This post was most recently updated on October 6th, 2020
Best way to unplug? Tell me if you have this problem. You finally finish cleaning up after dinner, you sit down to rest a few minutes, and then you realize everyone in your home is plugged in to an electronic device of some kind. You’re playing Words with Friends, your son is listening to iTunes, your husband is checking emails, and your daughter is searching online for images for a school project. All harmless activities, and maybe even important. But how do you digitally detox your family and reconnect when these devices are such a large part of our every day life?
I believe I know the best way to unplug —
Pick up your family and literally move them somewhere else. Together.
Some of the devices may follow you. But I assure you that this is your best opportunity to limit their use, make them impossible to use, or make them less desirable.
If you plan your activities and transportation well enough, you will provide an atmosphere that encourages interacting with and enjoying each other’s company. Ultimately, this will create a closer family, and that is your goal!
Meet the needs of your children
One year, our family experienced a unique situation. Two of our four children were serving service missions out of the country. When Christmas came around, our two younger children were really missing their older siblings. We couldn’t unite our family, but we could do something to “distract” them. We planned a surprise after-Christmas trip to New York City. They didn’t know about our plans until they started opening their Christmas gifts and found Broadway show tickets and admission to the Empire State Building (and mittens and scarves) among their presents.
At first, they weren’t sure that’s how they wanted to spend their holiday. But I’ll tell you this trip went a long way towards helping my youngest create a strong bond as sister and brother! And my husband and I had a great time as well. This is a time when unplugging and seeking to meet the needs of our children really paid off!
Camping or backpacking will help you unplug
This may be one of the best family activities, because you seldom have internet or TV in a campground. You’re in a new environment, which encourages exploring. And you may have basic responsibilities that take a lot longer than at home (preparing meals over a campfire or setting up a tent). Because it’s a new environment, it’s a clean slate for your family. Take advantage of this to schedule your days full of “team-building” events.
You really want your children to learn that their best friends are their siblings, and that Mom and Dad will always be right there for them. This is never more evident than when you pull them away from their “world” for a time. So, plan hikes and rock-skipping contests, card games or photo shoots, scavenger hunts, wildlife talks by camp rangers, foil dinners and “snipe” hunts, bedtime stories and star-gazing. Remember that working hard together is exhilarating!
(click on any photo to enlarge)
(photos of Yosemite by the Quackenbush family)
Again, you remove your family from home and take them out of their “comfort zones”. If you just hand them an iPad or turn on the DVD player, you’re losing an opportunity for a much better family experience. Let your children help you plan what you’ll do when you arrive at your destination. Involve them in researching and budgeting for your trip (if they’re old enough). And be sure to add some fun family activities to enjoy together in the car.
For my family, that meant playing the Alphabet game (seeking letters on signs and license plates), singing, sharing interesting trivia about towns we were passing through, and eating favorite homemade snacks. (I highly suggest you do not prohibit food in your car on a road trip!)
This is one time that old-fashioned paper folding maps come in handy. Let your children trace progress on the map and calculate distances or search for interesting geological features, etc. There’s nothing like a paper map to help you see the bigger picture.
Encourage your family members to help each other and to be considerate of each other while traveling. We also rotated our children’s seating arrangements, so that no one always got the “favorite” seat. I’ve noticed our children got along a lot better on a trip! Perhaps they’re generally in a better mood because they don’t have to do chores. But the good feelings about each other go a long way after the trip is over. (If you’d like more ideas for keeping your children happy on a road trip, see my post on this topic)
Unplug with special interest trips
Nearly everyone in our family likes to ski or snowboard. While our kids were in college, we planned ski weekends that were only a few hours away from them, so we could all congregate and enjoy each other’s company. (Yes, we were extremely lucky that all of our kids attended the same college!) My husband and I had to travel further, but that was okay. It was worth it to see our kids (and grandchildren, too).
Being up in the mountains really limited our access to internet, so we were
forced happy to spend more time playing games, cooking and eating meals together, and of course, hitting the slopes!
On another trip, we stayed on a houseboat on Lake Powell for a week. No internet or phone reception there! But amazing views, water sports, hiking, and of course, more time with our family!
Unplug on day trips, too
Day trips are great fun for a family. Anytime you leave your home and do something together, it can be good bonding time. Do be sure to plan little getaways when you can’t swing the big ones. But there really is something to be said for “getting away” for more than just a day or two. It cements those growing experiences your family is sharing together.
A few ideas for good day trips are excursions to the local zoo, having a barbecue and playing at the park, or going boogie-boarding at the beach. (But there are so many more!) When you see and do the same things together…and then talk about those experiences, you are creating shared memories that will help you feel closer.
