Going Dark: Why You Should Take Digital Detoxes On Vacation

Going away? Leave your electronic devices behind.

Photographed by Jessica Sample.

Ironically, going on vacation can be pretty stressful. Work deadlines feel more hectic than ever, last-minute errands emerge, and getting through TSA with grace can certainly be anxiety inducing. Then, despite your best attempts to disconnect, often we find ourself with a drink in one hand — and our smartphone in the other.

Honestly, who’s vacation is it anyway? But here’s a novel idea — taking a few days off from your electronic devices. “A digital detox is really about disconnecting from the various devices we feel beholden to on a daily basis, whether an iPhone, TV, computer, etc,” explains Ellie Burrows CEO of MNDFL, a NYC-based meditation studio. “When we engage in a digital detox, we have the opportunity to be fully present with whatever is in front of us offline, sans tech.”

Going a few days without your iPhone might seem absurd at first, but beyond work-related needs, as a society we’ve reduced our ability to function without being constantly connected. “When you have one foot in the virtual world and one foot in your vacation, you're not really present. Your chances of fully enjoying are diminished,” explains Tanya Goodin, founder of Time To Log Off and author of Off: Your Digital Detox for a Better Life. “Putting down the screen means you really engage with the sights, sounds, and experience of the vacation you're spent so many weeks planning, and months saving for.”

Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips from experts about how to truly maximum your next vacation. You can thank us later.

Going Dark: Why You Should Take Digital Detoxes On Vacation
Photographed by Jessie Webster.

Figure Out If You Need One

Is your phone the first thing you look at in the morning and the last thing before you go to sleep? Instead of taking that nap or break for yourself, do you catch yourself doing one last scroll? Have you gotten the “All Caught Up” notification after only a couple of new posts?

If your answer is yes to any of the above, it may be time to take a digital break. “We are programmed to check email, social media, and texts constantly and unfortunately it has become an actual addiction for most of us,” explains Tal Rabinowitz, founder of The DEN Meditation in Los Angeles.

“Like any addiction, not only do we not realize we are doing it as often as we are, we can’t help ourselves," she shares. "The minute this all becomes a reflex and we are no longer making conscious choices to participate, it’s time to take back some control. Gain your personal freedom back, re-learn who you are, get other stuff done, tune in to your own happiness — and try a digital detox.”

Start Small

Does going cold turkey stress you out? Ease into it. “Try leaving your phone behind in your room for a couple of hours, build up to longer and longer periods, or maybe going out for dinner and the evening without it,” advises Goodin. “Ban it from the poolside and carve out phone-free physical spaces on your vacation.”

She shares that it only takes 24 hours to start to feel the benefits of a tech detox,  ranging from better sleep, stronger human interactions, and higher concentration levels. Plus, your hands deserve a break — a 2016 study estimates that we tap, swipe, and click on our devices 2,617 times each day.

Go Old School

You’re probably wondering, what will you do without all your devices at arm's length? Maybe it’s time to channel what your parents (or grandparents) used to do. “If you're really trying to digitally detox, writing or keeping a journal is a great way to support that process,” suggests Burrows.

“It could also be fun to bring along an old-school (analog!) camera where you won't be able to see the pictures the second after you snapped them," she recommends. "Then you can get them developed when you return or at a later date and be transported back to that vacation and that feeling of digital freedom. A nice keepsake!”

Going Dark: Why You Should Take Digital Detoxes On Vacation
Photographed by Amy Bartlam.

Incorporate New Vacation Rules

Watch TV at home? Skip it while you are away. “I was always a stickler about not watching TV on trips," explains Rabinowitz. "When I am at home, I watch almost every night, so on vacation I want to take advantage of what I don’t have the opportunity to do at home. I would never turn on the TV and the difference was fantastic. The amount of books I would read was incredible, and the quality of my sleep unbelievable.”

She now tries the same idea with social media. “How can I disengage from it so I can take advantage of my time?  I don’t want to go away just to have my days pass exactly how they do every other day when home. I want to take advantage of these moments. If anything, I leave every vacation with the goal of bringing some of my healthier vacation habits back into my daily life.”

Forget About FOMO

Pressing pause on your favorite pastime of scrolling through your Instagram or Twitter feed might feel like the world is turning without you. Newsflash, it is! But, there’s nothing you can’t get up to speed on a bit later. “Let's unpack FOMO," says Burrows. "Fear is the root of this feeling. There is nothing wrong with FOMO, but I might encourage someone to take a look at what they're really afraid of.”

She encourages us to ask ourselves the following questions: “Is it really missing out on something? Is it not being seen somewhere or included in something? What does that say about us and our egos? Would being there make us feel any more whole, complete, or total than we do in this moment?" Burrows continues, "We could really go down this rabbit hole. Like any other opportunity where we're feeling strong emotions, it's an opportunity to unpack and explore our own consciousness and conditioning.”

Rabinowitz details this a bit further. “Vacation is your opportunity to create your own FOMO," she says. "Every moment for you should be perfection — for you. Even if it’s sitting in one place and relaxing. Whatever happiness means for you, whatever fills you up, is what you should be doing.”

Going Dark: Why You Should Take Digital Detoxes On Vacation
Photographed by Tessa Neustadt.

Make Time For Meditation

In essence, vacations are meant to be restorative breaks because we don’t face the same demands we might at home. Depending on where you are traveling to, you might not always have time for a lavish spa day or beach massage, but according to Burrows, a meditation practice is the best thing to travel with. “It weighs nothing, can be taken anywhere and has numerous benefits,” she shares.

“Meditation helps with present moment awareness and can help us show up more fully for whatever moment we're currently in,” she elaborates. “For me, it is an essential part of any travel experience because it allows me to bring my full attention and appreciation to whatever is in front of me: a breathtaking landscape, an exquisitely prepared meal, or an intriguing local from the town I'm visiting." Burrows adds, "It's also helpful when travel snafus and setbacks arise; mediation enables me to deal with those in a more relaxed and calm manner.”

Practice These Hacks

In a perfect world, all of our experts encourage you to spend your vacation without your phone, laptop, and iPad completely. “Lock your phone in the safe and get it at the end of the trip. Tell people you are checking out, won’t be texting, responding to emails, etc.,” explains Rabinowitz. “Let your family know where you are. They can always get in touch with you the old fashioned way if, God forbid, there is an emergency. This way you can leave it in good conscious with zero excuses of picking it up.”

If that’s not an option, she suggests keeping your phone on airplane mode so you can only use it when Wi-Fi access is available. “Create rules for yourself, such as ‘I will only check my phone once a day at this time.’  I would delete your social media apps from your phone so it makes it much harder to just start scrolling," says Rabinowitz. "They are so easy to re-download, but not having it at your fingertips makes you think twice before giving them your attention.”

Don’t Binge Once You Get Back

After you complete your detox, you’ll have to fight the temptation to jump back fully into the world of tech. Again, it’s important to start small and set time-limited parts of the day to browse. “See if you can bring any of your new healthy digital habits back into your 'real world,'" encourages Goodin.

“Phone-free times and places are your best friend here. Set boundaries around times of the day and places where your phone doesn't belong,” she adds. “Untether yourself from the habit of carrying your phone everywhere. Buy an alarm clock and ban it from your bedroom overnight, and stop taking it to the bathroom. We can all do that, right?!”

Consider This...

“We've become so fluent in and reliant on technology that sometimes we feel our worlds revolve around it,” shares Burrows. “A digital detox is a nice way to remember that we live in analog bodies that are having a vivid sensory experience offline.”