by Carmen Harris, Contributing Writer
“Charge.” At six letters and one simple syllable, it’s one of the most important words in the English language.
“Charge” has several meanings. Today, at least in certain sections of the world, it automatically brings to mind images of tiny battery-shaped icons partially filled with opaque color. The Oxford Dictionary lists at least six definitions, but the social use of the term could easily be summed up this way:
charge: v. the act of plugging an electronic device into an outlet so that it can store enough electricity to be used
ex: I need to charge my cell phone several times a day.
rel.: charging, charger
see also: wifi
“Charge” is integral to the way many of us live. Think about it. The last time you were standing in line at the grocery store, how many of the people standing with you were texting, reading, or scrolling down a screen? Recall the disappointment you feel when walking into your favorite coffee shop only to find that all of the outlets are occupied. Think of how your children would react on a family trip without their devices fully powered-up and ready for the ride.
The Tesdall family thought about that last one. Then, they made it happen. On purpose.
Matthew and Angela Tesdall, owners of Family Time Vacation Rentals, take their bonding experiences seriously. With five children ranging in age from 6 to 16, and an 83-year old live-in mother, it’s obvious that family is first for the Tesdalls. Avid travelers, they believe that family getaways help them keep it that way. Recently, the family took a trip unlike any other they had embarked on before. For two months, all 8 members of the clan left their home in Oregon, packed into a van, and drove through New Zealand and Australia. Much of the way, they were without regular access to outlets or the internet.
So, what did the Tesdalls do when their screens went dark? As you might be able to imagine, it wasn’t always a pretty picture. However, at the end of the trip, the family felt more connected. Ironically, when they powered-up their family values when they powered-down their electronics.
Wondering how to unplug your family so that you can get the most out of your next trip together? Want the benefits of disconnecting from technology for yourself and your loved ones? Here are 6 ways to unplug from technology, with a few tips from the Tesdalls. Whether your family is at home or on the road, incorporating a few of these into your life will help your family be happier, get to know each other better, and feel more unified.
How to Unplug: 6 Tactics to Try With Your Kids
1. Share a Meal
Eating together is some of the most common advice for family relating that you can get. Still, for all of the promotion and benefits of this idea, it’s rarely achieved. Why? Perhaps many people are just over-thinking it.
Family dinner doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t even have to be around a table. Recalling meals from their two-month adventure abroad, Angela says “I carried a soft cooler for food, and I made food in the van. I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches right in the vehicle.” When shared with family, a low-key meal can serve as a connecting point for siblings who are disconnected from wifi. Even without plates, figuring out how to unplug can be as simple as the time-honored family tradition of breaking bread together.
Considering the possibility of being away from the internet for long stretches of time, Angela and Matthew knew that they would still have to find ways for their five children to process the experience. Instead of allowing them to chronicle the journey on social media, they bought them journals. Each of the children wrote in his or her own journal every day, giving them a way to understand the experience at their own level. Being that the kids were missing several weeks of school, it was also an academic activity that helped emphasize the fact that this was not a vacation, but an exercise in experiential learning.
3. Get Active
When considering how to unplug your family, don’t underestimate the importance of getting active. Fun activities that involve moving your body are great bonding experiences. They’re also an excellent substitute for our electronic addictions. Even with all the time spent on the road, the Tesdall family found plenty of ways to get moving during their trip. Walking local trails and stopping for a game of tennis were a couple of the ways they got hearts pumping and faces smiling during the trip. A lesson in how to unplug doubled as experience in creating a healthy lifestyle.
Exercise can help your family beat the no-wifi blues, too. Scientific studies show that scrolling through our phones releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives us a sense of pleasure and enjoyment. Naturally, when the stimulus (a cell phone, laptop, tablet, etc.) is taken away, the chemical is no longer released. This can lead to an actual withdrawal, as well as pouty faces and a little whining. Fortunately, movement is another way to increase the production of dopamine and can bring your family back to those happy feelings. Especially if you’re cutting the wires cold turkey, exercise can be a wonderful way to ease the withdrawal that may ensue.
