacation.

1. Preparing before your trip will help you power down stress-free.

An eye-opening study revealed US adults check their phones an average of 80 times per day while on vacation. Yep, that’s once every 12 minutes while on vacation. If going completely phone-free sends you into a panic, do some pre-trip prep like setting up an email auto-responder, letting family and friends know you won’t be posting on social media, and leaving the hotel phone number for your boss and neighbors. Setting the tone before you go will create screen-free expectations and give you confidence knowing that people can still get in touch if a real emergency ensues.

2. You can get the family hyped for a screen-free trip ahead of time.

In another study from the US, 85 percent of people surveyed reported seeing their kids excited about an experience was a major reason to travel. To get kids on board with a media-free trip, let them help in the trip planning and set expectations that everyone is powering down. When children anticipate fun events and feel invested in the process, they’ll be less likely to focus on missing their favorite show or video game.

3. Know that you might get lost.

We are rarely disconnected enough to actually be lost. GPS is always there like a trusty sidekick giving us the fastest route to our destination or directions to the nearest sandwich shop. Taking a phone-free vacation is an opportunity to teach kids how to use a map and hone their sense of direction, a skill the GPS-reliant next generation could probably use a lesson in. Yes, it might mean getting stuck in traffic or lost — but that’s okay, using intuition sharpens our ability to view situations in a larger context and it’s these small moments that add up to the big picture.

4. You’ll need to rely on your instincts or ask a local.

Modern travel often means turning to technology to guide us where to go and what to eat, which has its merits. Going phone-free means relying on your own foodie intuition or asking a local for dinner recommendations, not what user KimmieEatsWorld95 gave four stars on Yelp. While technology is certainly helpful, it can also take away the sweet satisfaction of discovering an off-the-beaten-path experience on your own.

5. Kids can handle a screen-free road trip.

Car-bound, utterly bored kids whining is a cliche pastime quickly being replaced by technology. For better or worse, kids are now more apt to be consumed on a tablet with headphones or enthralled in the latest kid-friendly movie in the family minivan. But contrary to what your pleading kids think, they will be just fine without technology on a road trip. There’s a whole world zooming by, and just because it’s at 65 mph doesn’t mean it’s not worth paying attention to. If they are buried in a screen, they’ll miss the dynamics of changing scenery and engaging with family. While a digital detox might be painful at first, stick to your guns and try some car games, like I spy or 21 questions.

6. Phone-free means no texting when you’re running late.

Technology has given us a hall pass to be late. Whether you missed your train or the kids are having a meltdown, running late can usually be remedied with a text message. When you don’t have technology to fall back on, it means being accountable to show up on time. Inevitably there will be moments when someone is late with no way to give you a heads up, but having patience until they arrive and making an effort to be on time will ease you into untethered travel.

Kids in a forest

Photo: VP Photo Studio/Shutterstock

7. You have more free time than you thought.

Complaining that you just don’t have enough time could mean you’re putting it in the wrong place. We often turn to electronics to fill the void, prohibiting natural pauses to clear the mind and connect with others. According to research, the average US adult spends three hours and 35 minutes each day on their smartphone. Ditching the device means hours of newfound time for family fun instead of tech distraction.

8. Being in the moment is easy without virtual distractions.

If you power-up for just a moment, you can get pulled back into a whole different headspace. Virtual distractions can easily take you out of the present and kids are often feeling the impact. According to a study, 32 percent of children felt unimportant when their parents were on their smartphones. Unplugging completely means enjoying each other’s company without your subconscious mulling over that work email you just saw. When your attention is undivided, it’s easier to listen fully and engage, turning small moments of time into inside jokes and real-time laughs.

9. When technology is powered down, you need to pay attention.

Don’t get too lost in the moment, though. Tech-free travel means being tuned in to look for street names and freeway exit signs. It also means asking what time the cafe opens or shuttle bus arrives and listening for the answer. Without the virtual world at your disposal 24/7, you are responsible for remembering the details, not Siri. Encourage the kids to take responsibility for remembering some of these details — but make sure to still remember yourself, just in case.

Family by a car

Photo: India Picture/Shutterstock

10. You will struggle to turn your cell phone back on.

That angst you felt unplugging from your phone will be similar to the angst you feel turning it back on. Powering up after a digital detox feels like waving goodbye to a vacation state of mind. With an average of 23 days per year spent on our phones, taking time to unplug, reconnect, and recharge is like a vacation in itself, no matter where you go.

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