How I Got My Family to Finally Unplug on Vacation

One of Parents' editors didn't think she could leave her phone behind for a weekend, but a family vacation changed her perspective. She shares what she learned. 
Courtesy of Julia Tortoriello

If you’re one of those moms whose kids say you spend too much time on your smartphone, I know exactly how you feel. My daughters, who are 9 and 7, are constantly asking me to put my phone down. In some families, the parents have to set screen-time limits. But in my house, my girls are the ones telling me no phones at the dinner table. Of course, there are times I'm not on my phone, but between work, taking photos, scheduling after-school activities, and keeping up with my social life, my phone is always nearby.

So when we booked a vacation to Clearwater, Florida at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach Hotel, my kids set one rule for me: no phones. And lucky for me, the hotel launched Reconnected, a Wyndham Grand Family Experience this summer, which encourages guests to unplug from technology in order to rekindle their family’s connection. I decided it was time for my phone addiction to end. 

As soon as I stepped into our room, I realized that the hotel really thought of everything when it came to keeping guests off of their phones and unplugged. Rooms contained a transparent locker large enough to hold several cell phones and tablets, with a timer in the lid used to set the time you want the devices to be “kidnapped” before closing it. Until then, the disconnection box cannot be opened.

After a few minutes of anxiety generated by wondering what would happen if someone needed to contact me for something important, or how I'm going to resist taking photos for my Instagram (or check on what I am “missing out on”), the fun began. And the program offered up a kit that helped me forget all about my electronics. The kit not only contained two Adventure Backpacks for the kids filled with a fox stuffed animal, coloring book, activity sheets, crayons, and a storybook, but also an Instax instant camera for me to use to photograph and print all the fun that ensued.

Courtesy of Julia Tortoriello

Down at the beach, my daughters used the buckets and shovels included in the kit to build sand castles by crystal-clear, warm waters (ranked by TripAdvisor as America´s No. 1 Beach) while keeping an eye out for dolphins and fish swimming in the sea. The weather was nice so we spent the day by the water and then headed to Ocean Hai, the hotel's restaurant and one of the city’s best dining options, to enjoy the view from the terrace. I barely remembered that my phone wasn't in my bag and never once thought about texts I could be missing. There was one moment my girls looked so pretty in front of the sunset that I wished I could have taken a picture with my phone to post, but instead I used the Instax camera. I ended up with a fun collage of instant photos to share with friends and family later. My girls loved the novelty of having instant photo prints. Once nighttime came, we watched "Beauty and the Beast" on a huge projector screen outside near the swimming pool. 

Courtesy of Julia Tortoriello

On the one day it rained, I thought there was no way I could leave the hotel without my phone. What would I do indoors for hours without checking in on social media or watching a video on YouTube? But the hotel provided us with a kit to build our own indoor fort inside the room. We were given plastic pieces that connected to each other and we had to build them to resemble a structure like a house, school, or castle. Flashlights and instructions for a shadow theater were also included in the kit.

By the time the trip was over, I couldn't believe I spent almost no time on my phone. And when I got home, I barely wanted to use it around my kids. I realized I enjoyed spending time with them without any distractions. In Clearwater, we had so much fun building the forts, playing on the beach, and swimming together. I even read more and found time to run several miles in the fitness room. Now that I'm back home, I'm more aware when I'm using my phone and more likely to put it down when my daughters are home. I can't promise my kids I will never use my phone at home again—I still have to plan their play dates, after all— but I do think I will compromise with phone-free dinners. 


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