School holidays often means vacation time with the family. We all need a good reprieve from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. But in the technology-centric modern world, where do all of our gadgets and other electronics fit in?
The answer to that question varies, of course, for all of us. But for the folks who live and breathe technology, as I do, and who want to truly free themselves from as many electronic chains as possible while on vacation, the answer should be simple: The less tech the better.
Here are some ways to help you get the most out of your summer vacation, the old fashioned way, without technology--or at least with as little technology as possible.
Now, I realize that a truly "techless" vacation just isn't possible for many modern businesspeople even if we wish we could leave all of our gadgets at home. And some of us can actually benefit from bringing technology along with us--think: tablets for watching movies on the plane, or smartphone-based GPS navigation to help find the hotel. Even if this is the case, or if you simply don't want to totally disconnect, the following tips and tricks will still help to balance your technology usage while on holiday.
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1) Leave that Smartphone at Home...or At Least Hide It
You love your smartphone. You take it everywhere. But as such, it's a constant reminder of your professional life, even if you use the device for both work and play. Ideally, you will leave your smartphone at home, so you can't check it while on vacation, even if you want to. (Trust me, if you bring your phone, it WILL call out to you, even if it's buried in a hotel drawer somewhere.)
But many of us, understandably, don't feel comfortable traveling, whether it's across the country or just across the street, without a cell phone. So bring a backup cell phone if you have one--not your work phone. Or agree to only use your significant other's phone if need be.
If you absolutely have to carry your smartphone with you on vacation, it is possible to minimize your exposure to work-related applications, services and content. For example, you can deactivate e-mail accounts. You can sign out of applications that remind you of work or disable related notifications. You can hide work-related materials in "folders" or move them to screens you won't see if you need to quickly use your device. And you could simply turn off the mobile network so you can't send or receive any data, make phone calls or send texts.
Some smartphones, including BlackBerrys, even let you turn off your data services, so your smartphone can still be used to place phone calls and send text messages, even though you won't receive e-mail messages or other application updates.
It's also a good idea to set specific periods of time when you will check your smartphone, if you do decide to bring it along with you on vacation but not necessarily carry it, so you don't feel any temptation to continually check for new messages or updates. For example, if you need to check your e-mail or messages, for work reasons or otherwise, simply schedule 15 or 20 minutes of phone time at, say, noon and 6 PM each day. That way, you can still check your e-mail to make sure there aren't any fires that need extinguishing, but you're still in control of the time and duration that you're "connected."
(Note: If you're traveling outside of your local area or country, you may want to disable your cell phone's roaming ability, or the ability to jump on other cellular networks when your carrier's main network is out of range, to save on roaming charges.)
2) Bring as Few Gadgets as Possible--Seriously
Now that you've come to terms with creating some distance from your smartphone, you need to determine if there are other gadgets you can vacation without. Once again, I'd say the less technology, the better. But maybe you want to bring that iPad along so you can watch movies on the plane or read e-books while baking in the sun. Or you want to bring along your laptop so you can search for the best restaurants or attractions in a specific area.
That's all fine and good...as long as you don't let that gadget suck you back into the e-abyss. If the point of your vacation is to disconnect, then you'd do wise to avoid any gadget that might allow you to quickly check your Twitter stream or Facebook account, etc. And remember, you can always read a book with, you know, paper pages. And most hotels are packed with pamphlets and other materials highlighting local activities and points of interest. Some hotels even provide concierge services designed to help you find your way around.
Many modern hotels also offer some kind of Internet access areas, as well, so you might be able to check the Internet for restaurant recommendations or directions, etc., even if you don't bring your own PC or tablet.
Believe it or not, it will do you some good to avoid technology completely for a few days, if possible.
3) Before You Leave, Prepare for Vacation Without Tech
It always pays to be prepared.
If you do decide not to bring your smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc., with you on vacation, take a moment to consider which features or applications you might actually want or need while traveling. For example, you won't have access to your phone-based GPS navigator app, so you may want or need a paper map. You won't have access to your phone's address book, so you should make it a point to write down any emergency or important contacts that you think you may need while away from home. Without your smartphone, you also won't be able to check your calendar for scheduled activities, so you should make a paper-based schedule of vacation events ahead of time, as well, if you think you'll need it.
Bringing a standalone camera is also a good idea, since many of us have come to rely solely on our smartphone cameras for snapping quick pictures and video.
You may also want to grab a new notebook or journal to keep track of all this information. A journal is a great way to keep track of all the cool stuff you do during your vacation--and you can paste some of your photos in after the fact, to add some visuals to your written adventures.
4) Cover Your Bases, Personally and Professionally
If you think you'll constantly worry that you forgot to notify someone of something, or that someone who needs to get in touch won't be able to, you'll never be able to relax and enjoy your vacation, technology or no technology.
So, before you take off, make sure that anyone and everyone who needs to know that you're on vacation and won't be regularly available has either a way to reach you, if necessary, or a date when you'll return. That way, you won't constantly worry that someone is trying to reach you when you're essentially unreachable.
More specifically, use an out of office message via your e-mail system, if one is available. And clearly post dates for when you will be able to return messages. If absolutely necessary, pick a colleague at work to serve as an emergency contact, and then give them a phone number where you can be reached.
You may also want to send out a quick e-mail to friends and family before you leave to let them know you're going on vacation and when you'll be back. And if necessary, provide a phone number or other contact information in case of an emergency.
5) Convince Yourself That Avoiding Tech is for the Best
For the true gadget addict, this final tip may prove the most challenging, but it's also perhaps the most valuable insight provided here: Convince yourself that by not using technology, you're genuinely helping yourself, and that avoiding tech is the right thing to do while on vacation.
If you can come to terms with this realization, you won't think about your gadgets or work as often, and you won't be as tempted to constantly be checking them.
The bottom line: Your gadgets will all be waiting for you when you return, as will the never-ending stream of e-mail in your inbox. Time away from your electronics will actually make you appreciate them more, and you'll be better suited to tackle that mountain of messages, and the headaches they may entail, with the fresh, rejuvenated outlook that comes only from a truly relaxing vacation.