5 Tips to Disconnect From Your Phone on Your Next Trip

These days our phones are an extension of our bodies. It's hard to imagine taking a trip to the market without it, much less a full vacation—even if the goal is to disconnect.  In fact, we spent an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes on our phones during the average work day in 2019—and that number has surely increased since then.

So what do you do when it's time to unplug? Here are five tips from CN Traveler to try on your next vacation (and maybe even before).

  1. Give yourself permission to unplug

Just like you might plot out activities in a new destination, you should plan for device-less downtime once you’re there as well. This might start with a mind shift, and setting expectations with those around you (like coworkers) about your plans for rest, says licensed therapist and registered yoga and meditation teacher Joselyn Spence. “We don’t think we have full permission to do the things we need to do for ourselves: We think about the fall out, the consequences, or what other people might think,” says Spence. “Set an out of office message at work, tell your coworkers you’re doing an email-free vacation. Remember: You have permission to take care of yourself and whatever happens when you’re gone, [you can] address it when you come back.” 

  1. Put down the phone—beforethe vacation

If the goal is to relax but every time you try to do that at home, you end up in a Twitter chat, understand that changing your location won’t immediately solve these problems. Instead, practice taking breaks from your phone a few weeks before your vacation.

Taking a tech break means giving yourself timed one-minute breaks from a task every 15 minutes. During this minute-long break, you can check your phone notifications, scroll down your timeline, whatever you want. When the minute is over, you put the phone down and continue doing what you were before. Once you’ve got that down, you’ll slowly increase the time between breaks to 30 or even 60 minutes. “This shows your brain that you do not have to be constantly connected," says Rosen. "When you are on vacation this will help you feel less ‘nomophobic’ [a phobia of not having your mobile phone] when you are not using your tech,” Rosen says.

  1. Switch your phone screen to grayscale mode

Instagram excites us vibrant colorful feeds. Our brains are drawn to bold colors, music, and, thus, the content creators who present all of the above as their lifestyle. That’s why switching your phone to greyscale mode (pretend you're back in your Nokia brick-phone days) could make it easier to disconnect. “Switching [your] phone from color to grayscale mode makes every screen experience slightly less compelling,” says Adam Alter, New York University marketing professor and author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

He says it’s so hard for us to disconnect because “the apps on our phones deliver unpredictable rewards, create goals for us, and rob us of the so-called stopping cues that usually nudge us on to a new experience.” Stopping cues in other situations might include credits rolling at the end of a movie, or feeling full once you’ve eaten enough. Apps, on the other hand, are engineered to keep us engaged.

  1. Be realistic about device usage

Over the last decade, smartphones have only gotten faster, offered more applications, and found ways to make our lives easier. When it comes to setting new boundaries with your devices while traveling, it’s important to be realistic. Before heading out, get an idea of which apps you use the most and how much time you spend on them. Of those apps, decide which are absolutely necessary to get through the day (i.e. weather, navigation, or a translation depending on where you’re going) and which are not.

  1. Share your intentions with the people you’re with

Even if you manage to adopt the aforementioned tips as you prepare to travel, they can be hard to stick to when you're around people who haven’t made the same commitment. Instead of shaming your loved ones for their tech usage, try sharing your goals and plans for the trip and why unplugging matters to you. If you want to invite others to join you, start small by suggesting a phone-free dinner.

It’s likely that trying these tips next time you travel won’t just improve your experience on your trip. Hopefully, the impact will reverberate into your life back home. We are often so glued to our phones and social media that we forget to enjoy the moments happening right in front of us. Being intentional about unplugging from your devices isn’t just about lowering your screen time, it’s about giving love and attention to the things, people, and places we care about most.