7 Tricks for Ditching Technology During Family Vacations

father and son fishing while camping

Have you ever relied on technology to curb the repeated “are-we-there-yet” question from your kids? Or maybe you’ve entertained yours kids (and even yourself) during long flights or drives with tablets, laptops, and cell phones? If you’re a parent in 2017, I’d be shocked if you answered “no” to those questions.

Nonetheless, technology is entrenched in our society. Is there a way to unplug during your family vacations? You don’t want gadgets to take over your vacation, but it’s not always easy to get buy-in from family members.

During a recent trip, my 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, and I had several unpleasant interactions regarding her iPad. I wish I had been better prepared to handle this issue. In hindsight, it would have been smart for me to consider the following strategies for decreasing screen time and increasing quality time:

1. Set Some Ground Rules

Before you head out of town, it’s a good idea to have a discussion as a family about what types of technology are allowed and how often. Perhaps you’ll agree to allow screen time during plane rides, but not once you’re at your destination. Maybe you’ll offer up one hour of video games after dinner. Also make rules about cell phones and laptops to hold teens and grown-ups accountable.

2. Gamify It

I’m sure you’ve heard of the game people play at restaurants to keep everyone off their phones. Everyone stack their phones in the middle of the table, and if someone grabs his/hers, he/she has to pay the bill for the entire party.

That may not work as motivation for your kids, but what if you agree that the first person who uses technology each day has to do some sort of chore? Or perhaps he/she has to serenade the family with your song of choice? Be creative and have fun with the “punishment.”

3. Draw Together

Hannah and I took a mother-daughter trip over Thanksgiving, and I brought along the Tandem Activity Book to entertain us. We laughed and joked with each other while enjoying the book’s activities together.

There’s no need to purchase the book in order to draw together; grab gel pens and paper and create your own activities. Some ideas inspired from the book:

  • Sketch a portrait of the person in front of you.
  • Map out the floor plan of your dream home.
  • Draw your favorite animal and its best friend.
  • Create a comic strip about your trip so far.

4. Pack Travel Board Games

Rely on old-school tips for keeping kids entertained. We didn’t have tablets or cell phones when I was a child, and my parents kept us busy with games. I remember playing travel versions of Connect 4 and Checkers during long road trips. Target offers a variety of travel games, and so does Amazon.

5. Listen to Audiobooks

Last year I drove from San Diego to Utah with Hannah over spring break, and we listened to Harry Potter audiobooks to pass the time. We looked forward to hearing what would happen to the main characters, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and we also shared conversations during our trip about the book. I look back fondly on those Harry Potter moments.

You can check out audiobooks from your local library or purchase them through Audible.com.

6. Use Old-School Methods

Did your family ever play the license plate game during road trips? Why not bring it back for your children to enjoy? If you’re on the road, write out a list of states in the U.S. and mark off the license plates you see.

What about I Spy? Hannah and I still play this, and she’s 10! We also play Hangman often. These activities have stood the test of time for good reason.

7. Lead by Example

We’ve all been there. You tell your kids to put down their tablets while you have your phone in your hands. Hannah is at the point where she will call me out for being on my phone, and I am confronted with my own hypocrisy.

It’s not easy, but try to put the phone away as much as possible. If you’re relying on your phone’s camera to capture highlights, you can put the phone on airplane mode and continue using the camera without distractions.

At the very least, consider turning off your notifications in order to keep distractions at bay. Otherwise, each time you get a text, Facebook comment, or Instagram alert, you are leaving the present moment—the family vacation—to go elsewhere. You can’t fully enjoy your trip if your mind is somewhere else.

If you have additional tips for keeping technology to a minimum during vacation, please share them in the comments section below.


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About the Author
Sara Schairer is the founder and executive director of COMPASSION IT , a start-up nonprofit organization and global social movement whose mission is to inspire daily compassionate actions and attitudes. She created the one-of-a-kind reversible COMPASSION IT wristband prompting compassionate actions on six continents, 48 countries, and all 50 states. Wristband sales fund compassion education programs for youth, teens, and adults. As a public speaker, Sara encourages her audiences to “compassion it” in their daily lives. A Stanford-certified instructor of Compassion Cultivation...Read more