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How to Take a Digital Detox Vacation

When airlines first started offering Internet access on planes, there was an outcry from many folks who were connected almost around the clock and therefore cherished the precious time in the air when no one could call, email or text them. Many saw this quiet time as one of the most enjoyable elements of what were otherwise arduous business trips.

Similar debates raged over whether or not to allow cell phone use on planes. Do we really want to interrupt the relative quiet of an airplane with ringing phones and inane conversations?

Most of us know at least one person who has posted something to Facebook or Twitter along the lines of “Aircraft doors closing, stack of magazines and neck pillow at the ready,” with some sort of anti-digital hashtag.

The fact that so many folks announce delight in time away from devices and social media via a device on social media seems as good an indicator as any that there may be something to the growing popularity of digital detox vacations.

Why Do a Digital Detox Vacation?

We’re not in the business of life hacking advice, so let’s agree that if you are reading this article, you may have reason to consider a digital detox vacation.

If you’re not sold on the idea, check out this overview of what happens when you do a digital detox, from Fast Company, of all sources; if these folks are unplugging, it might be worth consideration. Mashable also goes on record saying that a digital detox might be better for you than any other type of detox.

Should I Do This While Traveling — and How?

In some respects, a vacation is a perfect time to eschew all types of digital stimulation; you are out and around, often in an entirely new environment, and have far less exposure to the moments of boredom or distraction that lead folks back to their screens again and again.

On the other hand, most of us know how helpful our devices are when traveling in an unfamiliar place. In fact, it could be argued that a smartphone shifts from a source of distraction to a superb tool when navigating new cities, finding things to do and dealing with travel snafus.

A review of five tips for doing a digital detox by digital distraction expert Frances Booth point to a trip being a great time to do one. The tips can be paraphrased as follows:

– Be ready for withdrawal symptoms
– Plan to enjoy (and not regret) missing out on what everyone else is doing
– Be prepared with things like paper maps and written phone numbers
– Set small goals (maybe a 24- or even 12-hour detox instead of a week the first time out)
– Plan something that will occupy and entertain you

This last item in particular suggests that travel might be the perfect time to try a digital detox; spending your afternoon snorkeling can make it really easy to skip fitful checks of your phone.

There are countless travel packages out there specifically targeted to folks who want to do a digital detox; for the hardcore addicts out there, some will even take away your devices when you arrive.

Here are some picks by the editors of the Travel Channel, and some more from Lonely Planet. Some of the options are so enticing that you’ll hardly be tempted to stare into your phone.

A Partial Travel Detox

For many folks, a digital detox vacation sounds appealing but not entirely practical; you might not want to be completely out of reach of your petsitter, your ailing mother or your kids in their first week of college, for instance.

And it is not a trivial concern to worry about the emails, voicemails, texts, work contacts, and other issues big and small piling up while you unplug, waiting to ambush you when you reconnect. Disconnecting for several days only to be forced to sit at your computer for 16 hours straight when you get back isn’t necessarily a good outcome of disconnecting, and could all but obliterate the beneficial effects of the detox within mere hours.

There might even be some things you really cherish about digital connectivity that could be unfair to characterize as digital addiction. For example, when I am flying, one of my favorite things to do is track the flight plan so I know what I am looking at out the window. Not all airlines offer a flight tracking option in the in-flight entertainment, so I often try to follow along using my phone’s GPS.

To me, this doesn’t feel like I am indulging in digital addiction; it feels more like it did when I was following along with road maps on family trips when I was a kid as our family’s designated navigator. Giving this up isn’t really something I care to do, detox or not; if I could take a huge atlas along, I would do it, but there goes traveling light.

So if a full digital detox vacation is not what you have in mind, there are plenty of ways to unplug while traveling that will offer many of the benefits of a detox without a full digital blackout. Possible approaches might include:

– Setting aside a short time each day to check in to see if anything truly needs your attention

– Setting aside a short time each day to check all the stuff you would normally check, but with a time limit

– Alternating days on and off of digital access

– Putting your phone in “airplane mode” whenever you’re outside your hotel room or for a set amount of time each day

You get the idea. You set the terms of the detox according to what is going to work best — and then don’t cheat.

Some Possible Exemptions to Your Regimen

Unless you are planning to go way off the grid, which is an experience unto itself, the main idea of a simple digital detox is not so much to have zero exposure to digital information — this would mean looking away from televisions, airport arrival screens, etc. — but to cease the constant, often purposeless checking of phones, email, social media and news. It is possible to adhere to the spirit of the task without going absolutely cold turkey. Here are some examples of things you might continue to allow yourself:

Using online maps: One of the unintended consequences of ubiquitous digital information is the increasing paucity of non-digital information. Good luck finding a good printed street map, for example. Online mapping is also far superior to printed maps, so this may be one to exempt from the detox.

Buying advance tickets: Similarly, purchasing tickets without going online can be very difficult, as most attractions have made it much easier and often cheaper to purchase tickets online. If you need timed tickets to a big museum exhibit, it may be worth hopping online quickly to take care of it.

Making phone calls: When was the last time you saw a pay phone? Pulling out your phone to make an actual call may be a simple necessity in the modern world.

Creating things: For many of us, our phones double as creative tools, especially for taking photos. If your phone is your only camera, then of course you’ll want to keep using it as you travel — but maybe resist the urge to post it immediately to the Internet.

Reading materials: For some folks, it may be too much of a cheat to put your books and magazines on a tablet and use that for reading; you can decide where to draw the line on this one.

More Tips for a Digital Detox Vacation

Before entering “radio silence,” you’ll want to let folks know you won’t be available. If you are usually “always on,” your friends and family get used to it; let them know ahead of time not to expect immediate responses (if any) while you’re away.

Also, pack some extra stuff to read. You probably fill more time than you know scrolling through your devices, so anticipate having to fill time in different ways with non-digital “content” — you know, like a good old-fashioned book.

If you are still apprehensive about the idea, consider this post I once saw on Twitter: “When you’re off the Internet for a day, you think ‘I missed everything!’ When you’re off for a month, you think ‘I missed nothing.'”

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