A family vacation doesn’t necessarily guarantee family time together these days. With smartphones and social media taking over our kids’ lives while the rest of us check emails every five minutes, it has become harder to unplug and reconnect—even on vacation. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Use these tactics to reconnect with your family on your next trip.
1. Go Old School Together
Board games and card games are some of the best—and easiest—ways to reconnect as a family. It may also bring out your competitive side. Watching your six-year-old crush his big brother at Chutes N’ Ladders for the first time—victory dance and all—will have you giggling for the rest of the trip. There are even small, magnetic versions that pack up to fit perfectly in a backpack.
UNO also packs up easily to take anywhere, and can be played at the local diner over eggs and bacon in the morning. UNO even comes in a younger kid’s version, UNO Junior, so siblings of all ages can play. Ready to step it up a notch? Grab UNO’s sister game, DOS.
Need more games to play together? Here are a few of our favorites that hit just about every age group:
2. Don’t Allow Devices at the Table
One tradition that has taken over the table is handing the kids a device to entertain them at restaurants. As a group, we parents need to say “no more.” Instead, it’s time to reconnect with our kids through conversation when we are out to eat. This means parents and kids put away the devices and don’t pick them up again until after they leave the restaurant. Need a little help? Everyone has to put their device in mom’s purse, or leave them in the car, taking only one phone for emergencies.
Need help keeping little ones occupied while you wait for food? Bring a bag off goodies, including crayons, activity books, tiny puzzles and magnetic games that the whole family can play together. Put it all in a pouch so your “restaurant bag” is ready to grab every time you go out. This handy bag is also a lifesaver during doctor’s office visits, on planes and even while you wait for your flight to take off.
3. Pick A Property That Forces You to Unplug
Not everyone can unplug on their own. Sometimes you need a little help. Properties such as Pine Ridge Dude Ranch in New York only offer Wi-Fi in common areas, forcing families to get out of their rooms and explore the property. More often than not, they aren’t going to hop on their devices; they will be saddling up a horse or trying their hand at archery.
You don’t have to leave the big city to unplug, either. Many hotels across the country are offering digital detox packages with activity incentives to help you reconnect as a family, including Elements Boston Seaport District and the Renaissance Pittsburgh. Perks can include kayak rental and biking vouchers, as well as new recipes to try out together in your hotel room kitchen. Radisson Blu Mall of America even has a Fort Blu Kids Camping experience that will transform your hotel room into a camping experience, starry night sky and all.
4. Go International to Slow Down Screen Time
Sometimes you just need to leave the country to come together as a family. Although you could add an international plan to your cell service, don’t. Only rely on Wi-Fi while you’re abroad so your kids can’t assess social media or their friends while you are out and about. This will force everyone to be more present and not checking their status update for the hundredth time.
We can’t place all of the blame on the kids either. Parents, work will survive without you for a week or two. This is the time to be with your kids. See the Colosseum for the first time through your child’s eyes. Ask them questions about how they think it was made and what the gladiators really thought of fighting there. These are the memories your kids will grow up holding onto, not watching you get frustrated because something went wrong at work and you weren’t there to deal with it.
5. Get Off the Grid and Back to Nature
Camping is one of those tried and true methods that brings us all together. After you all set up the tent, the kids can collect fire wood together while mom and dad start prepping dinner. Everyone has to work together or the camping trip will fall apart and fast.
As a young girl, entire Barbie wonderlands would emerge over the weekend, taking over our campsite as my sister and I built elaborate stories that stretched beyond our little plot, down to the river and into the mountains. My parents were able to relax while our imaginations took over—no digital devices needed. Pack up those action figures, dolls and plastic swords for some epic battles among the trees. We hear there are a few trolls out there that need to be found. Or maybe it was a fairy or two.
6. Trek into One of the Country’s National Parks
National parks are one of the best places to visit when you want to reconnect with your kids. Why? There is no cell service! There is also no Wi-Fi. Yes, your kids could still take photos with their phone or play games, but chances are, they won’t care once they see California’s Yosemite Falls for the first time, or you get them hiking across the rocky shores of Acadia National Park in Maine.
There is a very good reason that our country protects these lands, and it isn’t just because they are Instagram ready backdrops for the fashionistas. This is where families come to play and reconnect in our most basic human form—discovering something we never saw before or knew existed.
Now that you have your arsenal of ideas to reconnect offline with your kids, will you take the plunge? We promise it isn’t as scary as it sounds. Who knows—you may even learn something knew about your kids today. The best part of reconnecting is finding out how amazing your kid truly is as a person. Oh, and allowing them to see what an amazing person their parents are, too.
Keryn Means lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her husband, two boys and one fluffy little pup. Keryn is an award-winning travel journalist with bylines on Thrillist.com, Travel Age West and more, and loves to talk travel on ABC’s Good Morning Washington. You can find Keryn dragging her two boys around the DC area most days and across the globe several times a year. Follow along on their adventures on WalkingOnTravels.com and on Instagram.