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How to Avoid Having Smartphones Ruin Vacations
by William S Kirby, author of the novel Vienna, published by Forge Books
This is not a screed against smartphones. I take my smartphone on vacation. The ability to run a translation app is vital for everything from avoiding food allergies to getting to the right hotel. In emergencies, medical or lawful, smartphones offer security. However, if not used thoughtfully, smartphones ruin vacations.
If smartphones do a thousand things well, nine hundred and ninety of these things will wreck your vacation. Research has confirmed what we always suspected: Few things can destroy a good time faster than a smartphone.
But take heart, there is good news as well. A few simple guidelines can cure much of the smartphone blues. Better still, there is one cool way your smartphone can improve your vacation. But first, the bad news:
5 Ways Smartphones Ruin Vacations
1. Smartphones Constantly Nag Us
Nothing destroys holiday bliss faster than endless reminders of all the stuff you’re trying to get away from. And no gadget brings the pain like a smartphone. Although wondrous tools used during our regular routines, smartphones ruin vacations, if used carelessly.
Consider that perfect beach vacation you’re planning. Just you, that special someone, and your smartphone. The sun is deliciously warm and the water is a sparkling shade of cerulean—hold on a sec. Let me take this call. Anyway, the love of your life is looking mighty fine in that new midnight-blue swimsuit and—Got a text message, sorry. And the waves are—Dang it! Low battery.
In 2015, the National Institute of Health warned that depression and anxiety stands a good chance of being ratcheted up by the constant nagging of smartphones. In fact, the link with anxiety and depression is so well established that an increasing number of healthcare professionals are recommending that people who suffer from depression should severely limit smartphone use.
Studies show overuse of #smartphones may lead to depression, anxiety, and sleep issues. Click To Tweet
There is also growing evidence that paying more attention to your smartphone than your partner leads to (surprise!) relationship stress. The last thing you want on vacation.
Sadly, you don’t even have to turn your phone on for it to ruin your day. Since you’re already at the ocean, why not go snorkeling?
“Wow! A clown fish!”
Look to the beach to make certain no one is stealing your phone
“Wow! A box jellyfish!”
Look to the beach to make certain no one is stealing your phone.
“Wow! A great white shark!”
Look to the beach to make certain no one is stealing your phone.
And here you thought you were going to relax.
2. Smartphones Make Us Tourists Rather than Travelers
You know that hip website that has all the cool places to eat, drink and be merry? So does everyone else. That’s why the joint you’re in is so crowded. It’s the modern vacation paradox: What’s the point of traveling halfway around the world to find everyone is from California or Texas?
Oddly, smartphones ruin vacations by suggesting places they think we’ll be happy with. Places where the staff speaks your language. Places other tourists have rated. Places with a menu offering pizza instead of hákarl. Some of this is understandable. (Hákarl—Icelandic putrefied shark—smells like ammonia sprayed with cat urine.)
Thanks to our smartphones, we end up at the same places all the other tourists end up. The exact same places that are just around the corner back home. If you’re in Taiwan, home to some of the best street food on the planet, eating pineapple pizza from a fast food joint, something is seriously wrong. In fact, if you end up anywhere eating pineapple pizza, something is seriously wrong.True culinary exploration may require venturing beyond your smartphone. #TravelTip Click To Tweet
It gets worse. Tourist traps are the last place you want to eat and shop. Why? Because (and I hate to drop the ‘e’ word) economic studies have shown the best way to make money in tourist-rich areas is to sell cheap stuff at a high price. The consumer traffic is comprised of one-time visitors. Fleece them while you can. (Those wanting to know more can check out this fun, simplified model.)
Thanks to your smartphone, you’re getting terrible food at a terrible price. Yet another example how smartphones ruin vacations.
3. Smartphones Turn Voyages of Discovery into Slide Shows
You are now hooked to a lie detector. Every lie results in a nasty shock. Question one: Your best friend just posted fifty vacation pictures on social media. How many of them do you look at before slapping a smiley emoji on those bad boys and scrolling down to that tempting video of a kitten playing with a bottle cap? Ten? Five? If you say all fifty, then you are either a saint or undergoing electrocution at this very moment. Smartphones ruin vacations by encouraging us to focus on taking photos over the actual experience.
Every time we go on vacation, we are texting or tweeting or Facebooking, or Snapchating, or Flickring, or Redditing, or Pinteresting, or Tumblring, or Kiking, or Yik yaking, or Periscoping, or Blabing. We spend thousands of dollars traveling to exotic locations only to view them through the miniscule eyepieces of smartphones. Is it any wonder everything looks so underwhelming?
Taking a video or a picture of a place does not equate to experiencing it. Trying to rouse jealousy in your peers by snapping the perfect landscape means you are seeing it a level removed from reality—just as they are. Might as well send your friends next time and save the hassle.
It can’t come as any surprise that a number of studies are showing our constant use of social media is leading to fatigue, social anxiety, and distraction. Not things you want anywhere in your life, least of all on vacation.
4. Smartphones Deluge Us with Information
I’m guilty of this in the same way the ocean is guilty of being water. But there are harmful consequences to Googling every question you have. The most obvious is an unsolvable problem of multitasking.
