How to plan a digital detox vacation

Are you reading this blog on your phone? Yes?

That’s no surprise. We are becoming slaves to our devices, checking phone messages, email and social media accounts day and night. Americans, especially, have a hard time leaving work behind when on vacation — if they take vacation at all.

If you can’t remember your last unplugged vacation, this article is for you!

As a travel writer, I feel like I’m always on. My kids know when we step through the doors of a hotel room, the first thing I do is take photos of the decor, the bathroom and the view. They wait before entering. When we eat at a restaurant, they know not to eat until I’ve gotten the perfect shot of their dinner.

With my kids’ help, I’m working through this right now, trying to strike a balance between blog life and family life. I am thankful for their input — and also, a little embarrassed that they are better at detoxing than I am.

What is a digital detox?
A digital detox vacation is simply one where you take a break from your devices for a few days and choose, instead, to live in the moment. Without screens in front of our faces, we actually focus on our travel buddies and regular old conversation. Instead of framing the perfect sunset photo, we watch with hushed breath as the sun slips away on the horizon. Instead of taking photos of dinner, we order and enjoy it before it gets cold!

Maybe the thought of leaving Facebook, email and texting for a few days makes you panic. I understand. Really, I do.

How will I navigate without my maps app? What if my husband/kids/dog sitter needs me? What if I need to calculate a tip? I can’t do that without my phone!

And photos — oh my gosh. How in the world will I remember what happened on vacation if I don’t photograph every. single. moment?!


Our parents survived vacation without smartphones and you can, too. It just takes a little old-fashioned vacation planning to succeed.

Before I get into the tips, though, I want to assure you that despite my attachment to my smartphone, our family does practice digital detox, albeit in small amounts, every time we’re together. Having adult children and teens in the mix, I learned a long time ago that if we didn’t intentionally unplug, we’d all coexist without ever interacting.

Our first detox happened on a cruise. It helps that cruise ship wifi is so expensive we won’t buy it! Our first day at sea, we tuck the phones into the room safe and walk away. Easy peasy. That’s a forced digital detox.

A beach vacation is just as easy! Just follow the following tips.

Planning a Digital Detox Vacation

7 tips to plan a digital detox in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

1. Before you even go on vacation, plan your itinerary! The Alabama Gulf Coast Vacation Guide makes it easy to plan ahead. The guide even suggests itineraries for different interests like birding or the Civil War trail. You don’t have to schedule your vacation minute by minute, but it helps to include things like a restaurant list and an activities and attractions list. We use a vacation “bucket list” for each trip to decide what we want to do. We even use paper!

2. Plan ahead at work. If you don’t take control of your vacation time, your employer won’t do it for you. Talk to co-workers about ongoing projects and make sure anything time-sensitive is being handled by someone else. Set an auto-responder for your work email so people know you’re away, not ignoring them. The more you do proactively to prepare at work, the more you can unplug.

3. When you arrive, lock the phone in the room safe! Really, you can do it! Just lock those phones up and head out to do something fun. On Alabama’s Gulf Coast, no doubt you’ll be staying near something fun to do. If you’re staying beachfront, head out to the beach and take a walk along the shoreline. If you’re staying at the Gulf State Park, take a walk or a bike ride on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. Or get some ice cream and toast to a great vacation with the kids! Kick off your digital detox with an easy activity like this and rediscover your family time!

4. Trust the locals! One of the best things about Alabama’s Gulf Coast is the local commitment to the community. It makes this destination stand out from many places I’ve visited. So don’t rely on Yelp reviews for restaurant choices, ask the locals! They know the best place to get whatever it is you want to eat.

5. Get active. Let’s face it, you can’t easily ride a bike with a phone in one hand. You can’t cast a fishing line with only one hand. And have you ever tried to build a sandcastle while scrolling through Twitter? No way! Keep the phone locked up in that safe and get outside to enjoy the beautiful beach — and family — around you.

6. Treat yourself to something special. We took a charter boat ride with Sail Wild Hearts on our first trip to Orange Beach. It’s still one of my favorite days ever! Our tour was six hours long, and I took several photos (for my article). But many, many times, I tucked the phone away in our beach bag and simply enjoyed the experience with my husband and daughter. We laughed. We saw dolphins. We kayaked. We talked. We made lifelong memories.

7. Recognize the temptation to check in. To get through your first digital detox, set guidelines for the whole family.

  • Maybe do a digital detox weekend rather than a whole week.
  • Or schedule digital time during vacation lulls. But stick to the limits you set and don’t break them. Having adult children, I know their friends are important. So we allow them to check in while we get ready to go to dinner. Knowing they can check in with friends, they don’t resent being cut off from them the rest of the day.
  • If you “need” to take photos, set your phone to airplane mode and agree to a limit for the day. Don’t try to capture every moment on a screen, but in your heart.

We’re wired to check our phones, computers and tablets 24/7, but electronics are no substitute for family, conversation and real memories. Take a digital detox — for a weekend or a whole week — and enjoy the simple things in life. After all, they’re the important things.

The beach, with all its built-in fun and glorious scenery, is a great place to take a digital detox. Visit Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism to plan your unplugged vacation today.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Vacation Guide


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