By: Dr. Cassandra M. Faraci

One of life’s natural highs is counting down days until a much-needed vacation. It probably comes at a time when you’re frustrated at work and need a break, or you might feel mentally foggy and just need a re-charge. Maybe you just can’t wait to actually spend time with your family instead of being “ships in the night” who cross paths every now and then but barely communicate.

Then, vacation time happens! On the way there, you have so many plans of what you will do, and you predict how amazing it will feel. But, on the way back from vacation, you’re left exhausted and don’t feel as though you got the mental clarity you were hoping for.

Let me ask you this question: Did you leave your devices in airplane mode when you stepped off of the plane?

At the beginning of this month, my in-laws took my family on an amazing Caribbean vacation. My father-in-law retired last year and decided that he wanted to take my children, my husband, and me on vacation with them to celebrate his newfound gift of time. We have all been looking forward to this trip for a year, psyching up the kids (and ourselves!) about much-needed family time.

Somehow, as the plane was landing over the beautiful sea green waters, I made a commitment to myself that I was not going to take my phone out of airplane mode.  It was difficult at first; it felt like detoxing from information overload. I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening back home, but I stayed true to my commitment.

On the way home from our vacation, my husband and I kept saying that this was the best vacation ever. But, why? We’ve been on family vacations before. What made this one feel so differently?

Airplane mode.

Yes. Let me highlight for you why staying in airplane mode on vacation was the best thing we did for our family and ourselves.

  1. We were completely present in the moment. I would say this is the most important benefit of disconnecting from the rest of the world. Each moment of this vacation, I was fully immersed in the experience. My five senses experienced some of the most beautiful things life has to offer, and being completely focused on them is what made this trip a complete re-charge for us. I won’t forget the sight of the beautiful waters. The sound of my children laughing. The feeling of the soft sand on my feet. The deliciousness of the local food. The scent of sunscreen or lunch cooking close by. I wasn’t thinking about possible problems back home. I wasn’t planning my to-do list or worrying about a challenge yet to come. After parasailing with my youngest child, I didn’t run back to send pictures and videos to family. I sat with her, laughed with her, and actually listened to her excitement as she re-told her experience. In Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness, he talks about how being deliberately conscious of experiences and mindfully present in them is a key to living a happy life. I get it, Dr. Seligman. You’re spot on.
  2. I was able to have deeper levels of thought. Ok, so this one was a surprise. My husband and I enjoy reading and learning, so we’ve both come across business gurus and very successful people saying that their best ideas came when they were relaxing and not trying to work or solve a problem. While I was enjoying being in the moment on vacation, every now and then (when my kids gave me a moment to think to myself!), I found that my mind drifted to a brilliant idea. It felt like a light switch. I remember sitting on the beach, just staring at the ocean and listening to the sounds of the waves crashing, when, like a lightning bolt, a random thought entered my head about the upcoming holidays (a cool new tradition to start with our kids). I wasn’t sitting at my computer Googling “tradition ideas for kids.” I was literally just staring at moving water. This happened multiple times during that week. Sometimes about work. Sometimes about a problem at home that seemed to have no solution. I had some pretty good ideas when I wasn’t trying so hard. I wasn’t distracted by social media or conversations with friends and family through text messaging. Now, I understand why very successful people recommend having frequent periods of disconnection from devices. Amazing.
  3. I had meaningful interactions with my family. When there are few distractions, it’s amazing how involved in conversations one can be! There was more talking and laughing than would have occurred had we all been on our phones. The people physically in front of me got my full attention; I wasn’t distracted by people through a device. I know my children appreciated having their parents’ full attention!
  4. My memories of this trip are vivid. If you’re a parent like us, I would guess that you’ve been told, “Enjoy time with your kids. It goes fast.” If you’re not a parent, I bet you can think back to a wonderful experience you’ve had that just went too quickly. It’s true – you can’t rewind the clock. Once a moment is gone, it’s gone. But, if you consciously make a choice to fully engage and savor moments like these, and they get encoded in your brain in as full of detail as possible, that will remain with you. I can close my eyes right now and put myself in any situation on that trip, and it instantly brings a smile to my face. Of course, I’m sad that the trip ended, but I took as much from that trip as possible because I fully engaged in those wonderful experiences, distraction free.
  5. I came back feeling mentally clear and re-charged. I think most of us would agree that one of the main purposes of a vacation is to take a break from life’s stressors. Had I turned off airplane mode, that could never have happened. Due to reasons 1-4 above, I came back from vacation feeling like a new woman. My thinking was sharper. My body was relaxed. My heart was happy. I took on challenges with optimism, not dread.

For some people, vacations don’t occur frequently enough. My goal for writing this is to help you re-charge when you do get the opportunity to take a break. Make it count, especially if it’s not a frequent luxury. Make the most of the experience. Don’t let distractions take you out of your amazing experience. Actually experience the beauty life has to offer. Your problems will be there when you return (unless they’ve actually worked themselves out, which often happens!), so allow yourself the chance to take a real break.