6 Tips for Letting Go of Your Phone on Vacation
1. Give yourself permission to unplug
Just like you might plot out activities in a new destination, you should plan for device-less downtime once you’re there as well. This might start with a mind shift, and setting expectations with those around you (like coworkers) about your plans for rest, says licensed therapist and registered yoga and meditation teacher Joselyn Spence. “We don’t think we have full permission to do the things we need to do for ourselves: We think about the fall out, the consequences, or what other people might think,” says Spence. “Set an out of office message at work, tell your coworkers you’re doing an email-free vacation. Remember: You have permission to take care of yourself and whatever happens when you’re gone, [you can] address it when you come back.”
Spence also notes that when we take the time to set boundaries and unplug for our own health and wellness, it gives others permission to do the same, creating a ripple effect.
2. Identify what triggers your stress
We all have things that send us spiraling, but can you actually name yours? Spence says being able to identify the stressors that make it difficult for us to relax is a key step in combatting them. Then, focus on the goals you have for your trip, Spence says. “What are those things that remind you of rest, peace, and joy? Center that."
If triggers are pulled while you’re on your trip—say, a coworker ignoring an OOO, or a slew of social media notifications you forgot to turn off—Spence suggests setting (or re-setting) clear boundaries, even if that requires, say, reiterating when you’ll be back online to tend to work projects. Similarly, don't be afraid to put group chats that get dramatic on Do Not Disturb mode.
3. Put down the phone—before the vacation
If the goal of your trip is to relax, but every time you try to do that at home, you end up in a Twitter beef, understand that changing your location won’t immediately solve these problems. Instead, practice taking breaks from your phone a few weeks before your vacation.
“Going cold turkey is not the answer—you will just get more and more anxious,” says Larry D. Rosen, professor emeritus at California State University Dominguez Hills and author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World. “I would suggest starting to ‘wean’ yourself from constant tech use slowly, using what I call a tech break.”
Taking a tech break means giving yourself timed one-minute breaks from a task every 15 minutes. During this minute-long break, you can check your phone notifications, scroll down your timeline, whatever you want. When the minute is over, you put the phone down and continue doing what you were before. Once you’ve got that down, you’ll slowly increase the time between breaks to 30 or even 60 minutes. “This shows your brain that you do not have to be constantly connected," says Rosen. "When you are on vacation this will help you feel less ‘nomophobic’ [a phobia of not having your mobile phone] when you are not using your tech,” Rosen says.
Keeping up with this practice after the vacation isn’t a bad idea either, Rosen adds.
4. Switch your phone screen to grayscale mode
Instagram influencers with stunning, vibrant feeds is not a coincidence. Our brains are drawn to bold colors, music, and, thus, the content creators who present all of the above as their lifestyle. That’s why switching your phone to greyscale mode (pretend you're back in your Nokia brick-phone days) could make it easier to disconnect. “Switching [your] phone from color to grayscale mode makes every screen experience slightly less compelling,” says Adam Alter, New York University marketing professor and author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.
He says it’s so hard for us to disconnect because “the apps on our phones deliver unpredictable rewards, create goals for us, and rob us of the so-called stopping cues that usually nudge us on to a new experience.” Stopping cues in other situations might include credits rolling at the end of a movie, or feeling full once you’ve eaten enough. Apps, on the other hand, are engineered to keep us engaged.
5. Be realistic about device usage
Over the last decade, smartphones have only gotten faster, offered more applications, and found ways to make our lives easier (it sure is nice being able to order takeout without leaving the couch or pretend you're still working by responding to the occasional email during happy hour). When it comes to setting new boundaries with your devices while traveling, it’s important to be realistic. Before heading out, get an idea of which apps you use the most and how much time you spend on them. Of those apps, decide which are absolutely necessary to get through the day (i.e. weather, navigation, or a translation app depending on where you’re going) and which are not.
Then, set “clear" limits on when you'll use them, Rosen suggests. “Pay attention to the notifications you are getting and turn them off," Rosen says. "Most people are stuck in an endless loop of notifications and social media use.”
If you normally spend three hours a day on social media (no judgment here) you’re not going to magically be able to decrease your usage to 30 minutes a day overnight. Instead, try cutting back by 15 minutes, then increase to 30 and so on. By the time your trip arrives, you’ll find it easier to shut off your devices and enjoy your time away
6. Set your intentions and voice them to the people you’re with
Even if you manage to adopt the aforementioned tips as you prepare to travel, they can be hard to stick to when you're around people who haven’t made the same commitment. Instead of shaming your loved ones for their tech usage, try sharing your goals and plans for the trip and why unplugging matters to you. If you want to invite others to join you, start small by suggesting a phone-free dinner.
“I find I’m able to be more present when I acknowledge I want to be present with [loved ones],” Spence says. “Have a basket during dinner time that everyone can put their phones in, and think of topics you want to talk about during that intentional device-free time.”
It’s likely that trying these tips next time you travel won’t just improve your experience on your trip. Hopefully, the impact will reverberate into your life back home. We are often so glued to our phones and social media that we forget to enjoy the moments happening right in front of us. Being intentional about unplugging from your devices isn’t just about lowering your screen time, it’s about giving love and attention to the things, people, and places we care about most.