Sunday 4 December 2016

Log off and be really 'appy

Published 21/05/2011 | 05:00

Holidays abroad up 2.8%
Holidays abroad up 2.8%

You know the feeling. Your phone is hopping. Your inbox is overflowing. Your nerves are shredded. You need a holiday.

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So why do so many of us take our laptops, smartphones, iPads and wi-fi dongles -- the very instruments of 21st-century stress -- on vacation with us? Holidays are a time to disconnect. But we seem to be spending them in a more connected state than ever.

A decade ago, I rarely took a flight without a guide book. I still sent the odd postcard home. Today, I can lighten my load with a Lonely Planet app, share experiences as they happen on Facebook or Twitter, and Skype has wiped the need for postcards or landlines.

Think of it as Travel 2.0. First, the online booking revolution empowered us to bypass tour operators and book cheap flights and hotels directly. Now, smartphones, tablet computers and wi-fi have put on-the-go information and communication into our pockets.

In 2011, we travel in a world where Dromoland Castle has a Twitter account, Disneyland Paris has launched an app that makes the length of queues and character locations available in real time, and hotels and restaurants live or die by user reviews on TripAdvisor.

Just as connectivity has brought amazing improvements to the way we move and communicate on the road, however, it is also in danger of creating a generation of app addicts more interested in instant gratification and 24/7 access to social networks than actual experience of travel itself.

Think about it. We complain about being harassed on phone and email. But when was the last time you turned off your phone? When your phone is on, the temptation exists to check emails, flick through Facebook or splash a few thoughts about on Twitter. If it rings, you feel compelled to answer.

If you're travelling for work, that's all well and good. If you're not, it isn't.

Of course, staying in touch with email and social networks on holiday can be a necessity for family or other reasons too, but it also keeps us logged into a constant state of twitchiness, a focus on the next tweet, post or update, rather than the enjoyment of the holiday itself.

Holidays are about relaxation. Time off means unplugging from the nine-to-five, savouring experiences rather than snacking on them, catching up with friends and family, exploring cities and countryside, and not floating around like a fish in the tank of Facebook.

Think of the holiday couple at dinner, more interested in their iPhones than each other. Think of the mum pushing her kid on a swing with one hand, Facebooking with the other. Think of dad, cramming in 140 characters when he has all the time and space in the world in front of his face.

R&R stands for rest and recuperation; it could also stand for recharging and rebooting. It could be falling asleep on the beach, trekking in a rainforest, playing with your kids, getting lost in an art gallery, or cracking open a bottle of Rioja under the Spanish stars.

Technology is transforming travel, and mostly for the better. But let's not forget that face time can mean actual human contact, that conversation can be real as well as virtual, and that technology should serve us, when we need it to, as opposed to the other way round.

Switch off. After all, that's what holidays are all about.

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