The Downside of Free Hotel Wi-Fi 35051

Many hotel chains (and practically all of the budget brands) no longer charge for Wi-Fi. Last month, Hyatt started giving the service to all guests, while Marriott and the Starwood brands (like Westin and Sheraton) provide it at no cost to loyalty club members who book through the hotel website or via phone. When I first read this news, I thought that it's about time. Paying $15 a day to connect definitely felt like a rip-off.

But as I think more about it, I worry that this new freebie will make it harder for families to unplug when they're on vacation. My family, for one, is terrible at it. Like 38 percent of Americans, according to one survey, my husband and I usually check our work emails when we're away. Watching us, I suppose, our daughter has gotten in the habit of asking for the Wi-Fi password at check-in so she can hook up her iPod. Sometimes, she's texting a friend before we even open the door to the room. On our last trip, at a hotel with a free connection, I realized how pathetic it was when all three of us were on our devices instead of watching the sunset!

When hotels charged to connect, I could say, "We're not buying that" and my daughter didn't complain. I wasn't on my phone as much because I didn't want to wipe out my monthly data plan in a single weekend. Now that Wi-Fi is free, it's up to us to set limits—and an example. It's going to be hard. Some friends have told me that they allow kids to use their devices only during a certain time, such as in the morning while they're waiting for the rest of the family to be ready. Others restrict how their device can be used, only permitting it to take pictures or video, for instance.

Of course, I'll need more self-control too! I've heard that some people delete their work email app (and their social media apps too) from their phones so they aren't as tempted to check in. Another friend thinks it's all in the timing. She starts family trips on a Saturday so by the time Monday rolls around, her mind is already in "vacation mode" and the temptation to find out what's happening at the office isn't there. "The last vacation I started on Monday wasn't relaxing at all  because I got sucked into what was going on at work," she told me. Sigh.

Do you totally unplug on your trip? Do you let the kids use their devices on vacay? Tell me in the comments.

Karen Cicero is contributing travel editor at Parents magazine. Her only "unplugged" trip in the last several years was a Disney Cruise—because connecting at sea cost a small fortune. (Watch the video below for the fun activities on board.) Follow her on Twitter @karencicero.