How to Have a Great “Tech-free” Family Vacation!

family camp fire

{Article originally published on The Candidly.}

It’s no secret that getting kids to pry themselves from their phones and other electronic devices and enjoy time as a family can be challenging. You want time to connect with them and even if they don’t say it, they want the same from you. But what that means is that everyone has to be present – both parents and kids must be off their devices.

If you’re anything like the rest of us, you probably use your smart phone to keep track of your kids, stay in touch with family and friends, and find the next place you’re going to eat. But maybe you also have your “zoning-out” activities like scrolling through Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. And then there are the never ending notifications that keep you picking up your phone every other minute.

Here’s the problem – this kind of Pavlovian dog response – ring a bell get a treat – is causing your brain to fire an influx of chemicals from the “feel good” ones (dopamine) to the stress and anxiety related ones (cortisol).

We’ve become so addicted to our smart phones that the affliction now has its own acronym: SPD – smart phone dependence. And it’s especially dangerous for teens. Studies have shown that teenagers who spend more than three hours on the phone a day are far more likely to have thoughts of suicide than teens that have less screen-time.

And as far as your littlest ones are concerned, their brains need a break too from the stimulation of electronics. Excessive, unsupervised time spent playing Xbox can lead to anxious, stressed, and irritable kids, which is the last thing you want.

So if you’re starting to plan an upcoming family vacation it just might be the perfect time to take a break from tech as a family.

Now that we all agree on this whole “detox” idea, here are some tips to make your device-free family vacation a reality. You can all thank us when you get back.

#1 – Discuss going “tech-free” as a family – You can pretty much bet that any talk you have with your kids about not taking their games on vacation is going to be met with loud and insistent resistance. If wise parenting advice has taught us anything it is that you get a much better response by telling your kids what they can do than telling them what they can’t.

So approach the conversation from a place of, “We want to spend as much time together as a family as possible on this next vacation. And one of the best ways for us to do that is spend less time on our devices.” And then assure them that mom and dad are in this too. It’s important that you set the example by putting your phone down. They are going to mirror what you do and not what you say. So if you are still glued to your phone, good luck getting them to put down their games without a fight.

Talk to your kids about your own reliance on your smart phone and the possible complications of giving up your devices for a week or two. There are bound to be concerns: ‘What about my friends!’ ‘How am I going to check Facebook?’ ‘How do we get anywhere?’ There are real inconveniences associated with going tech free, so come up with workable solutions as a family.

#2 – Let your kids be part of vacation activity planning – You want your kids so engaged that they don’t even have time to miss their devices. A sure bet for buy-in and getting them enthusiastically involved and excited about the trip is letting them choose things themselves.

They are on the computer anyway, so why not give them some guidelines and let them search for themselves. You can provide them with an initial list of ideas just to get their juices flowing or simply tell them “This is how much we can spend.” Or, “These are the types of things we can do. You come up with what you like.” Challenge them to come up with activities that the whole family would enjoy.

Give them the option of picking at least one thing that they really want to do on the vacation. That way everyone feels like their wishes are being fulfilled and it also helps them have patience going along with things that other family members have chosen. Wins all around!

Parents and children lying on rug and reading book in living room

#3 – Don’t make it about the money – Quality bonding time doesn’t have to cost a bajillion dollars or involve fancy resorts. Simple activities that involve everyone taking part are enough to help you all feel close.

Read together about the places you’ll be visiting. Take a trip to the library and let them check out all the books they want on the destination. This will help build their excitement for the trip.

If long drives are a part of your trip choose some audiobooks that everyone will enjoy listening to and talking about. Here are some audiobook options to get you started.

family road trip

If the vacation rental or hotel includes a kitchen, get the kids involved in making meals, especially the kid’s favorites. Lots of youngsters enjoy cooking with their parents and you’ll be creating memories they will cherish forever.

#4 – Shower them with attention and playtime – Kids enjoy vacation simply for the fact that mom and dad aren’t working and can give them all their attention. The power of your attention on your kid’s well-being can’t be overstated. By giving them your attention you’re saying, ‘You’re important. You matter. I care for you.’ Your attention paves the way for their high self-confidence and self-esteem. So engage them in play as much as you can.

family laughing

Travel-sized board games are a sure bet. Depending on your luggage size and mode of travel, you can take as many or as few as you like. And if long layovers at airports are in your future then the board games will be a Godsend to pass the time. Here’s a great list of travel-sized board games the whole family can get into.

