Does this sound like your family? Each night, you gather around the dinner table. You have worked hard tonight, you avoided the bagged salad and hand-chopped all those carrots. You set the plates on the table, and immediately your kids say, “I want to eat at the coffee table. Can I watch YouTube?”
Maybe your husband works long hours like mine, and enjoys flipping through photos on the Chive to relax. Even during hours when he is supposed to be watching the kids. I am guilty, too, though. I check social media and the New York Times while I build play dough animals for my daughter’s tea parties.
Last year, around this time and after a similar evening spent glued to screens, I decided to enforce an unplugged vacation. We needed time away, I reasoned. My daughter was two, did she really need to watch Baby Einstein for the 700th time?
After I decided to start looking, though, I realized what a challenge I faced. Do you know how ubiquitous WiFi is? Here are some tips I collected that I hope will help you as well.
OK, so technically you can buy WiFi packages onboard ships. They are terribly expensive, though, and you cannot stream video or music with any of them. So, really, cruising makes a lot of sense when you want to unplug.
I ended up booking us on a Disney cruise. I would like to say we had no screen time, but let’s be honest. I had downloaded some videos to an old iphone so my daughter could watch movies while we ate dinner. Not so unplugged, I guess, but we had a lot more interpersonal discussions without a WiFi package.
It is more and more challenging to unplug on an international trip. When I was a teenager and travelled to Europe, our option to call home involved a pay phone and a international calling card. I know, I’m old. Nowadays you can pre-pay for an international data plan from several different providers, or even purchase a local pre-paid phone at your destination. Several years ago when my husband and I volunteered in Tanzania, we bought pre-paid cell phones and they worked quite well. Again, you would think you could escape technology, but they have internet cafes everywhere. I would say our phones did not work everywhere we went (like when we camped on our safari trek), but we were never terribly far from the real world.
This past year, we tried Vienna as an unplugged vacation. We had the same phone with downloaded videos and games for our daughter, but otherwise I used the wifi at the hotel. My husband bought an international data plan but it never quite seemed to work. At least we didn’t find a phone bill of $1000 for roaming charges.
Still, I think we made it work as best we could, and you could certainly go full analog with guidebooks and maps. Lonely Planet for the win.
Ah, nature. Trees, birds, lakes…if you don’t have a bathroom, you can’t possibly have LTE, right? Well, it depends. I looked at several glamping spots that offered wifi. And we are not really the “shovel and bag” kind of camping family. If you are, though, this also seems a viable option for an unplugged vacation.
In retrospect, going screen-less starts at home. I’ve learned my lesson. Just like with everything in travel, you cannot escape your problems just by going somewhere new. I suppose I need to go back to the drawing board to find new ideas for unplugged vacations.
Do you have any suggestions? Where have you gone to turn off the cell phones and actually enjoy one another’s company?