Bonus: Take photos and view them often as a family. We have a constant slideshow of all our family photos playing on our desktop at home. And sometimes, we just sit and watch the slideshow and remember what we’ve done! It reinforces all the good unplugging experiences we’ve shared.
Unplug with international travel
This isn’t something we did until our children were teenagers. The cost required longer periods of time to save money, and we wanted to be sure our kids would be old enough to appreciate and learn from our travel experiences. In 2010, our entire family went to Spain and France for two weeks. Together, we planned this trip for nearly a year. Everyone was involved in making to-do lists, planning the itinerary, and preparing and packing for the trip. We even studied Spanish and French together (some of our family were already fluent). We planned a buddy system in case we got separated. And then we had the trip of a lifetime!
There were no cell phones on this trip. And only a few visits to an internet cafe to communicate with friends back home. We all took turns writing in a travel journal, sharing what we learned and how we felt. And we took lots of photos along the way. Not only did we laugh and play and learn and grow together, but we came together to get through the challenges (cancelled flights, getting lost, a Paris subway scare).
We were all exposed to new languages, cultures, traditions, laws, and religions, and we benefitted from that individually and as a whole. And when we got home, I made photo books that included our best photos and excerpts from our travel journal, so each member of the family would be able to remember our trip.
Unplug at family reunions
Family reunions don’t happen too often. They provide plenty of incentive to pick up your family and travel to be with cousins, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas. Take advantage of the opportunity to share family stories and build stronger ties to your family heritage. Let your kids fill out family trees and challenge them to get to know as many people as possible at the reunion. At our Wilcox family reunions, there are traditional activities the kids always look forward to: soda bottle rockets, horseshoes, volleyball, and searching for gold coins in a pile of sawdust. At Zehrung reunions, we share old stories and eat great food!
Special family events
Whether it’s weddings, baptisms, the births of babies, graduations, or even funerals, special family events are crucial for taking your family off the grid and strengthening them. Similar to family reunions, these provide lots of opportunities to meet with family you don’t see often, to reconnect and get updated on each other’s lives and to help celebrate (or mourn) the important family events that bind you together. Make these events a priority for your travel budget. Don’t miss out!
Looking back over the years, we can attribute at least some of the closeness our family now enjoys to the priority we placed on traveling. Getting them (and us!) away from electronics and the routine of home life allowed us to reconnect and create wonderful memories together. If you don’t unplug your family once in awhile, the smart phones, headphones, and computers may isolate you!
Please! Share in the comments below just how you and your family unplug…
We just love all the things you suggested…road trips, day trips, family reunions. We can get unplugged in the day but at night, I gotta connect!
We just have to have moderation in all things, right?
I think part of the reason kids plug in so much is apathetic boredom with their environment. The tendency to structure and overschedule their activities contributes to their not having to exercise their brains to come up with imaginative ways to fill their time. As you’ve shown, travel plans take care of that in a hurry!
So true. And because we have to compete with the stimulai that electrical devices give our children, we need to come up with some amazing travel experiences. Luckily, that’s not too hard.
Thank you for this post. You just reminded me of what a fabulous childhood I had. Every summer (and sometimes even winter) my parents would take us kids on a road trip, hike, family retreat and what not. I cherish those moments!
I really do love this post, I more than anyone have difficulty unplugging, even when we’re traveling…I even managed to find a connection while we were in the rainforest in Olympic National Park somehow…don’t ask me how!!! Though I absolutely agree that not unplugging can isolate you. For me being separated from my family, it’s an amazing way to connect, though the world can pass you by if you’re too busy looking down at your phone!
Thanks for the reminder 🙂
Thank you, Meg, for the reminder that our devices do help us stay connected as well. They’re definitely not all bad.
The scene you described in your first paragraph is what my family looks like everyday. I’m just as guilty, being connected most of the time. Over the years, I’ve realized my love for hiking is also really just my love for a time when the only connection I have is to nature.
To have no distractions and be out in nature is heavenly!
The benefits of traveling are so many I still can’t believe how people don’t do it more often. You can get a new car, new clothes but nothing can replicate the overwhelming effect of traveling in your MIND. In the end, that’s all that matters!
Seriously! Traveling can be as easy as taking a day trip to a town 30 miles away. It’s so good for the soul, to get away and explore and experience all that you can!
Some great thoughts shared there, and totally agree it’s so important to unplug every now and then. I really struggle balancing work/blogging/giving the husband enough attention/actually living a real life, and so we’ve started having ‘secret’ weekend breaks away that no-one knows about! It’s really refreshing not to have any obligations, switch off the technology and just go!
What a fun idea, Heather! Secret weekend breaks with my husband sound wonderful!
