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Tech Free, Unplugged Vacations Becoming More Popular with Travelers
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Tech free, unplugged vacation at Mount Blue in Weld, Maine
Tom and Anne Kerrigan, of East Bridgewater, Mass., enjoy an unplugged vacation at Mt. Blue State Park in Weld, Maine

Article by Eric H.


Imagine a world without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, FaceTime, email and texting.

Sounds impossible, given reports that the average person looks at a cell phone 150 times a day, spends eight hours on Facebook each month, and teens texting an average of 60 minutes per day.

Although these forms of technology are, for better or worse, a major part of our daily lives more people are taking a vacation break from cell phones, texting and other technology devices by plugging into unplugged vacations. For these back-to-the-good-old days travelers now into technology detox, gone are the days of spending more time boasting online or via texting about their vacations instead of enjoying the moment. Many groups, couples, families and singles are indeed going cold turkey and leaving the Smartphone, and other gadgets at home as a means of a more stress-free vacation. Books and board games replace Kindle and Nintendo, real cameras displace cell phone cameras, and face-to-face conversations and letter and postcard-writing win over social media talk. Campfires are in and Firefox is out, while mountain and forest explorers trump Internet Explorer.

Tom Kerrigan, of East Bridgewater, is an unplugged vacation believer.

"(We spent) five days camping at Mt Blue State Park (in Weld Maine)," said Tom Kerrigan. "No cell phone signal, no power or water except what you bring with you or get from them. We had battery power for lights and running water in the camper. Thought I was going to go crazy without my "i" devices but you know what? It was so relaxing! Can't wait to do it again!"

An increasing number of hotels and other lodging establishments are tuning into low tech vacation options -- also known as "braincations" -- for their customers. Marriott Resorts has implemented, in select Carribean and Mexico locations, "braincations"  where cell phones, iPads and laptops are off limits in public areas.  MSN.com reports that the Chebeague Island Inn in Chebeague Island, Maine, offers 21 unplugged rooms, thus allowing travelers more time to explore the area's  natural scenic coastal beauty. StoweToday.com  writes that Hosmer Point in Craftsbury, Vt., offers a tech-free two week summer camp experience for kids ages nine to 15.

Linda Carley, of Walpole, Mass., has enjoyed tech free vacations before tech free vacations were cool!

"Where we vacationed at Long Lake in Naples, Maine, for many years, we had cable but that was it," said Carley. "Minimal use of cell phones and totally no internet. It was a very old-fashioned vacation. We went with two other families and the kids, once they were school age and could swim, could run throughout the camp by themselves without an adult always watching them. When the boys were young, Danny and his best friend (also Danny) would be the drill sergeants and put the younger boys through 'basic training,' crawl down to the lake, swim to the raft with your (toy) gun over your head etc. As they got older, they would stay up all night by the fire talking. Some nights, they played poker (very funny, as they would put sunglasses on to look like the mafia.) Wonderful place for a family vacation, especially with friends."

The moral of this low tech travel story is to control your vacation. Don't let it control you. When technology controls us, we lose the magic of the travel moment. Those priceless travel moments don't grace us everyday in our urban and suburban lives.  With that said, here are living proof examples from our social media followers (I know, there's a bit of irony there!) on the virtues of tech free vacations...

Twitter Feedback on Unplugged Vacations (Source: @NewEnglandInfo

Jenn Smith, 31, a reporter for The Berkshire Eagle (and on Twitter at JennSmith_Ink) in Pittsfield, Mass., has a lengthy relationship with technology free travel. Here, she tells us about why she enjoys unplugged vacations:

The first unplugged vacation I took was back in either 2005 or 2006. Three of my girlfriends from high school and I booked a cabin for the weekend and drove from the Berkshires to Lake George, N.Y.

Some time during the ride up, someone suggested we take of the watches, shut down the cell phones, and go without TV. Since we all did music and theater together in high school, turning off the radio was not an option. I think we did it just to genuinely enjoy each others' company without distractions.

When we arrived at our rental, we literally put all the watches and devices in the drawer of a nightstand and shut the nightstand inside a closet. I had to laugh, though. Every time we got into the car to drive into town for restaurants or shops the first thing we all did was look at the clock on the car radio screen. We also stopped into an arcade one afternoon, though more for the nostalgia of Skeeball and the shooting gallery vs. video games. Still, we did pretty well keeping unplugged and did everything from read, play board games, play in the snow, baked bread and cooked -- things we may not have done if we were attached to screens.

