Do you really need tech to relax and have a good time? I thought I did — until a flip was literally switched for me.
This past summer I booked a trip to a cabin in Cape Cod, MA, for myself and my 3-year-old daughter. We had visited the previous year, and, as a freelance writer, I'd been able to file stories during the day from the porch overlooking a lake as my daughter stayed entertained watching shows on her device. At night, she would snuggle up next to me as I binge-watched a new season of a favorite television series. To me, it had been the perfect vacation, prime for repeating.
This summer, however, there was a twist: The property had switched to a new Internet service and currently didn't have any Wi-Fi — and my cell phone only showed one tiny bar. We were unplugged. I panicked. In fact, I packed us up and drove 250 miles back to New York City so I could attend a few meetings I had presumed I could have called in for.
As we drove back up to the cabin two days later, it suddenly hit me: I was too dependent on tech. After all, this was supposed to be vacation. Why had so many of my key memories from the last summer involved my laptop?
So, for the next few days, my daughter and I enjoyed our tech-free life. Yes, I took photos on my phone. But we also splashed in the lake, caught crabs at the beach, and played a silly, giggly game of mini golf. I also returned to my life back in New York feeling stress-free — and determined to learn how to turn off tech once I got back home, too.
Of course, you can always create a DIY vacation during which screen time is not an option. "This summer, my family booked a trip to a dude ranch in Colorado," says Cari Dineen, a mom of two in Boston, MA. "We were four hours from Denver, but there were so many activities, like horseback riding, fly fishing, dancing and hiking, that my 8-year-old and 5-year-old were never bored. Booking a vacation where there's limited access to tech doesn't make it any less enticing."
The key to a successful tech-free trip? Plan ahead, advises Springfield, NJ, freelance editor and mom Melanie Mannarino. "Before we go on our annual Jersey Shore vacation, we have a family tradition where we all head to the bookstore, and I let my 9-year-old son choose three books for the trip," she says. "It's fun, it gets him excited, and prepped for this week when he won't have his shows and games, but he won't be deprived." The family also brings puzzles, board games and coloring books along on the trip.
As you work to set new boundaries and broaden the non-tech horizons for your kids, remember to model the sorts of behavior you're hoping to encourage.
"I think it's important to take a mindful approach to using technology while traveling — taking advantage of the benefits it brings, while limiting the amount of time you spend using it so you can explore, enjoy and remember the places you're visiting," says Dave Dean, founder and editor of the tech travel website Too Many Adapters. "This applies to all members of the family: It's easy to focus on kids being engrossed in the latest video games or teenagers endlessly texting friends back home, but it's equally important for parents who can't stop checking work emails.
Unfortunately, all vacations do come to an end, but it doesn't mean that your digital-free habits have to become a distant memory. You can't totally disconnect once back in 'the real world,' but try these strategies to help keep that tech-free feeling from fading (if only you could say the same about that sun tan).
Round up electronics, put them in a central place, and commit to an entire day without tech — except for navigation apps, if needed. If it makes you more comfortable, put an out-of-office message on your email and let friends and family know you won't be texting them back. If you must, check your texts a few times a day, but only to ensure there aren't any emergencies.
The morning rush can be even more hectic if you're always checking your email or messages. Limiting devices in the morning may give you more time to savor your coffee, enjoy family time and ease into the day — just like you would have on vacation.
Let's say you discovered a love of puzzles in a vacation house. Or realized your family connected on long hikes through the woods. There's no reason why you can't introduce these things to your non-vacation life to some degree or another.
While it may be sneaky, a ruse wherein you unplug the router or television for a bit and simply pretend it's broken can minimize the temptation to turn on for the kids — and you.
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