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9 Ways to Unplug on Vacation Without Going Crazy

If you want to actually relax and have fun on your vacation, taking a digital detox is key. Here's how to do it without losing your mind.

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Get everyone on board

“You really need buy in from all travel companions who are going on the vacation,” says Michael J. Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist. “[A digital detox] won’t work if everyone does not participate.” Having trouble getting your friends and family to agree to limited screen time? Give them a few concrete reasons how technology hurts your health. Research suggests that heavy technology users have a higher risk of mental health problems and don’t sleep as well. Even the mere presence of a cell phone can be distracting enough to that people don’t perform well on mental tasks, like being mindful of staying in the moment. Studies have also found that constantly staying connected actually works against your relationships, too, despite your well-meaning intentions. Here are the 21 signs you’re way too addicted to your phone.

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Gone fishin’

Hang up your metaphorical sign and let everyone know who is likely to email or text, that you are going on an electronic diet for a week, Dr. Breus says. At the office, you’ll want to set your out of office on your email. But stop short of making a broad announcement on Facebook that you’re heading out of town, as that can raise some safety risks. If you’re feeling funny, have a laugh at these hilarious out-of-office emails.

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Set your goal

Not ready to go cold turkey for your full vacation? Start slowly by vowing to check email only in the morning and evening, then leave your phone in your hotel room while you’re at the beach for the day. Maybe by the end of the week, you’ll be ready to be tech-free for 36 hours.

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Set consequences

If you “cheat” ask your friends or family to be accountable. “The consequence is not meant to be punitive––rather, just annoying,” says Laurie Gerber, president of the Handel Group Life Coaching. She suggests paying a dollar to a friend (or worse, your tween) for each minute you spend online during the detox. “The consequence will get you back in the director’s seat of your own life. It trumps the need for excuses, justifications, and blaming,” she says.

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Get over your FOMO

Sure, you may be having some serious FOMO—or fear of missing out—about what’s going on at home, but that’s exactly what you are trying to detox out of your life: the need to be always be in-the-know. “The problem with FOMO is that you’re looking outward instead of in,” says Darlene McLaughlin, M.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and a psychiatry and behavioral health specialist with Texas A&M Physicians. “When you’re so tuned in to the ‘other,’ or the ‘better’ (in your mind), you lose your authentic sense of self. This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world.” Find out the 13 things that would happen if social media disappeared.

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Capture the moment with a Polaroid, disposable, or digital camera

But how will you remember that epic vacation in Greece, or hold onto that loving moment you and your partner had by that lake up in Maine? Contrary to modern thought, your phone isn’t the only answer to a quick photo snap. Before there were cell phones with built-in cameras, there were various other types of cameras that didn’t come with social media notifications to distract you. And before that? You simply just kept the moment, the vacation, in your memory, and stayed present. But, this isn’t about making you revert back to the 1800s. Just be resourceful! “When you come off of that frantic pace of checking email, checking what’s happening, and looking at other people’s pictures, it’s an amazing experience of letting go of thinking you have to make moments or thinking everything is critical, and returning to a very different relationship to time, peace, presence, and, ultimately, your relationship with yourself,” says Gerber.

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Get a map

Stop being a slave to Google Maps and get an old-fashioned paper map or guidebook. While printed maps may seem a thing of the past, they require you and your fellow travelers to work together—you must become a team, solving problems together. It also encourages a passive form of journeying, where you engage actively with your surroundings. For a real blast from the past, see 20 vintage photos of how glamorous flying used to be.

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Keep yourself busy (but not too busy)

Sightsee, ride a bike, swim, enjoy longer meals with deep conversation….When you are actively engaged in something, you don’t need to fill a void by scrolling through your social media channels. When it’s time for downtime, pick up that book you’ve been wanting to read, or plop on the beach and zone out to the sound of waves crashing. Much like a muscle, the brain requires recovery time in order to develop, grow, and hold onto new memories. If you choose to shut off, especially when there’s no need for it but to keep you from being bored, you allow yourself this opportunity. In fact, one study out of the University of Michigan found that, when volunteers walked in the woods after learning something new, they were more likely to retain it. This suggests that quiet time is vital for optimizing brain function. If you need travel ideas, see the best weekend getaway in every state.

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Treat yourself!

A digital detox might seem like a punishment for all those hours you typically clock on Facebook, Instagram, or responding to work emails, but it’s truly a reward. The benefits are endless, and you should celebrate all that incredible self care you are giving yourself. While on vacation, indulge in a spa day, treat yourself to a fancy dinner, an extra glass of wine, or whatever it is that you can look forward to. “A digital detox is no different than a diet or food detox,” says Gerber. “And just like when you’ve quit something at some point in your life, whether it was caffeine, gluten, sugar, you can survive this one. Once you see that you can indeed live without internet and social media, you can not only have a better understanding of the level you are addicted to it, but have more of a say over it when you add it back in.” And when you do add it back, here’s what you should never do on Facebook.

Alexa Erickson
Alexa is an experienced lifestyle and news writer currently working with Reader's Digest, Shape Magazine, and various other publications. She loves writing about her travels, health, wellness, home decor, food and drink, fashion, beauty, and scientific news. Follow her travel adventures on Instagram: @living_by_lex, send her a message: [email protected], and check out her website: