7 Tips for an unplugged family vacation

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Can you really have an unplugged family vacation in this day and age? We use technology and apps to map our driving route and store our plane tickets and so many more things. While we can all probably appreciate not having to pull over on the side of the road and whip open the road atlas, sometimes having those little devices glued to our palms or kids who are checked out seems to defeat the purpose of family travel, which is to be together and enjoy new experiences that aren't on someone's phone or iPad. I say you can have a least a semi unplugged family vacation. Here's how. 

7 Tips for an unplugged family vacation

Unplugged family vacation.
Image credit: Deposit Photos.

At home, our lights, thermostat, oven, and vacuum cleaner are powered by Alexa. When I cook, I look up recipes on my phone or my laptop. Our kids do their homework on a PC, not to mention playing way too much Fortnite and watching videos of other people playing video games which I will never, ever, understand. But, when we travel, I try to make an effort to connect with my family as we share new experiences. After all, why take a family vacation if you’re going to bury your nose in Minecraft or Fantasy Baseball in a place other than your home?

Sometimes it's hard to switch up from our app-filled day-to-day.

1. Talk about internet use before you depart

Family on their phones.
Image credit: Shutterstock.

If your expectations for being online or plugged in are going to be different during your vacation, talk it through before you leave home. We are creatures of habit and traveling can throw us off-kilter. Sometimes kids (and grownups, too) look to their familiar devices or games to give them a sense of normalcy in an unfamiliar place. If the rules are going to be different when traveling, say that up front.

We travel often, and this is something we mention every single time we travel somewhere. Taking the time to set the ground rules in advance has offset some meltdowns.

2. Know what WiFi services are available where you’re going

Woman on her tablet in a hotel room.
Image credit: Shutterstock.

Most hotels, flights, and trains have Wi-Fi available, and more and more often, it's free to connect, although not always. Decide how you're going to manage that, what you're willing to pay, if there is a charge, and what your plan B is going to be if you have spotty Wi-Fi.

I frequently work while we're traveling and rely on Wi-Fi, even though I do try to unplug and be more present for my family. We'll usually allow our kids to be on their devices at the end of the day but we don't typically purchase Wi-Fi just so they can keep up with their games, so we try to scope out as much info in advance as we can and manage expectations. 

FYI, some free Wi-Fi plans limit the number of devices, so the more you know before you go, the smoother things will be. If you need to keep up with work a bit or your kids want to stay connected to their friends, you may need to prepare to pay or barter with your teens on whose device gets to be connected and for how long.

3. Adjust your settings and turn off those notifications

Young woman on a tablet.
Image credit: Shutterstock.

While most people probably don’t completely unplug, you can minimize the time you spend on your phone by turning off notifications. You probably don’t need your phone to beep or buzz every time someone likes the cat video you shared. You can also set your phone to “do not disturb” and reduce the number of text messages or calls you get while on vacation.

Just make a plan for how others can contact you in the event of an emergency. Provide an itinerary or the name of your hotel for someone at home so that you are reachable if you're using your phone less or not at all.

4. Make a plan for what apps you’re going to use

Young woman on an app.
Image credit: Shutterstock.

This plan doesn't have to be perfect but think about what you might need  to use your smartphone or tablet for. We use our phones to take pictures, as most people do. We also use airline apps, hotel apps, mapping apps, and search apps. Sometimes you really need “Find coffee near me.” 

If you're visiting an amusement park, museum, national or state park, or other attraction, consider downloading the app for that location. These apps will often make navigating new places easier. 

Spotify for music playlists is an absolute must for road trips. We alternate between making a family playlist for road trips with everyone's input or allowing everyone to make their own playlist that we take turns playing.

5. Deconflict work obligations ahead of time

woman on a phone frustrated.
Image credit: Deposit Photos.

If you regularly chat with your work peeps on family time, let them know you’re going to be unavailable. If you can’t completely check out of work then set some boundaries and make sure your coworkers know you're on vacation and that you want to be bothered minimally. 

Your mileage will vary based on your job and your level of “Type A” but letting people who call you know your schedule might be helpful. If Jim from HR knows you’re going to be hiking all day Thursday, he’s probably less likely to blow up your phone if something comes up.

I'm an entrepreneur so I never know what is going to pop up with my business. I like to keep an eye on my inbox. I do set an auto-response letting people who email me know my replies may be delayed due to family travel and that usually buys me some time to respond to things that come in while I'm traveling. I recommend having a triage system for deciding what needs an immediate response and what can wait until after you are home.

6. Bring Replacements

Man with a flashlight.
Image credit: Deposit Photos.

If you reach for your phone when you need a flashlight, a magnifying glass, or when you're bored, consider packing substitutes and some card or easy board games to motivate you to stay present. And, our kids are so used to popping open the flashlight app. It won't hurt them to learn the old school way.

7. If You Have to Work or Make Calls, Schedule Time

Making work calls on vacation.
Image credit: Deposit Photos.

If you have to keep up with work or other obligations, such as checking on elderly relatives, consider blocking out a period of time each day to take care of these tasks. 






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