How to Break Up with Your Phone: Why We Did It and Think You Should To

Question:  How many days does it take you to get back in the grove after a vacation?

Coming back from our amazing 10th wedding anniversary road trip to Oregon and launching into busy work schedules was tough. Neither of us got the couch this weekend while recovering.

It did give us a chance to download close to 1,000 photos from our cameras from the trip. All of which we can’t wait to share. We’ll get started with the first NPS site of the trip we visited (Fort Vancouver National Historic Site) later this week. First we wanted to share some thoughts about where things are headed here at Park Chasers.

How to Break Up with Your Phone

Just before leaving on the trip, we started reading Catherine Price’s book: How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life. If the book title alone resonates with you in a “oh…I could REALLY use that” way, we’re okay if you stop reading this, use the link and get your own copy on Amazon. Reading it was a game changer for us.  Just come back and read about why!

Our copy of Catherine Price’s “How to Break Up with Your Phone” which we used on our most recent national park vacation.

Book promo is not really what we do here, but we’ll circle around and tell you how this relates back to traveling and national parks.

Amy had heard a story about Price on NPR and waited patiently for the book to arrive in the St. Paul Public Library.  One of the first things the book asks you to do is collect some data on your screen time usage.  After downloading and using the app Moment, for a few days I (Amy) realized I was using my phone for 3-4 hours daily.  Greg’s total is less, but still enough to want to make a change.

That didn’t include the amount of time for work tasks on my laptop or writing on Park Chasers either.

Imagine 12-15 hours of your week, gone. Just on your phone and with little or nothing to show for it.

Moment also lets you look at where that time is going.  For us, time was lost primarily to email, news feeds, and social media.

Don’t get us wrong.  We know Facebook is likely how many of you found Park Chasers in the first place.  And we love how Instagram has made ‘virtual vacations’ possible. But it’s also been taking all of us away from enjoying our actual vacations!

As people who love to spend time outdoors and with our hobbies, it was devastating to see the time loss add up. We could (and should!) be using that time in our week for volunteering, hiking and biking, and planning trips. We both decided Facebook and our email accounts didn’t deserve to be in line ahead of all these other things.

Smartphone free at Wizard Island, Crater Lake National Park

A Digital (and social media) Sabbatical

So much so, that while on this trip we purposefully took a 9 day digital sabbatical.

No phones.

Good-bye email.

Sorry social media.  You’re out.

Okay, so we’ll be honest that didn’t exactly happen that way.  But what did happen was dramatically different than how often we typically use our phones on vacation.

For the first few days of the trip it was apparent we were completely unprepared. Nothing to do on the airplane. No GPS. No instant google searches to figure out when something’s open.  No guide to restaurants. No Top 10 lists of things to see.

It was pretty ugly until about Day 3 when things settled in and we started realizing breaking up with our phones on vacation was the best thing we could’ve done.

How to Break Up with Your Phone on Vacation

When you’re on vacation, you’re already doing everything different.  You’re brain isn’t relying on your sleeping, eating, and daily activity habits and is instead responding to the new environment.

It’s a great place to start new habits (like not checking your phone first thing when you wake up or not using your phone while you’re waiting in line) because you’re not in the same environment that triggers all your bad phone habits in the first place.

We recommend Price’s book for the nitty-gritty on how to break up with your phone.  There’s some solid research in the book and a good 30 day plan.  But here’s some things to remember if you want to step away from your screens on vacation:

Plan ahead for directions.

It was not too long ago that we all lived without GPS. On vacation though, if you’re not sure exactly where you’re going it’s easy to default back to using your phone to get around.

It took us some time to find an actual printed map, but once we did it wasn’t too difficult to find our way around.  It would have been more helpful to have printed directions to the major destinations before we left home. (Remember that thing called Mapquest? We needed it!)

But if you’re lost, guess what?  Everyone else has a GPS in their pocket.  You can always ask for directions.

In national parks, half time time your phone doesn’t work anyway.

Which only leads to additional stress and manic phone checking to see “wait, do I have signal yet?”

Seriously. Who cares if you do or do not have signal at the top of the Watchman Lookout Tower in Crater Lake?

Shut it off and it won’t matter.

Be prepared. Everyone else using their phone may drive you nuts.

Once you start putting your phone away, there’s a period of time where everyone else’s phone use may drive you bananas.

We’re not kidding that in Oregon we saw all of the following: People yelling “CAN YOU HEAR ME!?!?” into their phone on the trail. Kids playing games on an iPad at scenic viewpoints. And the constant need to take the perfect cell phone picture in the perfect spot.  Even if it means disrupting the ecosystem or the other travelers around you.

It takes a certain amount of patience as you’re learning to break up with your phone.  It takes even more patience to tolerate when other’s screen time impacts your own.

