Vacation from Email

Digital Vacation

Half the fun of going on vacation is the anticipation. I get months of mental mileage from the pre-trip planning of the activities that I will enjoy while gone. I eagerly catalog the books that will be devoured, the experiences to be engaged and the list of daily tasks that will not be attended to while away.

However, in the last few years there seems to be a carry-over from daily life that does follow me when I leave – emails and texts.  I am always surprised when I get a work call while on vacation. I shouldn’t be. I always carry my smart phone and if it is a short trip I don’t even bother to leave a pre-recorded message or auto-reply to alert people that I am “out of the office.”

The vacation interruptions are a problem of my own creation. Lately I have wondered why – no matter where I travel — my packing list includes a cell phone and email access. I pondered why it is a priority to ensure a link up no matter where I am in the world.

Yes, I have four children and a business, but I am not Secretary of State. No one in my family has an imminent life-threatening illness. And, I leave emergency numbers for those who really need to know.

I did not have a good answer for why there needed to be perpetual two-way access other than it was my routine.  A recent study found that the number of people checking emails while on vacation is 68 percent, up 10 points from the previous year. How could I truly take a break if my office came with me. It defeated the point of escaping the daily grind.  I decided a self-intervention was needed. It was “digital detox” time.

I prepared to unplug for one week and discovered that I was not the only one who had anxiety over my electronic LOA (Leave of Absence).  My email vacation can be broken down into three parts:

1.       Pre-vacation

The notice of my upcoming communication firewall elicited a flurry of emails that generally started, “I know you are leaving this weekend, but, before you go could you…”

2.       Vacation

 A few days later, doubting emails were sent during my blackout period. The inbox previews read, “I know you said you would not be checking emails while you are gone but in case you take a peek…”

3.       Post- vacation

Upon my return I had hundreds of emails to read with some beginning, ”I hope you had a great vacation and I can’t wait to hear about it at some point, but right now I need…”

So much for savoring the lingering vacation buzz. How nice to be “needed.”

I am happy to report that I never “took a peek.” I successfully unplugged for one week.  I kept my phone off and resisted the temptation to check email even when I came across an internet café during a one hour stop. Once I let go, I felt free and no compelling need to post a status update on Facebook.

I am refreshed in a way I haven’t been in years and I vow to go AWOL again.

Carol Lewis Gullstad July 11, 2011

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