Congrats! You’ve reached the light at the end of the tunnel — the light being a poolside Mai Tai and the tunnel being nine long months of soul-crushing office work. Now here you are, sipping on bottomless tropical drinks and roasting under the sun, detaching as far as humanly possible from the debilitating stress that work constantly creates.
Man… you deserve this.
Then the inevitable happens — you receive an urgent Slack from your boss:
“Hey! Sorry to bother you while you’re on vacation, but the coffee machine is broken, and I was hoping you could fly back from Indonesia to take a look, or maybe you could just swing through a coffee shop after you go through customs at the airport. I’ll take a grande caramel macchiato with whipped cream on the side, and I kinda need it before I head into this meeting in 10 minutes. Thanks!”
You could be halfway across the world and your phone will happily act as a digital railway, immediately delivering all the stresses you left back at home straight to your beach cabana. Not only does this totally interrupt the chillness of your vacation, the fact of the matter is, our phones cause enough stress to literally kill us. “The beauty of modern technology is that it allows so many people to work flexibly — we have the privilege of being able to base ourselves anywhere in the world and continue working,” explains Paul Healy, the man behind the Anywhere We Roam travel blog. “The downside of this technological advancement is that work is always with you, and the lines between vacation and office time are blurred. It’s a very good idea to detach from your devices so your brain understands that this is vacation time.”
Leaving your phone in the hotel room lockbox is the simplest way to do so. “It’s a brilliant idea to leave your phone in your hotel room to detach from work, the grid and any realities of home — for example, the news,” says Becca Siegel, of the travel and photo site Half Half Travel. “Sometimes we’ll leave our phones in our hotel room on purpose so we can learn the ropes of a new city without electronic maps as crutches, and so we can get by on our own in Spanish, Chinese or Hebrew.” She does recommend, however, still bringing along some kind of camera to capture the local sites.
If you’re a phone addict and leaving your phone behind feels like abandoning your child, there are also less drastic measures that can help you keep your chill on vacation. “I don’t think it serves anyone to be that extreme,” says Jodi Ettenberg, who’s traveled the world for a decade, documenting her journeys on Legal Nomads. “You can temporarily take your work’s email app off your phone, you can put your phone in airplane mode for X amount of time or you can turn off all notifications. I personally read a lot on my phone — and take photos with it, too — so I wouldn’t want to leave it behind. But that doesn’t mean I have to be tethered to it.”
I know, the thought of leaving your phone behind — or even shutting down your Slack and email notifications — can be nerve-racking. But you’re strong, and you can overcome that anxiety. “When I was a lawyer, there were times when I was expected to answer emails, even if I was away,” Ettenberg explains. “Anxiety is best mitigated in advance: Make sure your work has reasonable expectations of what you can or can’t do, then make sure you let yourself stick to them. So if your work knows to call for an emergency, instead of email, keep reminding yourself when you automatically go to check your work email, ‘No, we’re not doing that this week. They’ll call me if they really need me.’”
Devin Feldman, who recently spent a year traveling around Southeast Asia, has a similar approach. “I definitely understand the anxiety of leaving your phone at the hotel, since it’s a very useful tool,” he says. “So if you don’t feel comfortable doing that and it’s going to cause anxiety, then don’t. But like, turn off your notifications. You’re on vacation. Sorry, job.”
Meanwhile, Healy says overcoming phone separation anxiety is all a mindset. “If it causes separation anxiety to leave your phone locked and out of reach, just remember that those emails will be there when you return, and your brain will be fresh and ready to process them better,” he says. Psychologist Jeanette Raymond says indulging in the local culture can have a similar effect. “Consider how able you are to survive in the world without the phone. You can ask people, look at maps, walk around and use your gut to enjoy the day,” she says. “Survival has to take on a more primitive valence — that of you in your body, surviving by engaging with the real world — not the surviving of being dependent on virtual reality.”
Some quick practical advice that we’ve covered before but is still relevant here, too: Since locking your phone away for the whole duration of your vacation can be tough, consider setting aside a small chunk of time each day — say, half an hour before dinner — to check your emails and whatnot before putting it away again. That way, you can rest easy knowing that you have your digital life under control while still setting healthy boundaries so you can enjoy your vacation.
Oh also, in regards to that coffee your boss asked for, tell him you’ll pick up a venti screw-you with extra cinnamon whenever you get back.