Unplugging: How Small Tech Shifts Can Make a Big Impact on a Family Vacation

Unplugging vacationThe smartphone is the one item that automatically ignites an inner struggle as we pack for that long-awaited family vacation.

On the one hand, we know we’d be trailblazers destined for an unforgettable family vacation if we “accidentally” left our phone on the bed and took off. On the other hand, that little glowing device is trip central. It houses our itinerary, maps, boarding passes, medical information, instant bank account access, and frankly, the best doggone camera most of us have ever owned.

For most of us, our relationship with our smartphone is one that will likely never move beyond the “it’s complicated” phase — especially when it comes to the unplugging conversation.

As parents, we all nod in agreement when given the litany of good reasons to unplug on vacation.

We all need to get our faces out of our phones and onto each other.
Family time comes first.
We can’t get this precious time back.
The benefits of unplugging outweigh the drawbacks (uh…right?).

Survey: More Travelers Unplugging

According to a recent McAfee study more and more travelers are acting on their desire to unplug and experience the direct benefits of disconnecting.

An impressive 81% of individuals reported they unplugged on vacation in the past year and felt that their vacation was more enjoyable because of it.

The Family Factor

Most parents — 51% according to the survey — believe that devices should take a back seat on vacation. Still, the survey revealed that 77% of parents allow their children to use devices while traveling and 73% monitor device usage. Of the devices people are most comfortable leaving at home on vacation, 72% opted for laptops, 27% said phones, and 6% said they were unwilling to leave any device behind.

The top reasons individuals unplugged on vacation:

  • 69% to be in the moment
  • 65% to relieve stress
  • 44% to take a break from work
  • 36% out of respect for those around them

To know that the world won’t stop if we unplug, that our stress will go down, and that our family relationships and fun will simultaneously rise, sounds heavenly, right?

So why don’t even more of us simply unplug? What are we so afraid of?

As a well-intentioned parent who’s been at this for a while and I’ve noticed a self-defeating pattern that may help answer that question.

It’s all comes down to balance.

We can’t find balance as parents (and families) because we are striving for perfection; comparing ourselves and aiming for impossible standards. So many of our best parenting goals get sidelined because we fail to make balance an intricate part of any important change.

~ ~ ~

Your reasoning might sound like this:Unplugging vacation

We tried to unplug on our vacation, which lasted about two hours. We have no discipline so why even try?

unplugged for two days, and everyone nearly ripped each other’s heads off. Unplugging is not a good idea for our family.

 I can’t tell the kids to unplug because I can’t unplug. It is what it is. I have to stay connected for emergencies (and Solitare).

We connected over dinner, and that was good enough. Unplugging is not worth the fight. It’s just easier letting everyone do what he or she wants to do.

 ~ ~ ~

In these scenarios (anyone nodding yet?) there’s absolutely no balance. It’s black- and-white thinking, and it does nothing to bring about positive changes that move us closer to our goal of quality time.

So how about this family vacation you strive for balance over perfection when it comes to unplugging?

You might be surprised at how a few small shifts can make some pretty significant differences in the quality of time you spend together.

Five ways to enjoy a ‘less-tech’ vacation

Define balance. The first step in successfully unplugging might be to define balance. Balance, according to the dictionary is “a state in which opposite forces are equal and placed in correct proportion.”

What balance means to your family in the context of unplugging is this: Unplug appropriately and not entirely (Whew – did anyone else just feel the weight lift?) Or, opt for less tech over no tech. Everything-or-nothing thinking says, “Unplug 100%” while a more balanced approach might be “Let’s unplug for the next six hours as we explore the caves and give ourselves 30 minutes tonight after dinner to check our phones.”Unplugging vacation

Agree (together) on tech-free zones. Together, discuss and establish what you want your less-tech vacation to look like. If connecting during family meals is important to you, then agree as a family to unplug for all meal times while on vacation. If Bobby needs his YouTube on the six-hour plane ride, then that may be part of the plan. If Beth needs to text her boyfriend each night for 30 minutes, then that may be an important addendum to keep everyone happy. Remember: Progress is more important than perfection when it comes to unplugging and making necessary compromises as a family.

Make unplugging fun. Depending on the age of your kids, unplugging may seem like a punishment. You need only point out a dinosaur fossil, and younger kids will forget about their phones. Teens, however, may require a little more coaxing to unplug. So make it fun. Play a game. For every full day spent unplugged, let your child choose a fun activity like collecting shells or time at an arcade. If mom’s the tech addict, then promise a pedicure or an extra-long nap. For the email-addicted Dad, maybe unplugging for the day means extra fishing or hammock time — uninterrupted, of course.

Adjust settings, delete apps. Change your phone settings to reduce distractions. Turn off 1) Push notifications 2) Wi-fi locator 3) Email and emergency alerts. Delete 1) All social media phone apps. That’s right, delete. Why not? There’s no reason to be checking social media when you are on vacation and posting your photos while out of town just isn’t wise. Deleting your social media app icons on your phone does not delete your accounts. You can redownload them when you get home. Encourage your kids to do the same while still allowing them they can text and check in with close friends if needed.Unplugging vacation

The 10-minute rule. Hey, any habit is tough to break. So, when you feel the urge to fire up your tech on vacation, give yourself 10 minutes before doing so and replace that urge with an alternate activity. Jump in the ocean, take a walk, pick up a book, meditate, journal, play a game, or browse local shops. If you are on a road trip, play a game with your family or strike up a great conversation. Here’s a few conversation starters for those long road trips to help you out.

What are some things your family does to make it easier to unplug while on vacation? Please share your wisdom!



Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).

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