Anna Hart: 'I went on holidays without my phone - and loved it'
Earlier this summer, after packing my rucksack for a three-night kayaking and wild-camping holiday in the Stockholm archipelago, I gazed at my belongings, thought about what the sunkissed and sea-based days ahead might hold, and made a final adjustment to the contents of my bag: I took out my iPhone, and tossed it under my bed.
I quickly emailed my travel companion, a photographer friend called Jacob, and made firm plans for meeting at a café in the airport, like people used to do. I asked him if I could have some pictures of our trip afterwards, so I could pop a few up on Facebook and Instagram when I returned. And then I set off, feeling - for the first time in a number of trips - that I was genuinely escaping the stresses and strains of my everyday life. My 'colourful' lovelife, my rewarding but stressful job, the challenges I was trying to support friends and family through - none of this could touch me, for the next three glorious days. Because the way stress locates us, these days, is via our phones.
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As a) a travel writer and b) an inveterate millennial, ditching my phone for three fabulously photogenic days in an aspirational destination like Sweden felt like the ultimate rebellion, a bid for true freedom from the self-built shackles of social media. And I've noticed more and more of my peers implementing an Insta-Ban as they venture off to Santorini, or Crete, or Tulum. Because we've realised that, for a holiday really to function as a holiday, it needs to be a break from social media. An escape from social status anxiety, from caring about 'likes', from having to photograph every tiny detail of life to prove that we exist.
"When I went to Goa earlier this year, I took a break from Instagram and Facebook for the entire two weeks, because I knew I needed a 'head holiday', not just some sunshine and a sunlounger," says Roxy Attard, a 32-year-old hair stylist. "We had just launched our own salon and were doing a huge amount of marketing via Instagram and Facebook. If I didn't take a break from those two platforms, I would still be at work, even if I was in Goa."
Catherine Price, author of How To Break Up With Your Phone and founder of screenlifebalance.com, is fully supportive of this shift towards screen-free holidays.
"Even if we joined social media platforms out of a genuine desire to share our experiences with loved-ones, the reality is that our phones take us out of the moment, and we cannot be online and offline at the same time," she says. "Plus, when we overshare a glossy version of our trip online, we miss out on talking about our trips when we return, which is part of the joy of travel. Posting in the moment denies us this opportunity to relive our experience, and prolong that holiday feeling."
During my three-day Insta-break, my stress levels plummeted within 24 hours, which was about how long it took for my brain to rewire itself and accept that it couldn't twitch for my iPhone; that no, I didn't need to photograph this moment, that I had no idea whether so-and-so had texted me or not. But it also changed how I processed the trip itself. I made mental notes of funny moments, cultural observations, tips - and when I returned, I had interesting, detailed chats with friends about my time away.
By contrast, after any over-Instagrammed trip, the conversation proceeds thus:
Friend: You're back! Thailand looked AMAZING. Was it AMAZING?
Me: Um, yes, it was AMAZING.
Friend: Did you watch 'Love Island' last night?
The great promise of social media was that we could share our lives, forge connections, and learn from each other - the reality is that much of what we're sharing is mild lies, that Insta-oversharing takes the sparkle out of conversation and connection, and that all we're really learning from each other is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Even celebrities who have consolidated their fanbase via Instagram or Twitter take social media sabbaticals; Kendall Jenner shook up fans when she 'detoxed' from Instagram saying afterwards, "I just wanted a little bit of a break", and, before the launch of his third studio album, Ed Sheeran announced he would be "buggering off for a bit".
"We also need to wake up to the fact that if we scroll through Instagram or Facebook on holiday, we are essentially working for Instagram and Facebook," adds Catherine. "These apps exist to collect our data and show us algorithmic adverts, and if we've saved up for a holiday and we're spending it on our phone, we're spending our hard-earned holiday making Instagram money."
So this summer, as you plan your trip, ask if you can delete Instagram or Facebook for the duration. Because forget about trying to bag a room upgrade; the best way to get bang-for-buck from your holiday is to leave social media behind.