Our family took a two-week road trip through Washington and Oregon this summer. We traveled with friends of ours—another family of five—and spent most of the trip camping and exploring state and national parks.
One of the things we were looking forward to in our travels was getting away from technology. Though we’re certainly not on the extreme end of screen use range, we’re a fairly tech savvy family. My husband and I both work from home on the computer, and we make use of technology in our homeschooling. Our kids play on our iPads (with time limits, and largely games that I would consider somewhat educational, but not always) and Minecraft is a favorite down-time activity. Oh, and our six-year-old can beat all of us at Wii bowling and tennis. So yeah, getting away from screens for two weeks sounded like a great idea.
And overall, it was. It was great to watch our kids hike, build driftwood rafts, and play cards under the pines all day. But I realized on this trip that truly getting away from all technology is not only difficult, but really not all that desirable.
Here are some tech tools that we chose not to ditch, and which made our travels both possible and more enjoyable:
I couldn’t take two full weeks off from the magazine I work for, so I worked on the computer during our long drives with hubby’s wi-fi hotspot. I did manage to keep the computer use almost exclusively to the car, so it really didn’t affect our family time that much. (Unless you count the hours in the car as family time. We spent a year traveling the country, and my feeling at this point is that long freeway drives are simply to be endured by whatever means necessary. Road noise and stiff bodies don’t make for the best family bonding time.)
Our phones have become invaluable tools for travel. I honestly don’t remember how we got places before Google Maps, and I can’t imagine trying to do a long road trip without it. The Find Me Gluten Free app helped us find restaurants where our gluten-free family members could eat. Texting our friends in the car behind us to coordinate bathroom stops was a simple but huge bonus. We even got an app that functioned as a walkie-talkie to be able to chat back and forth. The music we listened to in the car all came through our phones. I shot photos out the window with my phone as we drove down the stunningly gorgeous highway 101 on the Oregon Coast. Phones can be abused, sure, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Speaking of smartphones, I brought my fancy camera with us on most of our hikes, but my husband’s iPhone 6 takes amazing photos. I ended up using his phone as much as I used my Canon. The battery suckage is an issue when you take a lot of photos, though, so it was nice to make use of the Mophie charging phone case, which doubled the battery life.
Our little bluetooth speaker came in handy one evening when we were camping at Yosemite. It was our friends’ 15th wedding anniversary, and they had to spend it with us and all of the kids at a group campsite. How very romantic. 🙂 We did what we could to make it a little special, which was basically playing Ray Lamontagne on the Mini Jambox during dinner. The Jambox also came in handy during our stays at a couple of houses with friends for some background music. (We’ve grown quite fond of that little box. AT&T sent it to me to try out and it’s been awesome.)
Somehow, we managed to do all of our driving on this trip without the kids watching any movies, but we did make use of the DVD drive on my computer during a couple of downtimes. On the nights we weren’t camping, it was great to have the option of the younger kids watching a movie in another room while the older folks watched something a bit more sophisticated. (The Jambox actually came in handy for that, too, since the sound isn’t great on my Mac.) And what’s a vacation without at least one movie? No need to go completely Luddite here.
So, yeah, we did a mostly tech-free vacation. There were lots of days we didn’t use our phones for anything but photos. (Admittedly, that was because there wasn’t any reception, but I’m still claiming it for righteousness.) But it wasn’t totally tech-free, and I wouldn’t want it to be.
The way I figure it, technology has become an integral part of our lives, and that’s not bad in and of itself. Moderation in all things, right? I think as long as we take reasonable breaks from time to time and teach our kids to see technology more as a tool than toy, we’re in good shape.