We think the Switchback Kids encountered some similar experiences on their trip and posted about it recently on Instagram:


View this post on Instagram


Rethinking our relationship with Instagram: when we unplugged from social media for four months during our travels through Europe and Africa this summer, a few big things happened. First, I had a withdrawal. When we came across a scene that was perfectly Insta-worthy, I missed not posting and getting that instant validation. It was like a tic. Next, we changed our photographic eye. We started intentionally gathering memories that WE wanted for ourselves, not for the sake of anyone else. We took far fewer pictures and didn’t worry when the picture didn’t come out right, as long as we were enjoying ourselves. Eventually, something very cool happened. We stopped thinking about social media altogether. It was no longer a factor of our trip. We weren’t working for or against it. Pressures of capturing a place the way we saw it and doing it justice didn’t exist. Constant documenting didn’t matter as much to us as accessing our creative sides a bit, having fun, and being present. So we’re never coming all the way back. I don’t think we’ll post DURING our travels ever again. I’m staying off stories. I’m not about to let these little squares dominate my brain space nearly as much as they have for the past few years. BUT we will be lurking around. I still love Instagram. I love pictures and I love the positivity. We will still tell some of our favorite stories from our travels. (It may just not be very chronological or consistent). For anyone considering taking a break from the ‘gram, I highly recommend it. Eventually, the auto-emails wondering why you have posted subside, and life gets very quiet. And quiet traveling is my favorite traveling. (Pictured: a very quiet stroll around Strbske Pleso, High Tatras, Slovakia 🇸🇰)

A post shared by ELIZABETH + COLE (@switchbackkids) on

It was incredibly hard to travel without using a screen.  Our phones are built to make everything on vacation easier for us.

But we did it.

And then we kept doing it.

We posted a few photos to Instagram on the first legs of our trip at an agreed-upon time with an agreed-upon time limit, and then shut things back down. By the end of the week, we were only using our phones for the camera feature when our DSLR was in the way and then to text a few times to family members back home.

So…What Happens After the Break Up?

Once the new habits are in place (and we’re not so caught up in news feeds), things become a bit clearer:

We had an outstanding trip.

We remember smells, tastes, and sights clearer rather than just relying on social media posts. The extra 2 hour of sleep every night helped too.

Most importantly we came back with new energy and clarity about what we’d like Park Chasers to be.

A new Park Chasers.

Since 2015 we’ve been working on a site to share our passion about national parks.  While we’ve done well at growing a small but dedicated following, we’ve been a bit skewed towards getting “likes” and “shares” instead of good storytelling.  We’ve curated our pictures to those more classic, iconic photos that will be shared more on Instagram and Facebook. We’ve emphasized the “top 10 places to ____” posts instead of sharing what we love about these places in a more personal way.

Don’t get us wrong, we know they help some people plan trips and we love when you take the time to show you’ve read and enjoyed what we wrote.

But at this point in our travels, and at this point in the break-up with our phones, that type of post feels a bit disingenuous.

Like we’d be leading you astray in posting click-bait we hope you like and share, while we ourselves are swearing off the same click-bait.

So while we will do our best to make sure the travel information we have is still clear and accessible, we’re going to switch gears to making this more of a living document of our trips.  You’ll see fewer “glamour shots” like this:

and more photos like this (where we’re not quite centered, there’s a random wall in the picture, or Greg’s clearly irritated I’ve made him stand next to yet another giant tree!)


Because we DEFINITELY would not want you to spend more time on your screen looking at our photos, if it meant you could be out taking your own photos of a national park instead.  

Also, we don’t have our own family yet. But if we do someday, we’d love our kids to be able to see where we were and what we were up to.  Who knows if the “3 best hikes in Zion” will even been the 3 best hikes anymore at that point?  In the meantime, the friends an family we do have right now always likes to hear what we’re up to anyway.

So thanks for your support as we make some changes around here.  If it’s not what you’re into and you decide to find your national park information elsewhere online, we’re okay with that too.

In general, we’re just ready to try something new now that there’s less smartphone time getting in the way.

Let us know if you decide to take a vacation and break up with your phone.  We’d love to hear how it goes!

**Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. When you make a purchase through these links, Park Chasers receives a small portion of the purchase to help with the running of the site and our travels. If you’d prefer to use your local library to find “How to Break Up with Your Phone” that works too!**



Greg & Amy
Chasing a visit to all 400+ units in the NPS
Current Count: 130/423
Next Stop: @hawaiivolcanoes


3 thoughts on “How to Break Up with Your Phone: Why We Did It and Think You Should To”

  1. Pingback: The Best National Park Podcasts to Listen to in 2019 - Park Chasers

  2. Pingback: 9 Reasons to Skip Flowers and Buy Your Valentine Camping Gear - Park Chasers

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