How to Escape While Staying Connected

travel digital detox

Leave the laptop behind, dump the mobile device and otherwise abandon anything that could be called “always on” — so goes a frequent recommendation to stressed vacationers. The thinking is that if it’s too easy to stay in touch via phone and email with work, social obligations and the daily grind, you’ll never really get away from it all.

Sounds like sound advice — except that I’m not sure I agree. I have found that sacrificing a little bit of free time to staying connected while traveling typically makes exit and re-entry — when the most draining work of travel and vacationing takes place — go much more smoothly. In the end, checking in a few times during your vacation is a small price to pay to avoid returning home to a chaotic swarm of neglected responsibilities.

Some folks wouldn’t take a walk without all their devices, while others can’t wait to jettison everything and get off the communication grid. When my own five-year-old cell phone suffered some water damage,

Laptop, cell phone, tablet — take ’em along, leave ’em home, take your pick? Let’s say most of us have three primary email addresses (work, home, alternate) and matching triple voice mails (work, home, cell). That’s a lot of stuff to check while you’re trying to unwind; a couple of hours can pass in a blink by the time you have gotten through them all.

Less to Do Before and After Your Trip
As mentioned above, I believe the most compelling reason to stay connected on the road is to reduce the strain of both leaving and returning. As comfortable as home can be, few things can diminish the glow of a good trip quite as quickly as arriving home to find that two weeks of the detritus of modern life has been accumulating in your absence and that it’ll take days to clear it out.

I would say that the only thing worse than a pile of junk mail in a plastic USPS box and fading newspapers on your stoop is a “mail box is full” message on your voicemail and a couple dozen screens worth of email on your first login when you get home.

And it’s not just when you get home. Leaving notes for dog walkers, putting your house in order and letting everyone who might want your attention know that you will be away is almost always more trouble than checking email for a few minutes in a hotel room every day. While traveling, if you can dispatch tasks and information with short, concise emails written in a few seconds during your trip, there is a lot less accumulated clutter when you return, and less to do before you leave.

Fewer Surprises
The only thing worse than returning from a trip to an inbox full of nuisance emails is finding out too late that a major problem has come up. Keeping in touch with work and personal email semi-regularly is the best way to keep on top of big events. It also gives you…

Increased Control
Trying to fix big problems from a hotel is not a fun place to find yourself. If you have a speedy laptop stocked with all your likely contacts, you’ll be well positioned to deal with anything that goes wrong.

Lowered Expectations
An “away” or “vacation” auto response message followed up with an email with a footer that reads “sent from my cell phone” lets you get away with murder in terms of brevity and specificity — folks are just grateful to get a reply so they can keep working on or stop worrying about whatever it is for which they needed your attention.


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How to Take a Digital Detox Vacation

travel cell phone

When airlines first started offering Internet access on planes, there was an outcry from many folks who were connected almost around the clock and therefore cherished the precious time in the air when no one could call, email or text them. Many saw this quiet time as one of the most enjoyable elements of what were otherwise arduous business trips.

Similar debates raged over whether or not to allow cell phone use on planes. Do we really want to interrupt the relative quiet of an airplane with ringing phones and inane conversations?

Most of us know at least one person who has posted something to Facebook or Twitter along the lines of “Aircraft doors closing, stack of magazines and neck pillow at the ready,” with some sort of anti-digital hashtag.

The fact that so many folks announce delight in time away from devices and social media via a device on social media seems as good an indicator as any that there may be something to the growing popularity of digital detox vacations.

Why Do a Digital Detox?

Should I Do This While Traveling — and How?

In some respects, a vacation is a perfect time to eschew all types of digital stimulation; you are out and around, often in an entirely new environment, and have far less exposure to the moments of boredom or distraction that lead folks back to their screens again and again.

On the other hand, most of us know how helpful our devices are when traveling in an unfamiliar place. In fact, it could be argued that a smartphone shifts from a source of distraction to a superb tool when navigating new cities, finding things to do and dealing with travel snafus.

– Be ready for withdrawal symptoms
– Plan to enjoy (and not regret) missing out on what everyone else is doing
– Be prepared with things like paper maps and written phone numbers
– Set small goals (maybe a 24- or even 12-hour detox instead of a week the first time out)
– Plan something that will occupy and entertain you

This last item in particular suggests that travel might be the perfect time to try a digital detox; spending your afternoon snorkeling can make it really easy to skip fitful checks of your phone.


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Big Bus Tours Around the City


This double-decker bus tour is the Washington outpost of an international chain. The company runs four routes during the day on open-top buses, covering the monuments, the White House, the Mall, museums (where you can switch between the red and yellow routes), ­Embassy Row, the National Zoo, the National Cathedral, Georgetown, and Virginia locations such as the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. The buses are big and thus less likely to fill up than other, smaller tours, and the top level is a great option when the weather’s nice. Tickets are hop-on, hop-off, so you have some flexibility. Though the vehicle is open-top, it doesn’t mean you can stand up, move around, and take pictures—it’s against the rules and can be dangerous. Some of the company’s tours use recorded narration, which is accurate but doesn’t allow for questions.

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At the Shakespeare Theatre Company

February 23–March 27
This production brings the racial tensions Shakespeare identified in the early 17th century right up to modern-day, Trump-infused America: It features Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir (the villain Raza in Iron Man) as the outsider in a white society, placing a Muslim actor in a role more recently played by African-Americans. $44 to $118.

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Astronaut Academy

National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
February 12, 13, 20, and 27

This immersive experience at the Udvar-Hazy Center, framed as a game for older elementary- and middle-school students, will help her get some virtual red dust under her fingernails for about 90 minutes. Free.

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Boutique Bargains in DC!

Don’t miss this annual event! Shoppers who crave the luxury of boutique stores but also bargain-basement prices get the best of both!

Old Town Boutique District Warehouse Sale
400 Courthouse Square, Alexandria; February 6



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