Research shows a very counterintuitive truth about multitasking. The more multitasking we do, the worse we get at it. Why? Because we try to do it faster and faster. We get jittery. We get anxious. We get short-tempered. We fail to retain information. Which makes us more anxious.
Meanwhile, instead of looking at the thing you came all this way to see, you’re reading about it on Wikipedia. Which you could have done over a lunch break at work. Should you be trying to multitask on holiday? Nope. Again, an example of how smartphones ruin vacations.
5. Smartphones Shield Us from New Experiences
People take vacations in large part because they’re looking for a break in monotonous routine. But thanks to smartphones, vacations have become more of the same-old same-old. We’re on the phone, texting, playing games, speed-reading social media and checking out reviews. We’re recording how many miles we’ve walked, or we’re shooting hi-def video. If not used carefully, smartphones ruin vacations by locking us into our regular routines.
If you're on vacation, should you constantly be using your #smartphone? Click To Tweet
A phone can’t take your breath away. It can’t surprise with a new flavor. It can’t explain why the ruins of a medieval castle spawn a sudden desire to be a wizard. It can’t understand the joy of a new experience. Trapped within our smartphone’s pre-defined limits, we have become the Peanuts character Linus: dependent to an astonishing degree on our security blanket.
Mindlessly following our phones, we never get lost anymore. The chance of discovering that quirky, quiet little park is gone for good. Forget seeing out-of-the-way places where locals have a chance of outnumbering tourists. And thank goodness for directions to that worldwide fast food chain, so I can make a beeline there instead of trying something new.
After all of this, when vacation comes to an end, we’re stuck paraphrasing a once popular tourist meme: I went on vacation and all I got was this crappy Facebook post.
If Smartphones Ruin Vacations, Take Action
1. Take Care of Social Media before Leaving
Posting a picture or two of your vacation is expected these days, and there’s nothing wrong with a few images. But your social circle doesn’t need to see every sunset and every goofy road sign. Likewise, they’ll understand if you are out of reach for a bit.
Tell your friends that you’re going on vacation before you leave. Send a pix or two, then let it go. Consider the reasons for taking your vacation every time you’re tempted to blow three or four hours on social media. Save it for home.
2. Carefully Consider Your Smartphone’s Usefulness
Do you really need your smartphone every time you step out of your hotel? Consider again a day at the beach. Most beaches will either: host numerous people who would help in an emergency (if not, you’re at the wrong beach); or be too remote to offer cell coverage.
Further, beaches are paradise for thieves. Smartphone theft has reached “pandemic” proportions according to several police departments in tourist hotspots. Even if the phone isn’t ripped off, it will be exposed to salt, sand, and moisture—three things it hates.
Be radical and try a day at the beach unplugged. Listen to the surf. Smell the air. Look at that amazingly hot person walking by. Apologize to your significant other. You can’t do any of this over the phone.
3. Make Your Own Judgment Calls on Vacation
Do you consult your smartphone every night on what to eat for dinner? No? Then why do it on vacation? Why look at what everyone else is doing and fearfully toe the line?
It’s amazing, the things you can discover on your own. Want to know where to eat? Look at where the locals are eating. Ask someone. Read the local paper. You can’t explore a new place if your smartphone is leading every step of the way.Travel experiences and adventures shouldn't be limited by your smartphone. Click To Tweet
Be willing to make your own decisions. Does this place look too sketchy? Then don’t go. But remember that people have diverse opinions of what sketchy is. I ate street food for two weeks in Taiwan and didn’t get remotely sick. My neighbors were horrified that I even tried it. We have different ideas of what constitutes acceptable risk. That’s fine. What isn’t fine is letting your phone decide that for you<.
One Way Your Smartphone Can Make Vacation Better
Here’s the odd truth about vacations: Planning a vacation can bring the same amount of happiness as the vacation itself. Delayed anticipation delivers surprisingly large helpings of excitement and enjoyment.
Before vacation, break your daily routine by Googling everything you might want to know about where you’re going. Read books by natives. Learn what you can of the language. Look at art from the region. Compile a mix of songs that evoke the place. (This is actually great fun, and comes highly recommended.) Seek out interesting history, geology, and biography. Use your smartphone to get your mind jazzed to go.
Even trivial knowledge brings new color to the most touristy of places. Consider Paris. James Joyce used to get drunk and walk around the City of Lights picking fights. If things got out of hand, he’d have his pal Earnest Hemmingway step in. How can Paris not be better for this bit of trivia? It will pop up unexpectedly when you’re walking through the city. You’ll find that you’re a tiny bit more in Paris, and a tiny bit less at home. Which is the point of going in the first place.
Thoughtful smartphone use can turn holidays into a true vacations. How do you use your smartphone while on vacation?
William S Kirby is the author of the novel, Vienna. He attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and taught high school Chemistry and Physics. He and his wife, Kathryn, live in Denver, Colorado. When not working, they travel, hike, backpack, ski, snowshoe, and snorkel. He is currently writing his next novel.