A double play in Little League, the Peanuts theme song hammered out with tiny hands at a piano recital, an impromptu dance party by two brothers with underwear on their heads — these are all moments I missed out on this year. Or, did I? I mean, I was there, but I’m not sure if I was fully present. After all, I did have to make the parenting choice many of us face in 2017: embrace the moment or record it?
This becomes an even bigger question on family vacations, where every beach scene seems Instagram-worthy and Snapchat can seem more compelling than actual chat.
It’s no surprise that “digital detox” vacations are a top travel trend for 2017. However, if you don’t think a yoga retreat on the northeast tip of Tasmania or a private rental villa in the Galapagos Islands is right for your family, there are easy and inexpensive ways to capitalize on this trend, so you can actually live your life on vacation, instead of just documenting it.
Just how bad is it?
According to a recent poll of 1,500 Americans, 74 percent admitted their phone is never more than 3 feet away from them. Moreover, a whopping 87 percent of respondents admitted their cellphones and technology were distracting when it came to daily life.
How can I travel without constantly checking my cellphone?
Here’s one travel hack I love: Do your internet- based research before you leave home. You can print out maps, order tickets, make reservations and read reviews before you head out with your family.
You might be thinking, but my phone is also my camera. Though nothing beats the ease of taking digital photos with your phone, one idea is to buy a simple, cheap disposable drugstore camera for your trip, so you won’t be tempted to check your Facebook App each time your take a photo. If you’re one of those people who can operate an actual camera, good for you. I’m jealous. Your photos are way better anyway, and you’re probably a happier human and better parent because you aren’t glued to your cellular.
What if I just can’t stay away from Twitter (or whatever social media app you find irresistible)?
For those who can’t resist the temptation of certain apps, one option is to delete them for the trip and re-install them back at home.
How else can I ease my mind?
What are the benefits of a digital detox on vacation?
Studies show that putting down tech can benefit us in ways large and small, improving everything from our concentration to our sleep, and that’s to say nothing of what a detox does to enhance our personal relationships.
When our focus is split, the kids know it and we know it. While being plugged in can be a blessing to a working parent because it allows us to hit the park on a sunny weekday afternoon or attend the class party on a Tuesday morning, it can also be a challenge. A digital detox (or at least a partial one) during a family vacation can be a nice way to remember how it feels to live in a moment, rather than to curate it.
How can I make last minute changes and adjustments to our vacation plans if I don’t have my laptop?
Once, I did a juice cleanse. There were many options at the raw juice place, but the one I chose was “juice until dinner.” That way, I suffered through three straight days downing carrot and beet juice, knowing there was chow waiting for me at the dinner bell. I still felt rejuvenated, I still lost a few pounds, and I didn’t have to fail at something that was too extreme for me. I didn’t go cold turkey (or any turkey because it was a vegan cleanse). My point is this: moderation. Personally, I travel with my laptop because I’m a writer, and it just feels better to have it.
One way to keep the presence of a laptop in your hotel room from being totally disruptive is to schedule specific times to check email or use the Internet, maybe 15 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night.
A digital detox doesn’t have to be perfect. If you’re able to stay off the grid in a way that works for you, there will be benefits.
But how will we find each other?
Sounding old alert: Our parents somehow managed to find and track us without cell phones. Back in my day, our family had an old school concept, rendezvous points. My mom would tell us to meet by the ticket booth or some other landmark if we got lost. We never did get lost, but it was always nice having a plan. An actual plan, not a data plan.
What do you do if you really don’t trust yourself?
Ironically, you can use technology to help you stay away from technology.
There’s the Digital Detox smartphone app, which disables your phone for anywhere from 30 minutes to an entire month. And if, like me, you must bring a laptop, there’s Anti-Social, a Mac app that blocks social media sites. That way, you can find out what time the planetarium opens, without having to find out what everyone else is doing that might be more fun than what you’re doing. I give that a “like.”