By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Technology has changed the way we plan, enjoy, and remember vacations forever. A recent study out of the University of Michigan found that more people use the Internet to plan vacations (80 percent) than for work (70 percent). And, once on vacation, 40 percent use wireless technology, compared with 25 percent of people who use it at home. From personal experience, I can tell you that innumerable people carry their memories with them on their smart phones, an observation that you no doubt share. While this is all interesting information, it’s important to think about the significance of it. How does this increase in technology relate to how vacations affect us?
Planning vacations has certainly gotten easier with the Web. People can almost effortlessly get ideas for, and explore, different vacation options. They can compare prices, finding the best deals. And they can peruse reviews to ensure that their vacation choices are good ones. In addition to increasing the ease of vacation planning, it frequently also increases the excitement that people feel (when they are not frustrated by all the details). It can be especially exciting to see pictures and read reviews about the place where you intend to go. Reaching out on social networking sites offers yet another way for friends and acquaintances to share their dreams and experiences, helping them to feel more connected. Given that some research has shown that people planning vacations are happier than those not planning to go away, this more complete mental picture of upcoming plans likely heightens the effect.
After all the planning comes (hopefully) enjoying your vacation. Technology makes this easier by keeping people connected to others and to information. With the help of your cell phone – right from your vacation – you can call or text friends and family, take pictures, and immediately share those pictures with others. You can also make the most of your vacation by checking your smart phone, laptop, or iPad for local weather, restaurants, and local activities. While all of this sounds – and in many respects is – wonderful, it can also have its drawbacks. Staying connected can mean less adventurous exploring, having to sort through more information and make more stressful decisions, remaining tied to work, and not getting a sufficient break from personal stresses. Speaking to this relatively new problem, many people are choosing technology-free vacations and are willing to pay a bit more or travel a bit farther just so that they can get unplugged.
Finally, there is remembering your vacation. This is an extremely important part of the experience. Personally, I was not surprised to learn of research that showed that although vacations can help people really relax, these effects are completely gone after eight weeks. But I also expect that those who carry pictures and video clips with them (on their computers or phones), look at them periodically, and share them with others, keep that positive vacation glow at least a little longer.
Staying connected with people and information clearly has its benefits and drawbacks. As with everything else, it is up to you to figure out how to make it work to your advantage. So, it’s important that as you plan your vacation, you decide exactly how you want to include technology as a part of it.
How do you feel about staying plugged in on vacation? Is it a benefit or a distraction? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below or join the discussion here.