And if you’re thinking, ‘That’s all fine but I’d like to go bigger,’ then 1st) we like your style and 2nd) consider then a trip to a destination built entirely around play, like the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. This place was literally built for your kids to learn about play – as if they needed help in that area. It’s an interactive wonderland. You can visit the National Toy Hall of Fame and the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Well, since this is a “tech detox” maybe skip that one or better yet, make it a reward for leaving the video games at home. Your kids will think it’s awesome! From the architecture, to the areas dedicated to Sesame Street and the Bernstein Bears, to the, get this, “Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden” (I wanna go to that!) the place is impressive and truly something special.

Strong National Museum of Play

#5 – Encourage their creativity – Children are natural creators with imaginations that are seemingly endless. Being on vacation, where everyone is relaxing and enjoying themselves, is a wonderful time to encourage their creative expression.

For smaller kids, prepare an activity/craft bag for each kid complete with crayons, colored pencils, Crayola magic pens coloring books, stickers (plenty of stickers), small toys, and playdough. Then you’ll want to outfit them with a lapboard so can play where ever they are with everything in one place. There are some pretty cool ones you can buy with all they’ll need already fixed to the board. But you can also achieve the same thing with a cheap magnetic cookie sheet and some magnetic strips.

If they like drawing, get them a sketch pad or travel journal for the trip. You can encourage them to look up your destination ahead of time and start filling their journal with drawings and thoughts about what they think it will be like to be there. It’s a great way for them to record their experiences while away and will make a sentimental souvenir when they return.

Or you can gift them with an Instax mini camera and introduce a little healthy family competition seeing who can capture the best image. There is a camera to fit most budgets with the cheapest being under twenty bucks.

There are numerous destinations meant to excite a child’s imagination (cue Disneyland) but if you are looking for something off the beaten path that not only sparks kid’s imaginations but adults too, make your next vacation a wondrous wilderness adventure complete with your own treehouse! Vertical Horizons Tree House Paradise (the name pretty much says it) is a surreal B&B in Southern Oregon that provides you with pristine 360 degree forest views, beautifully constructed and comfy treehouse cabins, and complimentary, organically sourced breakfasts each morning.

Vertical Horizons Tree House Paradise

This is a dream vacation for the outdoorsy family. What kid would say no to clowning around within the canopy of trees (safely secured by ropes and pulleys, of course) as they play out their best Tarzan? There’s fishing, white water rafting, and hiking all nearby. Southern Oregon boasts simply gorgeous natural surroundings that you and your kids will instantly fall for.

#6 – Get active and introduce your kids to something new! – With so much time spent on devices many of us are in sore need of some physical activity (you know, that moves more than our thumbs). Vitamin D deficiency and limited contact with the wider world are some not-so-great side-effects of too much screen time. To remedy that and have a blast doing it include some new sports into your travel itinerary.

Zion National Park

Kids take to climbing things like fish take to water so take them rock climbing. Children as young as four can take part in this activity. And Zion National Park in Utah is a great place to get started. Prepare to be awed by the red rock formations that immediately make you think of the Grand Canyon. Zion Rock and Mountain Guides will show you and your youngins the basics and familiarize you with the gear involved in scaling the cliff face. Best part: no experience needed.

For an experience that puts you up close with your surroundings and is also fantastic exercise take your vacation by bike. This can be smaller stints like a trip to the Great Lakes’ Mackinac Island where cars are not permitted. Just take the ferry over and peddle around this charming island. There’s loads to explore like the Native American Cultural History Trail, historic Fort Mackinac, woods, beaches, and rock formations. Oh, and make sure to stop along the way for the fudge. Rumor has it it’s World Famous!

If you want to go a bit bigger and make your trip even more unique, introduce your kids to another culture by biking through a foreign country. France and Chile score high on the “must-sees” of anyone wanting to travel by bike. Both boast great roads through truly magnificent country, new language opportunities, and delicious food. A couple of “pros” to biking is that you travel at your own pace and you’re not all cramped into a car or plane. And you’ll most likely never hear “Are we there yet?” because the journey becomes the destination. It would be an adventure your family would talk about for years to come.

Make your next vacation together the best yet by putting family time before “screen time”.

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