Tech Free Vacation
It didn’t take us long to figure out that, once small children are involved, the term “vacation” takes on a whole new meaning. Instead of an escape from responsibility and a chance for unlimited leisure, a vacation with littles means taking the responsibility and chaos with you—along with all the countless contraptions needed for those little, helpless love-nuggets to sleep, eat, dress, and stay somewhat clean and happy.
So, to help reframe our vacation expectations my husband and I began calling family trips “adventures” instead of vacations—choosing to focus on the shared experience with our girls (ages 1 ½ and 3) rather than on the prospect of escape and relaxation. Our girls are awesome adventurers. In the past year the four of us have strapped on our adventure goggles (aka held hands up to our eyes in the shape of goggles) and made some really fun memories camping, going to the beach, and visiting friends and family across the country.
But as we looked forward to our latest adventure—our annual trip to my grandmother’s lake-front cabin in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York—we felt that we were pining after something more than just escape and relaxation. We could all use healthy dose of deep, genuine rest.
The transition from Spring to Summer turned out to be a lot more hectic and stretching than usual for our family. Extra work obligations for both of us, on top of our full plate of church and community involvement, would have already spread us thin. But, expecting our third baby, I was also in the throes of first-trimester exhaustion. A true force to be reckoned with that had sent me napping almost three hours a day while my girls graciously napped too. I napped, went to bed early, and slept in, but with all the sleep I knew that not only was my body still exhausted, my mind was too. I was restless, always thinking and jumping from one thought to the next, constantly distracted and mentally dull. For all the sleeping I was doing, I never felt refreshed or truly rested.
Meanwhile, my husband and I discovered Andy Crouch’s book, The Tech-Wise Family, through a great podcast interview about the book from the Gospel Coalition, and we decided to read it together. As we read through Andy’s account of the steps that his family has taken to “put technology in its proper place”, we were inspired to reflect on the role that technology was playing in our own family. Even before reading the book, I knew that rather than acting as a tool to help me live more productively and efficiently, technology, specifically my phone, was very often the source of my distraction and restlessness.
There are lots of small changes that we’ve begun to make: no longer looking at our phones right before bed and right when we wake in the morning, keeping the hour around dinner and bedtime as tech-free as possible, and spending more evenings relaxing by reading or playing music rather than watching TV. We also decided to adopt one of Andy’s more extreme-sounding recommendations, setting aside one technology-free week a year, and made plans to spend our upcoming week in the Adirondacks free from cell phones, email, and television.
We just got back from the trip on Saturday, and it really was incredibly restful. Our kids didn’t suddenly turn into self-sufficient angels and we didn’t lounge around all day sipping drinks with little umbrellas in them. (Though, thanks to all the extra-hands of lots of wonderful family around, the physical toll of parenting little ones was significantly lightened.) But the rest was far more significant than that.
Rest came in almost never being aware of what time it was.
I literally had nowhere else I "needed" to be, as is usually the case on vacation. But, perhaps even more significantly, because the prospect of engaging in social media or other communications was off the table, there was also nowhere else for me to be mentally or virtually. I felt more present than I have in a really long time. My mind was fully in engaged in what was happening right in front of me. I got to enjoy just watching my girls play for hours at a time in the same lake that I played in my entire childhood. I walked lazily on the beach examining the tiger-striped pebbles in the cool, root-beer tinted water. I got to spend real quality time with our extended family as we cooked meals and played games together rather than automatically retreating to our own little hand-held worlds during down time. And I don’t think the girls ever even realized the absence of screens, their week was so full of swimming, hiking, exploring, bubbles, ice-cream, and snuggles with the nearest family member.
We got to breathe deeply. un-rushed, undistracted, and it was good.
Here are some practical ways to make a tech-free vacation smoother if you are considering trying it with for your family:
Invite others in.
We opened the invitation to the rest of the family we were spending the week with, which included my sister, parents, grandmother, and aunts and uncles, to join us in going screen free. We were a little nervous about extending the invitation, because we didn’t want them to feel pressured or judged at all, but we were actually surprised that everyone was really enthusiastic about the idea. It was so good to spend time together talking, cooking, playing games, and gathering around the lake-front camp fire. It also helped keep the idea of television far from our kid’s minds by not having screens on everywhere.
Let people know you'll be out of touch.
We prepared for being out of touch by setting up email away messages and giving the land-line number (yep, my grandmother still has one of those) to necessary people. We also checked our messages a couple times a day for anything urgent, especially concerning our dog being cared for at home by our awesome neighbors. The catch is that my husband and I checked each other’s phones so we didn’t get sucked into any rabbit holes on our own devices.
Bring low-tech fun.
We brought a guitar for both of us to play. We planned recipes for special meals that we wanted to cook and printed them out when we got there. We brought favorite card games and books. And I even brought a film camera and shot three rolls of film rather than using my phone or even digital camera to capture the trip. (Now I just have to figure out where to get it processed!)
In the end, there are lots of ways to unplug, for any amount of time that works. And lots of ways that technology really can have a useful and fruitful place in life and community. But we found that resting from the toil and distraction that technology can bring is a healthy practice that we hope becomes a rhythm in our family.