Very early in our relationship, Andrew and I made a suggestion to one another: What if we banned social media while we were on vacation? No checking Facebook, no posting on Instagram, no checking emails. We wanted to spend as little time as possible looking at our phones and as much time connecting with one another and exploring the place we were visiting.
The result is amazingly freeing. Some people have described doing this as a “social media detox” and I absolutely agree with that. I feel more relaxed, my mind is less cluttered, and Andrew and I have more in-depth conversations and pay more attention to the world around us. The pace of life slows down when you concentrate on enjoying the sunset, exploring the streets of a new city, or even just watching the world go by as we drive between destinations. I also think we return from our trips feeling more refreshed and relaxed—it truly feels like we’ve taken a break from our realities.
And let’s face it: You could use a break from the often-bleak news updates that can populate social feeds, and the anxiety that comes with reading another alarming/disgusting/terrifying headline. Facebook in particular can be a spiral of negativity, sending you frantically Googling to find out exactly what the hell is going on today. Taking just a few days off from this cycle will be a huge mental benefit to you.
On the other side of the coin, immersing yourself in social media can cause feelings of inadequacy, as we compare ourselves (our bodies, our lives, our wardrobe, our apartments) to those we see in our feed. Turning off your scrolling will remove those feelings, leaving you to just concentrate on yourself and the people you’re traveling with.
Just shutting down your impulse to check your phone can be difficult though. So how do we do it?
No Social Media: I’m guilty of turning to social media in my downtime, mindlessly checking Instagram or Facebook when there’s a lull in my day. But every minute that’s spent looking at a screen is a minute I’m not experiencing the destination I’ve spent money and time to visit. It’s a waste of my time. Those posts will still be there when I get back.
Likewise, even posting vacation pictures essentially pauses your experience. Instead of concentrating on what’s happening right in front of you, you’re focused on scrolling through your pictures, picking out the right shot, finding the right filter, and crafting a caption and hashtags. You’re also totally ignoring the person you’re there with—and it doesn’t feel good to be on the other end of that.
Now, don’t get me wrong: This doesn’t mean we don’t share pictures from our vacations! In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to do! But I share them after the trip is over. In fact, sharing your pictures when you’re back home can be even more satisfying, because it gives you an excuse to relive your experience and reflect on everything you saw. You’ll also have access to every single picture that was taken on the trip, so you can choose the absolute best-of-the-best shots to share.
No Emails—Work or Personal: Yes, this means that I completely disconnect from work when I go on vacation. I know this idea seems impossible to some people, but it is absolutely one of the best things you can do for yourself. You spend 95% of your time connected to your job. For many people, the baseline amount of time we get off in the United States is still only 10 days a year! Andrew and I are lucky enough to get a bit more time than this. You absolutely deserve to spend those 10 days—or whatever your company offers—completely on yourself.
Turning off your work brain has two steps. First, you need to make a commitment to yourself that you will disconnect. Sometimes we check work emails not because we have to, but because we feel we should. Flip that script. Remember that you only get a very few days to not think about work and make the most of that time.
Second, have a frank conversation with your manager about your desire to disconnect. Work together to figure out what work you can do before you leave, and make a plan of how your work will be addressed while you’re away. Leave detailed instructions in your out of office message on who to contact for what kinds of inquiry. So often I hear people offer to check their email while they’re away without any prompting from their manager. Unless being on call is part of your job description, you do not have any obligation to make this offer.
I also put up an out of office message on my personal email. This way, if I get an email from a freelance client, a friend, or another legitimate human being (accountant, landlord, media contact, etc.), they will know I’m away on a trip and can see exactly when I’ll get back to them.
What We DO Use Our Phones For: Even with our social media and email ban, we still use our phones, but only for very specific things.
- Taking Pictures: Though we both have nice cameras that we use to take some pictures, we also often use our phones as our primary cameras. The pictures are great, and phones are light and easy to carry. And, of course, we love that the images can be stored immediately in the cloud when we connect to Wi-Fi at our hotels. Though I take tons of pictures, I try not to spend too much time editing them on our trip. Again, that can wait until afterward. I try to take my pictures, and then move on with our experience.
- Maps and Directions: We use our phones to find our way around. If you are traveling internationally, there are a few tricks you can use to avoid using data but still get the benefits of your phone’s GPS. Before you go on your trip, use the Google Maps app to download maps of the city you are visiting to your phone. To do this, connect to Wi-Fi at home, then search for the city you’ll be visiting. Swipe up at the bottom of the screen to reveal the menu, then click Download. A map will appear with a box: Pinch and drag until the entire city you’ll be visiting is centered in the box. Then click download!
- Travel Apps, like TripAdivsor or Yelp: Before we go on trips, I use TripAdivsor to bookmark attractions, our hotel, and restaurants and bars we might like to visit during our stay. I refer to the maps during our trip, and sometimes do a little additional searching in the moment to find nearby restaurants or bars. I try not to spend too much time in these apps, but they do help direct our trip, remind us of things we want to do, and guide us down streets we might not have otherwise found.
Tips and Tricks
Still feeling tempted? Try these tricks.
- Put your phone on airplane mode. If you’ve downloaded your maps beforehand, you won’t need access to data to view them or use your camera.
- Turn off cellular data on apps you don’t want to access. Go the Settings, click Cellular, then uncheck any apps you don’t want to use during your trip. You’ll still be able to access them on Wi-Fi, but it may help you resist when you’re out and about.