Want a memorable vacation? Leave your laptop at home

Sulphur Mountain, Banff
© K Martinko

Hanging out on your computer during holidays can actually impede your ability to retain memories.

The next time you take a vacation, try leaving your laptop at home. Not only will this help you to relax and get away from the workload that is supposed to be the whole point of a vacation, but it will also help you to remember your trip! And isn’t that what you want, considering the effort and money it’s taken to get there?

An intriguing study conducted by the University of Texas, together with holiday rental agency Home Away From Home, found that working just one hour during vacation makes a person 43 percent less likely to remember their trip clearly. By comparison, 60 percent of people who work less than an hour on vacation are better at recalling most details of their trips.

Why is this? Study author Art Markman told Fast Company that there are two requirements for memories to stay in your mind:

“The first is engagement; it’s the energy you put into it. The second is distinctiveness, something out of the ordinary. The reason why you can’t remember what you had for lunch is because lunch is lunch. You do it every day.”

Hanging out on a laptop at the beach just doesn’t cut it, because you’re not engaged with your new surroundings. Nor is it distinct, because the world you inhabit within that laptop is the same as ever, no matter how foreign the outdoor scenery may look.

While your laptop should stay at home if possible, research suggests you should take your smartphone. People who use their smartphones for certain activities, such as taking pictures and looking up destinations, remember their vacations 40 percent more than those who don’t. If you use your phone for work, you’re less likely to get deeply absorbed because it’s a harder device to work on. But there is such thing as too much smartphone time:

“Those who used their phones for more than two hours each day were 26 percent more likely to have trouble remembering their vacations versus those who spent less than two hours on their phones.”

I travel quite a bit and have developed a few rules for myself. I’m pleased to see these align fairly well with this study’s findings:

(1) The laptop goes only if it’s a work-related trip because I often write while traveling.

(2) Smartphone is more camera than planning device, though it does acquire that role at times. This encourages me to research my destinations thoroughly ahead of time, rather than leaving it to the last minute and figuring things out on the fly. I keep it on airplane mode whenever possible and do not carry extra batteries; this encourages me to minimize use.

(3) Get a paper map immediately upon arrival. This may sound old-fashioned, but nothing compares to a paper map for orienting oneself in relation to landmarks, getting a sense of direction, and generally gaining perspective on a new location. I love them.

It’s important to let vacations fulfill their true purpose – to escape from regular life, shake up the daily routine, and break the stress cycle. Let your vacation do its job, and you’ll return revitalized and rejuvenated, able to do your own better than ever.

Tags: Technology | Tourism

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