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How to use your family vacation as a digital detox

Posted July 7

As families head off on summer vacations, it's essential to make plans to limit tech while traveling. Disconnecting devices can mean a more meaningful bonding experience during this precious time together. (Deseret Photo)

Well, here we are smack dab in the middle of summer vacation, and you’re staring at a screen. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate you reading my column, and, of course, we need to stay informed even during July. But we also need to have a serious conversation about putting down our devices on vacation.

No doubt your family has at least one getaway planned for this summer, but what plans have you made to digitally disconnect, so you can truly connect to one another during that time?

You may be thinking of all the ways you need to restrict your kids’ cellphone use while on vacation, and we’ll get to that. But take a good long look in the mirror. How present do you plan to be during your vacation?

A recent survey from job site Glassdoor found the majority of Americans report working while on vacation. Some say their employers require them to stay connected to work issues, with 54 percent reporting they cannot completely “check out.”

I actually empathize with the tug-of-war many people feel between vacation and work. For some professions, it is the ability to stay somewhat connected and reachable that even allows for any time off at all. So while I am not condoning parents using devices for work while on vacation, I understand that sometimes it is a necessity — just don’t make it a preference.

Moms and dads are constantly complaining about kids’ noses stuck in their phones, but often this is a pot/kettle scenario. Forty-one percent of teenagers told Common Sense Media that when they try to talk with their parents, mom or dad is the one completely distracted by a device. Parents, this is even all the more important to avoid while on vacation, a time when serious bonding should be taking place.

Some travel agencies have made this easy for families. Intrepid Travel arranges Digital Detox Trips where no social media or cellphones are allowed. Period. They want people to see and feel something, basically to force travelers to be present.

There are also resorts and hotels that help you put your gadgets down. The Mandala Spa and Resort Villas in the Philippines has a digital detox villa with no TV or Wi-Fi. The Wing Creek Resort in British Colombia also offers a digital detox environment, with no TV, internet or telephones in its cottages.

Find a spot that suits you through the website Digital Detox Holidays. It has a world map that shows hotels in three separate categories: an X through a phone means the hotel offers ways to help you disconnect, an X through a Wi-Fi symbol means the rooms have no Wi-Fi, phone or television, and an X through the symbol for service bars means there is absolutely no cell reception.

Some other options include glamping in Moab, Utah, a Caribbean hideaway in St. John, and a mountain-top retreat in Switzerland.

If you don’t want to spend the cash on a fancy resort, take matters into your own hands. Plan your own vacation where there is no cell service. Go river running in Colorado, or go camping high up in the mountains somewhere cell service can’t reach you.

If your family has a bit more willpower and can limit their own device usage, then just follow a few tips to make the vacation go smoothly. Remind everyone they really will enjoy the trip more if they disconnect. An Intel survey found 65 percent of people who say they shun digital devices while traveling admit it helped them enjoy their vacation more.

You can decide if you and your kids want to limit tech time to emergencies only. Maybe that means only checking email (for parents) and social media (for kids) at a certain time each day. Or maybe you decide no gadgets are allowed outside, but only in the hotel room.

Another option would be to turn off data on your kids' phones for the vacation. That way, they could still use them as cameras, and for music, but not everything else. Parents could take this route as well, but phones often come in handy for navigation or local events and restaurant reviews.

No matter how strict you decide to be about spending time on devices while on vacation, know that sometimes we have to digitally disconnect to meaningfully connect with our loved ones. That same Intel study found that 51 percent of people who found the fortitude to unplug during their vacation truly felt more connected to the people they were with. I have no proof, but I feel like the other 49 percent of people were either fooling themselves, or lying.

Amy Iverson is a graduate of the University of Utah. She has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas, Seattle, Italy, and Salt Lake City. Amy, her husband, and three kids live in Summit County, Utah. Contact Amy on Facebook.com/theamyiverson

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