Phone or Family: Who Are We Vacationing With?

As featured on Gaia Insights July 25, 2015 – –

As long as Gen X can remember, family vacation was a sacred time to bond, to play games like checkers, chess and Tripoley and to reminisce about really crazy antics from past vacations, usually by our parents, that would surely have some of us in jail today. What we long for is a simple vacation like the ones we took as kids, minus the WWE moves my brother practiced on me in the back of our Chevy station wagon with no seatbelts or locked doors. But as fun as these trips sound, this article isn’t about growing up in the 1970’s. It’s about Gen X growing up with technology in the early 21st century.

Most generations, especially Gen X with our ruthless tiger moms, anxious college bound  Gen Z, co-parenting and corporate stars, need to unplug from today’s lifestyle of screen addition, that comes with wine addiction and attention spans so short no one can recall anything, even if you’re not old.  So many of us seek solitude, an escape from all the uber parenting, uber planning, uber  texting and even the uber drivers who could capture our kids. Thus to most members of Gen X, one is not entirely on vacation if you spend most of your time working, texting or on social media.

Gen Y on the other hand view vacationing as a birthright.  They’re more inclined to spend money on vacations rather than possessions.  They see value in travel, particularly international journeys, and turn to social media sites to spread their excitement about travel to their peers and other generations.  They really cherish sharing travel info and photos with their Boomer parents who introduced them to a higher level of traveling, a level that they cannot give up as adults or as parents.  For Gen Y social media is a tool that allows Gen Y to achieve balance by simultaneously focusing on work and play without missing a beat of anything – socially, personally or professionally. That is why, during vacations, smart phones are always a priority.

Here’s what I want to know:  is it worth spending thousands of dollars on a family vacation if the family’s heads are buried in screens the entire time? Here’s what Gen X and Gen Y have to say.

From a Gen X perspective…

Balance Means Picking Your Status:  Are you Plugged In OR are you Unplugged?

Gen X sees social media and texting (“the phone”) as a frenemy:  we love it to be in touch with kids and friends but dislike it for all that it might deliver. Some Gen Xers are disciplined: on vacation they can stay off their phone all day until they get some downtime to check in with work, social media, and text with friends. Yet some are not always that disciplined, like me. So on my last vacation, I took a digital detox for four days and the experience was amazing. The vacation was much more enjoyable because I was in the moment slowly looking up to sky, out to the mountains and not down every minute.  I was so much more relaxed (except for the times I’d wrestle my kids for their phones). I spent more time with my family, I read books and I had great conversations with other phoneless people. I wasn’t taking photos the entire time (luckily someone else was) but it was interesting watching everyone take endless photographs. I realized that the phone’s constant delivery of stimulation is a trigger – yes for happiness through the connecting, but more so a trigger for stress through the demand for immediate reactions. To a Gen X, unplugging is a gift. For four days I saw the sky and not the screen, it was heavenly.

Planning the Gen X Family Vacation

To Gen Xers, vacations are a luxury with most taking 1-2 per year; I know many families that take one every few years.  We were raised by our frugal parents who taught us to save and travel economically if at all. We put cars and homes and college savings over vacations, taking very few trips and if we did they involved a station wagon and a US map. When Gen X does travel, we take more educational trips to help broaden our kids’ horizons and “build up the college resume”. In terms of planning the vacation, Gen X uses travel websites and Trip Advisor reviews over Facebook.  The majority of Gen X goes for the best deal and will spend hours, even days, planning an awesome trip for a better value. I have a group of friends that travel a lot and to save time, we share each other’s itineraries usually over wine, and celebrate the fact that someone has saved you about 12 hours and told you what to do and where to go. And the more you travel, the cheaper the trip.

Appreciating Concierge Services over WiFi

My family frequently travels to developing countries or quaint B&B’s in the woods, many of these hotels don’t have Wi-Fi in the rooms. And I love this because this lack of technology helps me unplug and also acts as my Mother’s helper. Here the kids use their phones less and I don’t have to supervise the time my kids spend on their phone. When we do have Wi-Fi, generally speaking, Gen X uses social media for a specific purpose with a specific intent such as making reservations, reading reviews about museums or restaurants, texting missing kids, posting some photos and checking in with work. However, if you’re at a WiFi Hotel and paying for a concierge, why spend hours searching the internet if a friendly knowledgeable person is 2 minutes away at the front desk? Most conciergesprovide better info and maps than a website any day and they normally don’t do heavy advertising. It drives me nuts when people won’t ask a human being anything, relying on Yelp reviews for everything from best toilets to best lobster in the area. Gen Z needs to practice their social human interaction skills and vacationing is a perfect opportunity.

Using Social Media Moderately

Perhaps because Gen X is older than Gen Y, we choose to “live in the moment”; as we approach 50, we’re appreciating every experience that we are alive, healthy and mentally able to enjoy. To some, including Gen X, that means tweeting and posting photos of what we see, the food we’re eating, and our new destination…and this is fun in moderation.  We are constantly blown away by social media so we enjoy learning new tricks by our Gen Z’s.  Personally, unless there’s an emergency, I try to use social media when I’m hanging out or alone, not in a crowd or with my family. Otherwise, what kind of role model am I?

All day it’s BZZZ and BING and the immediate grab…followed by “Where are we?”  Have you seen those families sitting around the expensive dinner table, with their heads practically in their laps typing fiercely on their phones with not one word said to each other? Weird.  Not my family. Yet I see my social teenagers becoming more addicted to their phones and Instagram and it worries me, especially on vacation where there are no set limits on their phone usage. While I support most of these social connections, I think phones should be limited to certain times of day- at home and on vacation.

Obviously I don’t believe it’s worth spending thousands of dollars on a vacation if we’re screening the entire time.  But we don’t. I’ve raised my kids with boundaries on screens and it must be working because today as teenagers they manage it themselves, with a few reminders of course.  What do we remember most about our vacations? Everything. But as parents and stressed out individuals, Gen X needs to be aware of our screen usage, especially on vacation, and consider unplugging for a “digital detox”.




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