Holiday digital detox: This is the emotional journey you’ll go through

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Hollie Richardson
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Digital detox on holiday

Thinking about taking a digital detox on your next holiday? This new research gives an insight into the emotions you will experience.

Ever broken into an anxious sweat on the bus upon realising you’ve left your phone on charge at home? The digital fear is real, people. According to a report by Ofcom last year, the average person now spends more than a full day online each week. Although we now live in a world where pretty much everything is connected by the internet, it’s important to be able to balance our time. Because too much screen time can result in bad sleep patterns, mental health problems and lack of self-esteem.

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This is why the “digital detox” has grown in popularity over the years. The process requires you to log off and disconnect with the online world, in order to reconnect with the real one. There are plenty of books and “how to do a digital detox” guides out there, with holidays constantly being recommended as the perfect opportunity to take a digital break.

But what exactly happens? And how does it affect our overall happiness and life experiences?

New research published in the Journal of Travel Research has tracked the emotional journey of a digital detox while travelling. It explains what happens before, during and after a person disconnects from the online world, while also noting how this impacts their holiday and travelling experience.

Side view portrait of young woman walking with travel bag and using mobile phone
Digital detox: could you leave your phone at home while on holiday?

“We found that some participants embraced and enjoyed the disconnected experience straightaway or after struggling initially, while for others it took a little bit longer to accept the disconnected experience,” said Dr Brad McKenna of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Business School.

“Our participants reported that they not only engaged more with other travellers and locals during their disconnected travels, but that they also spent more time with their travel companions,” added lead report author Dr Wenjie Cai from the University of Greenwich Business School.

“Many also pointed out that they were much more attentive and focused on their surroundings while disconnected, rather than getting distracted by incoming messages, notifications or alerts from their mobile apps.”

Once participants were reconnected with the online world, many said they were upset and overwhelmed as soon as they saw all the incoming messages and notifications they received over the days. 

Having enjoyed the engagement with locals and physical surroundings during disconnection, some decided to have another digital detox in the future.

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Various factors affected how participants perceived the digital-free experience. 

They endured anxieties and frustrations more in urban destinations because of a need for navigation and instant access to information. However, in rural and natural areas, people experienced withdrawal symptoms because they felt unable to pass the time and report safety issues.

Also, participants travelling as a couple, or in a group, tended to be more confident in disconnecting. Meanwhile, solo travellers tended to feel vulnerable without technological assistance to buffer cultural differences, like unfamiliar languages.

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As well as looking at emotions Dr Cai used the theory of affordance to understand the loss or gain of technological opportunities. For instance, Google Maps affords navigation and when taken away, the participants lost the ability to navigate, which caused anxiety for some.

This is all certainly worth noting if you’re planning to take the plunge this summer, and wave bon voyage to your phone. 

Images: Getty


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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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