By Christopher Elliott
The Washington Post
If you’re planning to leave your smartphone or laptop at home when you go on vacation this month, you might want to think again. The unplugged getaway is so last year.
More than 62 percent of travelers say they plan to check their work-related email and voice mail, according to a new poll by the travel agency network Travel Leaders Group. Just 37 percent of respondents say they unplug, a precipitous drop from three years ago, when more than half of travelers said that they would go deviceless while they were away.
Disconnecting is passé, which is bad — and good. It’s bad in the sense that people really need a break. In fact, the right to disconnect is recognized by some forward-looking employers, including Mercedes-Benz. Earlier this year, France enacted a law that required companies with more than 50 workers to set hours when employees are not supposed to send or answer emails. But it’s good in the sense that a connection can be a powerful tool that can improve your vacation.
Jessica Tsukimura can’t do without her connections because of the unavoidable reality that the world doesn’t stop when you’re away. Tsukimura, who just returned from Italy with her husband, says they both work in jobs where they must be reachable, “no matter what.” She’s the head of the New York office of a global branding and design agency; he works for a hedge fund.
“We brought one company phone and a personal phone,” she says. If there hadn’t been talk of a laptop ban, they would have taken their computer, too.
“We both checked emails once daily and texted colleagues as necessary,” she says. “But then we shut down our business communications. This ensured the vacation remained a vacation.”
That’s the interesting thing about disconnecting in 2017: People say they want to do it. A recent Hilton Hotels & Resorts survey found that 77 percent of travelers say they prefer a vacation where they are able to unplug from their life. But, ultimately, they don’t. And when they fail, only 10 percent say they’re embarrassed about obsessively checking their smartphones and laptops.
That’s not a real vacation, says Samantha Ettus, author of “The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe For Success and Satisfaction.”
“Just like you recharge your phone, you need to recharge your own battery with a real tech break,” says Ettus, who specializes in offering corporations advice on work-life balance. “But you can’t rely on your company or colleagues to set your boundaries for you. That’s your job.”
Yet even Ettus acknowledges that a complete disconnect — say, leaving the phone home — may not be possible in 2017. Instead, she advises choosing a time of day to check email and messages and then closing your laptop for the evening. Keep the office work contained where possible.
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t check messages at all. Consider what happened to Anna Beyder, who works for an Atlanta-based technology company. On a recent vacation, she decided to log into her email account — and regrets it.
“I opened an email that I thought was totally harmless only to find out that it said that my office was relocating to another city and I was being assigned to a new manager,” she says. Although it didn’t ruin her vacation, “I wish I hadn’t opened it,” she says.
But it’s far from a perfect world. In a sense, leisure travelers like Beyder and Tsukimura are becoming more like business travelers, who don’t even go to the bathroom without a device. I’m not making that up. A new Skyroam survey says that 98 percent of road warriors use a smartphone “at all times.” Nearly 60 percent use a tablet computer and 70 percent carry a laptop computer.
In addition to being unrealistic, unplugged vacations deprive travelers of a valuable tool: Your device can help you resolve problems quickly and get better customer service.
Laura Barta says she uses her phone to get directions when she’s on vacation. Unplugging would mean leaving Google Maps at home. And because she’s gone for two weeks at a time, it also helps to keep a smartphone if “anything really urgent” comes along, says Barta, who runs a toy company in Hershey, Pa.
Perhaps the best reason to carry a device, even on vacation, is that it can quickly remedy a customer service problem. Travel industry employees — particularly airline workers — sometimes recoil in fear when you point a cellphone camera at them. The last thing they want is for their often rude behavior to be captured on video and distributed via social media. And a Facebook or Twitter post is often enough to get a service problem resolved in real time.
Of course, I don’t recommend trying this every time an airline or hotel employee gives you an answer you don’t like. But isn’t it nice to know you can record an incident if it happens?
Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.