In 2008, I took a vacation with friends to Ireland, so we shut down the phone for practicality, to not incur international roaming charges. We never even bothered looking for an Internet cafe. We were having way too much fun among the farms, the islands and the pubs, and occasionally getting lost.

In 2010, I kept unplugged while camping at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire to attend the Highland Games for a weekend. I also turned off my phone during a road trip to Virginia and a volunteering trip to Haiti that year.

Was it a challenge becoming unplugged while on vacation? As a journalist, I'm online, plugged in and in front of a screen for the majority of my days and often into the night. Social media in this industry is a 24/7 affair. I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter and Facebook. Taking care of a dog is less maintenance.

Though I've had my successes vacationing unplugged, I've also had my epic failures. There were several trips to Cape Cod — where I have family and where my college friends and I vacation every other year — that I brought the laptop and my notebooks and had to miss bike rides, beach time or other fun stuff because I was racing to meet a deadline for an editor back home. Internet access on the Cape can be trying. I found myself sitting outside of closed libraries, searching for a Honey Dew Donuts and commandeering corners of guest house common areas as my own workspace. It made me feel like a lousy friend and family member to have my attention diverted like that. I also felt exhausted.

This year, 2013, I vowed never to go that route again. In January, my friend and I went to New Orleans. As a teacher, she had some papers to correct and I had one story to finish, which I did in the first 90 minutes upon our arrival. After that, the only electronic device I kept on me was my camera. Even with that, I sometimes silently told myself to not scramble to get the shot but just to relax and watch things happen and commit the image of that moment to memory. I hadn't felt that relaxed and happy after a vacation since that first trip to Lake George.

If the idea (of a technology-free vacation) is suggested, I think people follow it pretty well, because you hold each other accountable. Typically though, I unplug for myself. Also new to me this year was designating "Sundays Unplugged," something I started doing for myself back in the spring. I stay offline and turn my mobile off. I telling people so beforehand (in case of an emergency). I also don't set the alarm clock on Sundays. I've found I get up on my own before 9 a.m.; spend more time cooking and baking; get outside more, read more, and overall accomplish more things, whether it's house chores, hobbies or successfully securing quality time with friends and family. Sundays Unplugged typically go from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., though sometimes I start on Saturday night or go the full 24 hours on Sunday.

You become more of a social learner and you experience things with all your senses. Most recently, in New Orleans, I'd get up early, even after being out half the night, to go for a jog around the French Quarter (and I'm not really a runner). I did it as a way to wake up and to orient myself with a new town. I got to see the contrast between touristy nights of beads and boozing and blue collar mornings of cleaning crews and people heading to work. I also learned how long it took to get to every French bakery in the area and what was on the menu.

When I go to the Cape now, even though I've been going there forever, I take more time to talk with locals, whether it's the guy who runs my favorite breakfast spot down the street or asking the staff at Cape Cod Beer Co. about their next experimental brew. I take new routes on walks and bike rides. I let myself be a tourist and clip funbook coupons for mini-golf with my family. I learn so much from taking it all in more fully that people ask me for advice all the time about where to go and what to do, even if I'm a tourist. (Ex. - Met a guy who was staying at a hostel. Gave him a tip on some places to eat. Said it was the best food he had since he had been there. I wouldn't have know about these places from just looking them up online. I asked locals.) It makes me feel good and more connected to the places I travel. 

I'm not a hater and I do like my technology and social media. What I love more is letting my instincts, interests and senses help me decide what to do versus a tweet, post or the GPS. By being unplugged, I've become more self-reliant. I've learned to trust myself and have reignited my sense of adventure and my spirit and curiosity for exploring new things. Plus, in the end, it makes for much more interesting Facebook posts.

Steve Saleeba, web content producer at CBS Boston (and can be found on Twitter at TheSteveDuJour, lives in Walpole, Mass. In this question and answer session, Saleeba revealed how he first became interested in technology free vacations, as well as the benefits of such a vacation for his family:

Q. Why did you decide to take an unplugged vacation?
A: It’s the burnout factor. I work in a business where we constantly need to be plugged in. It’s important to know what’s going on at all times, especially with so many ongoing stories.
 
