Getting Away from It All in the Digital Age

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Going on vacation used to mean being out of touch for awhile, but it turns out that many people experience less anxiety, stress and unhappiness when they remain “connected” via smartphones and other internet-enabled devices.

There was a time when folks deliberately contemplated vacationing in relatively remote or exotic destinations to truly “get away from it all.” Some even found it much easier to set aside concerns about their work and other commitments and simply enjoy their leisure time if they were relatively removed from any means of instant communication. To truly relax and enjoy themselves, and to savor the time they were taking, they wanted a certain amount of distance between themselves and possible sources of stress back home. They could communicate when necessary or in an emergency. Other than that, they would simply enjoy their time. But recent research indicates that many of today’s travelers and vacationers actually experience less anxiety, stress, and unhappiness when they remain “connected” to their social networks via their smartphones, tablets, and other internet-using devices. Getting away from it all, it appears, is a remarkably different enterprise in the digital age.

Researchers at Michigan State University and at Ryerson University in Canada studied the habits of people on vacation, and reported their findings, soon to be published in The Annals of Tourism Research, on Michigan State University News website. One not too surprising finding was that the use of smartphones has tripled in recent years. But it was quite surprising to learn that people who are vacationing tend to use their smartphones and other devices to network online even more than when they are at home. One of the reasons for this might be the fact that using these devices has in many ways become addictive. And the fact that most hotels and other vacation venues offer wireless internet access only makes it easier to use these devices. But another suggested reason for the increased use is the fact that many folks feel increased anxiety when they’re not able to readily connect with friends and family. So, not only do vacations become more enjoyable when families are able to “stay connected” online, but also it’s extremely gratifying to be able to share one’s best experiences readily. No longer do vacationers need to consider sending a “wish you were here” postcard to a friend with a photo of a memorable visited site and which probably wouldn’t arrive at its destination until after they had already returned from their trip. Instead, they can just take a snapshot on their smartphone and email it immediately to friends, along with a thoughtful message. They can even talk to them about it and share the experience firsthand. The digital age has truly made it possible for all of us to be miles away from those we care about without ever really being out of touch.

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Having our digital devices with us during vacations can have its downside, too. Vacationers can occupy so much of their relatively more mundane moments playing games online, checking and sending messages, and surfing the web that they forget to step back, slow down, and savor the experience of their vacation adventure. Digital devices provide us with an environment of instant stimulation and gratification that can become truly addictive as well as time- and attention-consuming. That’s one reason why the researchers conducting the current study plan to study smartphone and other digital device use along every stage of vacationing, including even the planning stages. They’ve already learned that people are spending more time online in preparation for their trips, checking out their destination’s most popular attractions, restaurants, and even the projected weather forecast. But they intend to look at each vacation stage carefully, and their findings could eventually help the vacation industry better understand what it is people are looking for when they formulate plans for their vacations as well as what their main wishes and concerns are once they’re on vacation.

I absolutely can identify with the researchers’ finding that most folks actually feel less anxious on vacation when they have their means of instant communication handy. Whenever I travel, I’m always most concerned about making sure my devices are with me. But I’m also aware of the perils of this preoccupation. Recently my wife and had to take a short trip to an area of the country we had never been to before. By stroke of fate, I left my cell phone in the car at the airport and my wife forgot the charger for her phone. At first we were a bit panicked. But after a while we began to appreciate the time we were having to simply be together and savor the moments. And rather than make an effort to find a way to keep her phone charged, my wife decided to keep it off and save the life on the battery for a true emergency. All I can say is that we had a remarkable time. It’s simply amazing how different life looks when your digital addictions are no longer running the show. I wonder if we’ll remember this lesson the next time we plan to get away.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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