I LOVE this post! It’s particularly relevant nowadays because mobile devices seem to be everyone’s main form of entertainment and can get in the way of forming real relationships with others.
I’ve been on vacation the past couple weeks and have realized just how nice it is to just spend time with family. We’ve done lots of fun day trip activities, including: visiting a city park/splash pad, playing card and board games together, going geocaching, driving into the mountains for some beautiful scenery, and going to free museums/visitors centers to look at their exhibits.
Heather, I’m glad you have such a good explanation for being digitally unavailable! 🙂
I could really use some of these right now! Even when I’m traveling (or perhaps especially when I’m traveling, since I want to keep my social media accounts updated), I’m far too connected. I’ll be taking a hike this weekend, so I think I’ll take your advice and try to do it mostly technology-free!
Hope you really enjoy your hike, Kirstie!
It’s amazing how relaxing putting down the phone for a day can be.
And it’s good to learn your world won’t end if you do!
Your trip to Spain and France sounded like a really memorable time for your family! Taking road trips with my family is still some of my favorite memories. I agree that getting out in nature is a fantastic way to disconnect from the digital world, it’s almost freeing I think.
Yes, that’s a good way to put it — it’s definitely freeing!
I couldn’t agree more with your options! Craig and I are on the road for 18 months (career break) but have just settled for two months in Robert’s Creek, BC and I know it sounds daft but it was much needed to be stationary for while. I’m not knocking long term travelling but it is physically and mentally exhausting after a while.
I love your family trip to NYC, lucky children! My parents are coming over to visit us next week, very excited about seeing them after four months.
I am finding swinging on a hammock a great way to unplug. And being strict with blog time – it can consume you life!
Thanks, Gemma! You’re right about travel blogging. It can consume your time. I am challenged to put it aside from time to time!
Excellent suggestions! My parents took me on road trips, day trips, overseas trips… I never felt the need to sit at home and play video games. 🙂
I was lucky enough to spend a week in the jungles of central India with NO connectivity in the remote areas. While we’d all jump onto our phones while transferring between cities when we’d suddenly get service for a while, I love how it was the actual safari zones that had great signal, but nobody whipped out their phones, since we were so focused on animal spotting.
Great suggestions. Everyone could use a tech detox now and then.
I don’t have kids but being a blogger means I am guilty of constantly being plugged in one way or another. This is a good reminder for me to practice what I preach about balanced living and to take more time to unplug.
I don’t know, unless we’re traveling to some place with no internet service, I still see people stuck to their phones and tablets – sometimes in some pretty spectacular spots. Unplugging still requires the conscious choice to leave the phone at home…one I’m more than happy to make at times!
Nice! The Yosemite Half-Dome lost a huge sheet of rock recently. I feel that if you intend to venture that far, there’s no choice but to unplug. It’s healthy for you, anyways.
Wow! Hadn’t heard about Half Dome losing a slab of rock! So glad I wasn’t there when it happened!
Great post & ideas! I definently struggle to switch off at times!
I love camping and hiking. … This is the best time and place to unplug. … especially in remote areas NO SIGNAL …. we appreciate more the beauty of nature being close to it and no technology barriers.
Love this post. In this day and age technology is getting smaller and more accessible by the day…. And as a result, uninterrupted quality time with those you love is harder and harder to enjoy. These are some great ideas… Put down the gadgets and get out into the world :).
Technology is here to stay whether we like it or not. It’s a double – edged sword. It’s both helpful and harmful. Balance is the key! However, this is completely awesome!
I agree that travel is an amazing way to unplug and unwind!
Experience I’ve had with children travelers however (others, not my own) tend to suggest that travel at a young age is as beneficial, if not more so than when in their teens.
It exposes them to other cultures, peoples and foods, making them more appreciative of what they have, and tolerant of others, not to mention teaching them independence.
Just my 2 cents 😉
Oh I definitely agree, Chris! We just weren’t financially able to travel as much when our children were younger. (Although we got pretty good with the road trips!)
So very hard to unplug these days but so many thanks for the reminder! We need this. 🙂
Love the sentiment behind this, I love my tech and there is nothing wrong with that but we all need to learn how to balance how much we use a little more. For me camping in the wilderness where I can’t even get any signal or charge my phone is great! So much more out there to keep you entertained!
Great ideas! Even if people can’t do a big trip, I feel like weekend getaways then are important for sanity!
Funny this comes two days after I was in a rural country town in Virginia that had no cell service and limited WIFI. I had service at the hotel but as far as getting around without my phone map, I was clueless. Only there 2 days so I survived, but I was doubting myself. In the end, I kind of liked not having to be annoyed by the phone. 😉
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