How To Go Device-Free on Family Trips

 

by Chika Gujarathi

I thought I’d be cooler than this, but sure enough, these days I’ll often catch myself lecturing my children on how when I was little, we just played outside all the time. This proves that there are two inescapable parenting truths in this world: 1) We only remember what we want to, and 2) We all eventually turn into our parents.

I often think back to my mom and dad’s childhoods and wonder how their parents kept up with so many children (they each have 4 other siblings). My theory is that it was a time when parents weren’t burdened with devices that these days constantly require me to say no! a lot. I presume it was precisely the lack of options in techy gadgetry that kept the peace and kept them playing with their imagination and each other.

Alas, being nostalgic is useless in this case, because I love my smartphone, and my Netflix, and my Instagram ya’ll, and if it pains me to give them up for one day, I can only imagine the type of hold that TVs, video games, and tablets have on our children. Is it even a battle worth fighting? Whatever your stand on this question, I respect your decision. I love you to the parent who somehow doesn’t own a TV and is still sane. I love you to the parent who hands their phone to the child anytime they let out the slightest whine. I love and respect you all because whatever your choice, there is a reason for it and it usually has to do with this thing called sanity which is always in short supply in the parenting realm.

Buuuuut… There is always a but, right? I do think there are moments that require us to be a bit more firm when it comes to device usage, and that time is when we travel. Whether it is a short trip to the beach or a long haul to another country, traveling should always be about the people and the place around you. So today, I am sharing some tips and tricks that have helped me in keeping my little ones busy without being slaves to the tablets and phones. I haven’t eliminated technology completely, because who am I kidding, but its usage is definitely strategic.

Before we get to it, however, real quick grab a pen and paper and write down the reasons that make you dislike the devices. Here are my Top 5:

  1. Not a social activity
  2. Miss the scenery and environment around
  3. Makes the mind tired and grumpy
  4. Takes away imaginative play
  5. Reduces conversation

Your list will probably look a bit different than mine, especially if the age of your children is different. Now, to the point of this exercise. Before you can set out to ban devices completely and wage an all on war with your children, it’s time to pick the reasons why and target that instead of the device. Simply put, everything is connected to technology these days.

In fact, did you know that museums can be so much more fun for children if you just download their interactive apps and have your little ones literally play around with the famous art pieces in the museum? The point is to use devices when it accentuates the travel experience, but keep it away when it doesn’t. Once you have your reasons, you will be better equipped to use the tricks below. And speaking of, here we go.

Set The Expectation Beforehand

We all work better when we know what’s coming; children especially thrive on schedules. Before you embark on your travel adventure take the time to start talking about the process days in advance. Let them know when you plan to leave and how many hours before you get to your destination. Set the device boundaries before you leave so that there are no negotiations or grumpy business in the car.

For young children like mine (all 6 and under) who might not grasp time the same way as adults do, I break it down in terms of activities. For instance: We will be at the beach after you have a snack, color a picture and take a short nap. With older children, just let them know that no devices are allowed during the trip. Instead, they can bring a book, make a music playlist to share with the family, or you know, just look out the window and nap.

For older kids who want to take pictures for the sake of social media, I would suggest settling predetermined parameters to make sure that the phone is not always out. May be they can use your permission to take the pictures and then at the end of the day, have 20-30 minutes to share their activities with their friends on social media. This way, they might just focus more on collecting the experiences and pictures during the day, instead of constantly taking selfies to post immediately on the internet.

Make Any Allowed Device-Time A Family Bonding Time

Not all trips are short trips and hopefully, you will embark on bigger adventures that involve planes and layovers too. During such times, I encourage you to set the expectation of how much device time is allowed and if possible pick a movie that you can watch together or a game that is interactive between family members. For us, this translated into renting a new release from Redbox anytime we were driving for over 4 hours during our road trip from North Carolina to Maine. I moved to the back seat with the kids and caught up on Spiderman into the Spider Verse and a couple of other movies during our 10-day trip. It was great!

For sight-seeing heavy trips, I tell my kids that once we get to the hotel room and end our day, they can watch whatever kid show they like before bedtime. This again, helps us all focus on the present and happily anticipate the TV and lounging time at the hotel.

Assign A Task And Provide Distractions

Idle mind is the devil’s playground, in this case, device’s playground. So why not fill the time with tasks that are purposeful as you travel. This could mean handing them a map and asking them to navigate to a sight. Giving them a sketchbook to draw anything that catches their eye. Or my favorite, giving them a stack of postcards to write to their friends back home (is there a better travel souvenir than postcards anyway?).

Pick out activities that align with your child’s interest (Examples: can you count how many fountains/squirrels we pass? How can we get to this playground on the map? Can you help me find an ice cream shop for us to take a break?).

I also like to research a behind-the-scenes or unique activity in the area if possible. For instance, is there a chocolate, ice cream, or candy factory or a farm we can tour? Is there an old-fashioned arcade we can visit? Is there an art studio that allows for people to come and watch the artists in action? Is there a library or bookstore where we can stop for storytime? Is there a fire station that will allow a visit and tour? Is there a circus class or cooking class you can try with the kids? These are just some ways to make creative experiences part of your travels that will temporarily hold off the digital pangs.

Rely On Good Old Fashion Games

Before you set out on your journey, look up simple games you can play while on your trip. This might mean taking a deck of cards, or playing charades (Team Dad vs. Team Mom), or throwing a ball around a city park or even a rest area off the highway. Maybe you can throw in your favorite board game in your luggage that otherwise gets ignored at home due to a lack of time. Create a scavenger hunt if the space allows. If you run out of options, just ask the grandparents for some ideas that are sure to impress you too.

Oh and don’t forget the playgrounds. For my family, stopping at playgrounds is just a normal part of our travel plans. Whether it’s a city in the US or from our travels abroad in France, Portugal, and Spain, the biggest bank for our free buck is when we visit a local playground and let the kids run free.

Set The Example

Lastly, the biggest thing you can do as a parent to keep your children away from devices is to do the same yourself. May be your child doesn’t know what the word hypocrite means, but believe me, they know one when they see one. There will be less of a push back to the no device or limited device time rule if they see that you plan to engage with them and make good use of that vacation time.

So challenge yourself this summer and enjoy your travels in the moment with your family. Take a break from the devices right along with the kids and see where it takes you.