Q: What kind of unplugged vacations have you taken and where?
A: My wife’s family has a tiny place (400 sq ft) in Wells, Maine, where we’ve done a few shorter unplugged vacations (three to four days).  There’s no cable or internet there, and we’re familiar with the area. For activities, there’s cycling, hiking, kayaking, inviting downtown areas in Kennebunkport and Ogunquit, and there are plenty of beaches in the area (also the Marginal Way in Ogunquit), so it’s easy enough to find something to do and to stay off the phone. (Disclaimer: we do carry our phones with us in case of emergency).
 
I’ve also done some camping up in Bar Harbor.  We pretty much had the whole trip planned out before we left so we wouldn’t need to look anything up while we were there.
 
Outside of New England, we visited Iceland last Spring. It’s a 4.5 hr. flight, and it’s is a perfect place to turn it off. Reykjavik is small and easy to navigate. Beyond Reykjavik, the country is still extremely rural and the landscapes are breathtaking.
 
Q: Are you one to typically use communications devices a lot? Was it a challenge becoming unplugged while on vacation?
A: I use communication devices all the time. The first day of unplugged can be really tough. You get in the habit of reaching for your phone whenever you’re bored. The key is to keep busy.
 
Q: Was it a challenge for family members to spend a vacation unplugged?
A: I traveled with my wife and toddler. My wife isn’t required to be online all the time, so it was probably even easier for her to unplug. Oh, we also travel with my dog to Maine a lot. He’s always asking for the iPad.
 
Q:What type of things did you do on vacation to keep busy and to displace any temptation to use a communication device?
A: Like I mentioned, cycling, hiking, and kayaking were all very good distractions. We’ve brought our dog on a number of occasions, so we’ll take him to a beach or to a park where he can entertain us with his dog antics. We’ll do some walking, window shopping, eating, drinking, and whatever else we can come up with to keep us busy.  I’m a huge fan of sitting (or fishing) on the jetty at the mouth of Wells Harbor. Two years ago, we were out sightseeing and stumbled on an open house. It was a mansion on the water in Ogunquit. We had fun checking it out.

Q:Would you take an unplugged vacation again? If so, why?
A: Absolutely. It’s a great way to decompress and de-stress. The only downside is not knowing the weather forecast. That can get interesting if you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Maybe ask the locals about the weather before you head out on any crazy adventures.

Facebook Feedback on Unplugged Vacations (Source: VisitingNewEngland Fan Page)

Taylor Robert Wilkey My friends and I go camping in one of the Massachusetts' state parks. On the first day we all put our phones in a bag in a locked trunk and none of us were allowed to open the trunk or the bag until we left a week later. it is amazing how at peace you feel once that piece of tech is out of your life.

Bill Ackerman A day in Vermont where service is only in about half the towns and a couple of hours at The Vermont Country Store where no cell exists is a welcome break from cell phones stuck to everyone's heads and thumbs!

Sherri Edwards Keen We love to go on cruises. When we get on the cruise, we lock our phones up in the room safes. It is wonderful not having that phone with you every minute of the day. So relaxing!

Jane Fanning Brown I took my daughter on a cruise three years ago. She was 16 and was furious, before going, that she'd have no cell phone nor internet. As we left the harbor, that all melted away and she was relaxed and happy all week. She even laughed at herself when, out of habit, she'd go for her cell phone to check messages!

Stephanie Pruneau We just got back from Maine a couple days ago and we rented a townhouse without thinking there was no WI FI like in hotels so my tablet stayed in my suitcase and our cell phones were off since we are from Canada and don't have an American plan. We just enjoyed listening to the waves, the seagulls and spending time with our kids without checking emails or text messages....for the first time, we've had a REAL vacation, so peaceful.

Poornima Apte I only do unplugged vacations. What's the point of a vacation if you're going to be checking email and getting pinged every minute just like you are back at home?

Ernie Paciorkowski Go back to basics...camping in Northern Maine, no service even if you wanted to. Kids learn about the outdoors and you meet the nicest people around campfires at night.

Daniel Babineau We went on a cruise, no internet, no cell, no computer, most relaxing vacation I ever had.

It's a no-brainer when on vacation: focus on each other and live for the moment. There's a time and place for everything. if possible, put the tech stuff on hold and just enjoy your low tech vacation. So many vacationers are truly discovering the virtues of such meaningful, relaxing travel!

Editor's note: do you have a tech free travel experience you'd like to share? Write us at feedback@visitingnewengland.com!

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