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7 Tips for a (Nearly) Tech-Free Vacation

How to wean your kids — and yourself — off screens

Published on: April 01, 2023

Kid on phone

We've all become enmeshed in media and technology in our real lives (step away from your iPhone, parents!), but vacation can be a time to unplug or at least limit the time you spend wired in the interest of having more face time with the people you love.

If you decide to leave the laptop and tablet at home, chances are you'll be able to use a device at the home of someone you're visiting or your hotel's business center. And anyway, you'd still have your smartphone for looking up Yelp reviews for dinner, tomorrow's weather forecast and your flight status. 

Here are some additional strategies for striking a balance between family bonding and electronic engagement.

Bring your devices but set limits.

The upside of bringing a laptop, tablet or even a smartphone is watching movies on the plane or in a car and having fun apps to play. This is great for passing the time but decide on the appropriate time and place for screen time.

Follow the inside/outside rule.

Try something like this: Tech is okay only at the house or hotel room, and only at night. Daytime is for outside play, adventure, exploring and family interaction, so leave screens and devices back in the room.

Share your playlist.

Make music a fun part of your vacation. Have everyone in the family download a personal playlist to share with the group in the car or where you're staying. Kids can turn parents on to the music they love. Parents can expose kids to oldies from their era or program music to fit the vacation locale — slack-key guitar and ukulele for Hawaii, the Beach Boys for the California coast, zydeco music for New Orleans and Disney songs for a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. Singalongs are allowed and encouraged.

Get a local media fix.

Instead of individual family members plugging into separate devices for a solo film-viewing experience with headphones, go on a family outing to a theater near where you're staying. It's fun to share the experience with the locals.

Get off the phone.

It would be ideal — but maybe not realistic — to put phones on lockdown. How about establishing a few rules that your family can agree on? Examples include: No texting during outings, phones are only for taking pictures until 6 p.m., or apps only in the car.

Also, remember that while traveling abroad putting phones in airplane mode not only cuts down on screen time, it saves money. You can make a game out of hunting for a Wi-Fi zone where you can go online for free.

Engage in friendly fire.

Kids get homesick for their friends when they're out of town. Respect their desire to send vacation photos from their phones or via Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, or to digitally communicate face to face via Zoom or FaceTime.

But taking a break from texting throughout the day is a good way to be here now; tell kids that if they're glued to their device, they're stepping out of the group experience, which shows a lack of courtesy to those around them (aka, the family in "family vacation"). Agree on a time when it's okay to contact friends — say, on a lazy afternoon when other family members are reading or napping, or after dinner. 

Pack family games instead of video games.

Kids love playing games such as Apples to Apples, Uno or other classic card games — all of which easily fit in a suitcase. Mad Libs and car bingo are great for the road. Charades is another fun one to get the whole family involved, and it requires no equipment at all. Unplug, and plug into fun with humans!

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published by Common Sense Media a few years ago and was republished with permission. 

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