4. Get Lost
Another way to jumpstart your family’s happiness hormones and kick the cords is to embrace a sense of adventure. When you’re deciding how to unplug, consider turning off your GPS and winging it. The experience will lead you to be more present and mindful of your surrounding. It also just might take you to some beautiful places you’ve never seen before.
The Tesdalls didn’t just jump across the borders without a map, but they do make a regular practice of heart-led road trips stateside. Angela describes one such adventure the family took right after the birth of their son Austin. “Austin was two weeks old, and [Matthew] says, ‘We’re just going to go to California for the weekend. I say ‘Yay! We’re going on a weekend getaway!’ Then he takes a wrong turn and we end up up the [Washington] coast!” Matthew’s response: “I’ve always wanted to drive the Pacific Coast Highway!” They spent two weeks driving up the coast!
You can achieve a similar experience by refusing to overschedule your family trip. Leaving a little room for spontaneous fun can make a getaway more fun for everyone. Matthew talked about his planning process for their trip to the South Pacific. “I wanted to get the main pieces in, like the airline flights, dates of coming and going, [etc.]. We did plan some of the mainstays like in the bigger cities and such, but I really wanted to leave enough [of our time] open for spontaneity as we were exploring. I think it’s important to be able to adjust your schedules and experience life as it happens… You find something that’s unique and you [choose to] cut or go with it. We had so many experiences like this that were just fantastic!”
5. Talk to Strangers
This may not be the advice you would always give to your children, but on a family trip, it can be a nice way to get to know the people and culture of the place that you’re visiting. Matthew and Angela’s children had a great time interacting with the new faces that crossed their paths. Their teenagers were especially happy to branch out, at least after they got over a minor case of cold feet. Angela and Matt described how their teens took to this activity: “We were at a restaurant, and they were looking at some other teenagers… and we told them “Go say hi, go talk!” [Our son] Brandon thought it was kind of weird, but Sophia, our daughter, is a little more adventurous…. They ended up talking to these teens and then talking to another group. It turned out to be [Brandon’s] favorite day!”
In addition to teaching your kids a neat way to unplug by having an in-person conversation, talking to people they don’t know also instills confidence and helps them make valuable human connections.
6. Play Games Together
Family game time is bonding 101. At home or away, encouraging a little friendly competition can be a fun way to spend time together. You’ll barely notice your phones are off when you get into a good game!
When the family is ready for something a little more low-key, try a game that helps you get to know each other better. The Tesdalls used Table Talk Cards – a deck of questions designed to create meaningful conversations – in order to get the three generations gabbing. Questions like “What was your favorite childhood memory?” and “Where did you first have your favorite food?” reveal things you may not have known about the people you love the most, and help you create new memories to add to the bank. Find out what inquiring minds in your house want to know, and come up with questions to use when teaching your family how to unplug.
Finding Family Values During Your Next Adventure
When you figure how to unplug from your electronic devices as a team, you create space to develop the principles you want your family to live by. As Matthew and Angela will tell you, this was the core reason for their trip. “We realized with our busy schedules that we needed to slow things down a bit and get back to our core family values.”
They encourage other families to take similar journeys, as well. Their business, aptly named Family Time Vacation Rentals, provides amazing vacation homes in Southern Utah, one of the most gorgeous places to disconnect and enjoy nature. Leave your phones tucked away as you venture out to enjoy hiking at Bryce Canyon, or a day of fishing at Panguitch Lake. Take snowmobiles into the backcountry in wintertime, and never, ever miss an opportunity to stargaze. The night sky there is sure to put any filtered social media shot to shame. When you’re done, gather around the fire in your cozy rental for some family trivia. Even if your family getaway to Southern Utah only lasts a few days, the benefits of bonding there will linger for years! Contact Family Time Vacation Rentals today to schedule your trip to Southern Utah, and download their complimentary Vacation Guide to build your own adventure itinerary!